When Nothing Less than Havarti Will Do

I’ve been getting the stink eye from Preacher Man.

It happens. He’s a member of the Long and Low Club, and while charging through the yard, herding the indifferent ducks from outside their fence, he’s bound to kick up some debris. It’s important work; he’s moved around some in his life and he needs to get it right this time.

I’m used to big dogs that don’t scuffle leaves into their own eyes, but Preacher is a measly eighteen and a half pounds. He’s shorter than a cat but he tries to make up for it in volume. The audible kind: if he’s breathing–he’s barking. So this yodeling-siren-tornado of a dog had a squinty eye and I used my amateur vet/all-star wrestling skills to flush it out. By the next morning, his eye had swollen nearly closed.

I called my vet and told them I needed to bring a dog in. “Oh, it is Walter?” She sounded hopeful. They love Walter at the front desk. I break the news that it’s Preacher, but they still get us in.

I have to secure Preacher Man when we drive. If I don’t, my truck cab looks like a bass-o-matic (video reminder here) but even that doesn’t inhibit his canine Tourette’s. He barks on in an operatic tenor.

Sometimes when there’s a pair of something–corgis, sisters, whatever–they define each other. Meaning there’s the good one, and well, the other one. Preacher Man is the other. It’s what he and I have in common. Both dogs are rescues, but when the good corgi, Walter, goes to the vet, he makes his ears wide in an affable way, tilts his head slightly away, and gives a coquettish smile.  The front desk staff coos and shovels treats to him. It’s one of the benefits of having a terminal diagnosis; you can do no wrong.

When we arrived at the vet an hour later, no treats were offered. Preacher wore his orange truss, a necessity for this other dog. I wore the only matched pair of shoes that fit my post-surgery foot. We’re a team; I think these were my junior high school colors. Then someone came in with a German shepherd–off leash. How is it that people confuse the waiting area for a dog park? For the record, I hate dog parks. The shepherd takes two giant steps our way, Preacher trumpets a warning, and I pick him up so fast that I nearly lob him into the ceiling. On the high side, the sudden change of air pressure did disorient his bark for a moment.

Safely in an exam room, the vet stains the squinty eye to get a better look and I can see the splinter in the center of his cornea from across the table. She says removing it might cause problems. Every picture I conjure in my head is too grisly to recount. Apparently my vet is imagining the same because she sends us to a specialist. A canine ophthalmologist–my first–which is actually saying something at my level of veterinary experience. On our exit, Preacher Man was offered a treat, but I couldn’t warn them quickly enough so he nipped the treat away. He’s so incredulous that anyone would give him a treat, that he can’t contain himself. Even though we work on slow treats every day. For almost two years now.

We howl and yip our way across town to the eye vet, who’s double booked already, but will squeeze us in. Any ounce of optimism I had is gone and I’m wondering if there’s enough money on my charge card and if Preacher will need to wear a tiny pirate eye patch.

We’re settled into this second waiting room with a couple of older sleepy-eyed dogs, just as a spaniel and his human exit to the front desk to pay their bill. The human makes a show of giving her dog a treat, separated into four parts, with a very obedient sit for each crumb. The other dogs in the waiting room are all coming apart, looking for their treat, and the spaniel’s human gets to think no other dog is as well-behaved as hers. By now I’d like to bark at her myself.

Finally we go back and the vet hurries in, saying it’s the first time he’s ever met a dog by this name. He startles Preacher, who’s barking too loud for me to tell the vet he doesn’t bite. I answer a few questions during the exam, like does Preacher go outside. “He lives on a farm.” The vet sighs and says well, you’ll need to keep him inside then. I just let me jaw rest where it fell. The vet tech prepares to hold Preacher Man and I’m given my orders to scratch his butt on cue. The vet pulls on a visor, picks a pair of very pointy tweezers, and tells Preacher to say two Hail Mary’s–and in he went.

*No veterinarians or vet techs were harmed in this procedure*

The receipt says “The foreign body was successfully removed in toto using a foreign body spud.” We get two bottles of eye-drops, each given morning and night. That adds up to four doses a day. Really? I’m good but who are we kidding?

So when we got home I explained to Preacher, eye drops in one hand and cheese in the other, that eye drops are good, just like cheese. He stands up on my knee, perfectly still, presents me his squinty eye for a drop. It’s an act of faith with no wrestling moves required and he blinks hard when the drop hits. He’s trying so hard to be good, that I get something in my eye, too, and upgrade from cheap Swiss cheese to Havarti. It’s wildly more than he could possibly hope for. He nips my fingers just a tiny bit because he really is trying to be good.

For all of us who’ve been bounced around some, been disappointments to our family, or reluctantly lost friends because we are other; because we awkwardly try too hard or are differently likable–take heart and caterwaul like no one has ears. There’s a full moon on the prairie tonight and a home somewhere for all of us. Let it be.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.


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