Sometimes it’s tough to be grateful. We forget the good in our lives when we see so much bad in the world. An encounter with a seemingly petulant pet owner reminded me how thankful we should be that we share our lives with animals.
Before we begin, I’ve got a veterinary confession to make: Nothing brightens my day more than a kitten’s cuddle or a puppy’s peck. I live for those brief beams of bliss. That fateful morning, I knew I was in for some serious smooching courtesy a too-cute-to-be-true Lab puppy bounding my way. And then someone shut off my sunshine.
“Get over here! NOW!” thundered a scornful lady in her mid-sixties. “He won’t mind a bit! Worst dog we ever had! If you weren’t here…” she cut short her comment, but I knew enough to fill in the blanks.
The puppy cowered and slinked to her side. “Now what expensive things are you pushing today, Dr. Ward?” I’d experienced my fair share of difficult clients, but this one was quickly climbing to the top of my worst. “Back when I was a kid, we never took our pets to the vet and they did just fine.” I knew better than to take her bickering bait. I smiled, bent down and retrieved the petrified puppy. We both relaxed a little.
I put on my kindest face as I outlined the day’s immunizations, internal parasite treatments and heartworm and flea preventive. She agreed with a grunt and I pulled a dog treat from my pocket.
“DON’T GIVE HIM ANYTHING!” My smile evaporated and the pup stiffened in my arms. “I don’t want him thinking he gets treats in this place.” Okay, that was a new one. She didn’t want her dog to like her veterinarian? Good grief!
I pulled out my stool and calmly took a seat. This might take a while. “I think we may’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. Why don’t we take a break, talk for a minute and then start over?” The woman barely acknowledged me or her Lab. I interpreted her cold shoulder as a lukewarm “yes.”
“You’ve got an incredible puppy. His eyes are full of love and I can tell he only wants to make you happy. I know it can be challenging to train a new dog, but this little fellow has nothing but love and happiness in his heart for you. Perhaps we can work together to solve any problems you’re having?”
“Now you’re going to solve my problems? How about you solve this: My husband died three weeks ago. He lived just long enough to leave me with this disgusting little mongrel. He said a dog would do me good. All it does is remind me of my dead husband.”
That’s when I got it. I also had a pretty good idea how to solve it. “I am so sorry to hear that. If I may be so bold, would you mind telling me about your puppy’s name?”
“Dunn? That’s the street where I first met my husband outside our dormitory in college. Every time I call his name I see my husband dressed in that wrinkled white shirt, khakis and dirty white sneakers. He never learned to iron because I started doing his laundry the very next week. I used to say he only dated me for my washing services!” Her face softened.
I quietly placed Dunn in her lap. She began stroking the little Lab and I saw her eyes moisten. As she held Dunn, I wordlessly offered a treat and administered his vaccines. Dunn’s eyes never left his owner’s face. His tail never stopped wagging.
I escorted Dunn and his human mommy to our lobby. I didn’t say a word until she spoke up.
“Thank you, Dr. Ward. I think I understand why my husband insisted on getting a puppy before he passed. He wanted to leave behind a little piece of his heart.”
With that, she turned and left the clinic. Over the next six years her relationship with Dunn deepened and they shared many wonderful memories. Eventually dementia would force the pair apart and Dunn joined her daughter’s family. Over the years, I received occasional updates detailing the happiness Dunn showered on everyone he met. Dunn passed at age 14. That little Lab left me a big piece of his heart. Be grateful for the love you have in your life this Thanksgiving.