The vet’s office was behind Go-Go’s liquor. The large unadorned waiting room smelled like dog urine and feces as I stepped through the door. Grandma sat on the edge of a seat, purse on her lap. Christmas, the poodle, scampered about her on a short leash. A Filipino in a lab coat stood behind the bare white counter, solemnly waiting. I was five minutes early.
“Oh, you’re here,” Grandma clucked. Christmas seemed especially spry and charming, quite a fete for a twenty-year old curmudgeon of a dog. Grandma looked to the Filipino.
“This is my son-in-law, Doctor.”
The vet nodded.
“There’s some papers to be filled out.”
Grandma twisted her ear.
“He says there’s some papers you have to sign,” I bellowed at Grandma.
“To be signed,” I bellowed again. Her hearing seems to get worse when she’s stressed. I took the leash. Christmas tugged after Grandma as she worked her way across the bare concrete floor.
“Poodle?” the veterinarian asked softly.
“You said twenty five on the phone,” Grandma answered and I could see her hands shook as she opened her purse. There was a sign behind the counter that read; “Cash only. No checks or credit cards.”
“Is it a poodle,” he asked again.
“Yes, it’s a poodle,” I shouted from the seat. Grandma looked at me uncomprehending, and I answered her unstated question. “He asked if it was a poodle.”
“I’m a little hard of hearing,” Grandma said to the vet.
“And I don’t raise my voice,” he answered in a soft cold monotone.
I sighed a nervous laugh.
“Yes, male,” I bellowed so that Grandma knew what I was saying.
“Congestive heart failure?”
“Yes,” I sighed. “And convulsions.” I paused and added, “Great pain.”
The vet nodded.
“That’ll be twenty-five dollars. Why don’t you bring him back here?”
“Now, what have you decided?” Grandma started as she waddled after me into the back room, handing me a black plastic trash bag, “Are you going to take him home, or to the pound? Because you know the pound –“
“F’r pity’s sake Grandma,” I bellowed, “I already told you. I’m taking him home and burying him with Wesson and Little Bit.”
We have an acre of land, and what has become a pet cemetery behind the chicken coop, right down to flowers and little crosses over the mounded graves.
“Why don’t you go home,” I ordered.
Grandma stopped, blinked through her thick glasses, then nodded all three of her chins.
“I think I will.”
She turned and disappeared back into the waiting room.
The immediate backroom was as bare as the waiting room, with a cracked wood partition on coasters between us and what looked like an office.
“If you could place him up here,” the vet said softly. I picked up the poodle and placed it on the stainless steel platform. Christmas’ breath was rapid as it glanced warily around the austere surroundings. I looked around, too and spoke self-consciously.
“I’ve never seen this done before.”
“First a sedative,” the vet said. “Could you hold him?”
I grabbed Christmas, and the vet eased the needle into the dog’s neck. The poodle jumped, it’s panting trebled.
“Three ccs,” the vet intoned solemnly as he threw the needle into a red plastic container. We stood back. Christmas panted madly, it’s sides fluttering like a hummingbird’s.
We waited. Then waited some more. The vet put a hand on his hip as he studied the poodle.
“Sometimes it takes a while. Even three ccs. Why don’t you go back to the waiting room.”
“Well, if it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to stay with Christmas.”
“No.” The doctor shook his head. “Take the dog with you.”
Discomfited, I carried the still wary Christmas back into the waiting room. Grandma was there with purse perched primly on her lap. We all looked startled.
“Is it done? Oh!”
“I thought you were going home,” I bellowed at Grandma.
“He’s not, he’s –“
“He gave Christmas a sedative,” I barked, “Something to make him relax and sleep.”
Still she stared at me uncomprehending.
“Go home. I’ve got it.” I shook my head, pantomiming. “You don’t have to stay.”
“Yes.” I hoped she didn’t hear my exasperation. “Go home!”
She nodded, then added, “I would like the collar and leash back.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
Grandma rose and waddled deliberately toward the door. Without looking back she said, “Good-bye Christmas.”
I turned toward the vet and started to sit down.
“She must think I’m going to pawn the leash on the way home.”
As I settled onto the seat, it’s pad shifted, apparently not fastened to the seat frame, and I fell through. The vet studied me for a second, wedged as I was now in the metal square where the pad should be.
