A Dog’s Life: The Indignity of the Vet’s Office


I wish I shared my dog’s optimism about visiting the doctor. I suppose it would help if someone offered me snacks and promised me a stop at the Bark Park and told bald-faced lies about how it’s not going to hurt.

But I see my physician, Dr. Nick, a lot more often than Houdini sees Dr. Sirius at the Big Sky Garden City Five Valleys Treasure State Grizzly Riverside Veterinary Clinic. He’s pretty healthy, so the yearly check-up usually suffices.

He’ll be 12 this summer, and his gray beard and bluish pupils are the only physical signs that offer a clue to his age. He’s still pretty spry, and could probably leap over a four-foot fence if he thought there was a pizza bone on the other side. Come to think of it, he would probably tunnel under.

A Dog's Life: The Indignity of the Vet's Office, Bob Wire

“Cat Fancier Magazine? Seriously? Cats can’t even Read.”

Not only is he aging gracefully, but he’s become pretty good at understanding English. He probably knows 50 words. They all relate to food. You know, like Eskimos know 90 different words for snow. So when I offered him a “biscuit” (Milk Bone) this morning and attached his “leash” (long string used to yank head away from every sniff target but will eventually lead to a biscuit) to his collar, he got all excited, assuming we were heading out for a “walk” (journey to a biscuit).

“Let’s go see Dr. Sirius,” I said as he jumped into the back seat of the 4Runner. I offered him a Truck Treat (tiny biscuits in an Altoids tin kept in the console that cannot be opened without opposable thumbs) and we drove to the Bark Park.

Houdini prefers to poop off-campus, and I knew I could count on him for a generous sample as soon as we hit the park. I was still pulling the plastic grab bag out of the dispenser when he started to circle, his tail ratcheting and his whale eye giving me the telltale wink.

A Dog's Life: The Indignity of the Vet's Office, Bob Wire

“Nice selection. Mind if I pee on this one?”

I gathered the sample into the bag (“Jeez, when did you eat a Monopoly house?”) and we walked to the vet’s office. I dropped the pungent sample, which I’d put into

a brown paper bag marked with Houdini’s name, onto the front counter.

“I couldn’t find a fresh sample from Houdini, so here’s one of mine.” The women behind the counter were not amused. I suppose they’ve heard ‘em all.

We put him on the scale. I expected to hear that he’d lost a couple of pounds. I can actually make out a bit of a waistline, which is an improvement from his winter physique, which resembles a boiled bratwurst with drumsticks for legs.

“Thirty-seven pounds,” the vet’s assistant announced. She looked at his charts. “Up one pound from last year.”

“What? Really? But I thought he might have actually lost some weight.”

She shrugged, her eyes lingering on my belly. “Happens to all of us as we get older.”

A Dog's Life: The Indignity of the Vet's Office, Bob Wire

“When the vet said “placque,” I thought we were getting an award.”

I frowned and led Houdini into the exam room. Dr. Sirius entered and lifted him onto the stainless steel exam table. Houdini looked at me, already indignant over my betrayal. “How’re we doing, Houdini?” said the ever-cheerful vet. He gave the dog a quick once-over before starting the exam in earnest.

“Any problems? Issues since we last saw him?”

“Not really,” I said. “He’s still not brushing his teeth, far as I can tell. It’s almost like he doesn’t care. Also, I think he’s growing a freelance nipple.”

Dr. Sirius checked out the little black tongue of skin poking out of Houdini’s chest. It looked like the boneless pinkie toe of a baby orangutan.

“That’s nothing to worry about,” said the doc. “Just a skin tag.”

A Dog's Life: The Indignity of the Vet's Office, Bob Wire

“Hey, you want a skinny dog, buy a whippet.”

He continued to examine the dog, feeling under his armpits, along the undercarriage, up into the folds of his ever-growing wattle. Houdini gave me a look that said, “You will pay for this.” But I know his threats are empty, so I just rolled my eyes and shook my head.

“He’s got a couple of lumps here under the skin,” said Dr. Sirius. “Nodules. Probably just a sebaceous adenoma.”

I gasped. “Holy crap! How long does he have?”

“They’re just lumps of fat. Benign tumors. Unless they suddenly start to get bigger, they’re not a problem at all.”

“Well, that’s good. Because I don’t believe he carries any kind of medical insurance at all. Plus, he’s basically unemployed.”

Houdini turned and gave me a dirty look. I brushed it off. I will NOT be insulted by someone who has been observed eating the crap of other animals.

A Dog's Life: The Indignity of the Vet's Office, Bob Wire

“Hey, Doc, that’s ‘exit only’ back there!”

The vet peered into Houdini’s ears and examined his eyeballs, noting that the pupils were taking on a blue tint that he identified as nuclear sclerosis, something that just happens with age. I involuntarily rubbed my own eyes with my fists.

“Okay,” he said. “Now the fun part.” He greased up his thermometer, lifted Houdini’s tail, and plunged it home. The expression on Houdini’s face looked like he was watching the end of Old Yeller. Then his ears went up and he relaxed a bit. He actually started wagging his tail.

“I think he likes it, doc. Do you have a bigger thermometer?”

Temperature was normal. Dr. Sirius then listened intently to Houdini’s heart for a couple of minutes. A concerned look on his face, he said, “Well, he’s got a mild heart murmur. Probably a grade one, on a scale of one to six.

A Dog's Life: The Indignity of the Vet's Office, Bob Wire

“Can you hurry it up? I need to go home and lick my…uh, check my email.”

“Is that enough to keep him out of the Army?”

Dr. Sirius looked at me like I was something in a paper bag on the front counter. “His pulse is good, but his valves just aren’t closing as tight as they used to.”

“Hey, I know all about faulty valves, believe me,” I said. “I can’t even eat jalapeños any more.”

When the door slid open and an assistant came in with a fistful of dog treats, Houdini and I both knew it was time for his shots. Three of them this year, including rabies. Dr. Sirius slid in the “needle” (bury muzzle in lady’s hand full of biscuits that are way better than those crappy Truck Treats). I get a little woozy watching other people get a shot, so my eyes wandered over the posters on the wall.

A Dog's Life: The Indignity of the Vet's Office, Bob Wire

“Get my leash, Bob. I am not talking to you.”

The vet put Houdini back down to the floor, and told me it would be a good idea to see if we could get his weight down by two or three pounds. It would help to shrink up those fat lumps, and ease the wear and tear on his joints.

Houdini looked up at me, desperate to get through the door and track down the treat lady. I thought of the dinner plates he licks clean, the sparerib bones he munches in the back yard, and the way his ears perk up any time he hears the rattle of cellophane or the pop of a Tupperware lid. This animal is motivated by two things: food and affection (his affection for food, that is).

“I’ll do what I can, doc,” I said, “but I’m not making any promises. I mean, I can’t even get him to brush his teeth.”


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Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.