“Yeah, it does that,” he finally offered as I struggled up from the ruined chair. “Try the next one over.”
The rest of the seats in the office were old plastic patio chairs. Still, I settled into the next one gingerly.
To my confusion, the vet sat down nearby and leaned forward. I thought maybe he needed the room for another animal or he had something else to do. Instead, he now watched Christmas, who showed no sign of fatigue or slowing down.
“Congestive heart failure, huh?”
“That’s what his regular vet said,” I answered. “Though that doesn’t explain the seizures and convulsions.”
“Didn’t they offer any treatment?”
“Sure,” I scoffed, “Specialists, surgery, medication, aroma-therapy, acupuncture, take your pick, take ‘em all, and none of it anywhere remotely affordable for the lady that just left.”
There was a long pause. Christmas was still running in circles, but now he wasn’t so sure of his footing.
“Still, it’s hard to give up a life mate, y’know, at this age, your mother in law’s age.”
“She has another dog,” I answered, studying the white high-strung poodle. “About this size.”
There was silence as we watched the mutt some more. I spoke next.
“I have a dog at home, about the size of a German Shepherd. He’s very old, starting to lose control of his rear legs, has trouble walking. He’s a great dog, name’s Ruger. I’m in no hurry, but how much would it cost for him?”
“What kind of dog?” the vet asked softly.
“I don’t know exactly,” I answered. “Big boxy thing. Ended up on my doorstep, and the wife let him in. Doctor Samter said he was part Australian Razor Back, part retriever, and then part something ‘really big’.”
The vet spoke so softly I wasn’t even sure if that’s what he said. I let it go.
The vet leaned back.
“I just lost my dog.”
“I’m sorry … When?”
“I guess it’s even harder for a vet.”
The man did not answer. He rose.
“Let’s give it a try.”
The concrete floor seemed newly waxed underneath Christmas’ pads as we started again toward the back room. I picked him up. The dog felt so light, but had a barrel chest under all that curly fur.
I put him on the stainless steel slab. Christmas eased down onto his side. We waited some more, but Christmas still looked around, although much of his wariness was gone.
“Okay, we can do this,” the vet began. “I’m going to need you to hold him down.”
“Couldn’t we give him some more of that sedative?”
“Three cc’s is enough to knock a dog four times the size of this guy out cold,” the vet countered softly. He wrinkled a brow and studied Christmas. “Is he on any medication?”
“No,” I answered, thought about it, then corrected myself. “I honestly don’t know.”
The vet studied me critically for a moment, then looked back to Christmas. He sighed.
“Hold him around the neck.”
I grabbed Christmas. The doctor put a green rubber band, the kind newspapers are wrapped in, around Christmas’ upper left front foreleg, then clipped it tight with a pair of forceps. Christmas began to struggle. I pinned the poodle tighter.
“Does he bite?”
“I got him. It’s super quick, isn’t it? I mean, it doesn’t hurt. Right?”
The vet turned toward us with a syringe filled with a clear liquid. He sighed heavily, and mixed in with his breath was the word, “Probably.”
The vet swabbed the inner side of the forearm, then poured the alcohol over the spot. I wondered if he was worried about infection, but realized he was trying to mat down the poodle’s fluffy fur so he could see the skin. With a tight hold on the dog’s leg, he eased the needle through the skin. Christmas jumped.
Crimson billowed into the clear liquid in the syringe.
“In the vein,” the vet whispered as he undid the forceps, the rubber band released. He squeezed the liquid in.
Christmas snapped, then settled suddenly back. Still, his chest heaved.
The vet sighed as he pulled the needle out. A gush of dark liquid poured from the needle hole. It flowed for a long time.
Now I snapped up and stared at the vet shaking his head.
“We’ll have to do the other side.”
Before that, though, the vet mopped up the blood.
The process was repeated, the rubber band, the alcohol matting, the needle in the vein. This time, though, Christmas offered no resistance, truly unconscious. When the vet emptied the needle’s contents, there was no leap, no jerk. The poodle’s breathing just stopped.
The vet took his stethoscope and listened attentively. He listened for quite some time. Finally he straightened up.
“That took,” he announced.
He helped me scoop Christmas and flop the corpse into the plastic bag. The bag was heavy as I walked conspicuously out of the vet’s office. I saw myself in Go-Go Liquor’s glass window, and decided, when the time came, I’d shoot Ruger.