Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones

By Bill Stork, DVM

Corporate America has cashed in on the feel-good of children and dogs for years. Think of Buster Brown* shoes, and the Coppertone kid. I’m glad there’s not much of a market for tree branches and sticks. Someone would render a Rockwell-ish image of a small boy with a stick, and a lab pup waiting for him to throw it. I can’t think of anything cuter, or more dangerous.

Joe Trytten may be one of the most unassuming folks you’ll ever have the pleasure to know. With some regularity he can be found at the Tyranena Brewing Company in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. Before I knew his last name, we simply identified him as “kindly old Joe”. He refers to himself as “permanently unemployed”.

We’ve bonded over his exquisite taste in music, though I’ve yet to embrace jazz. Joe lives in a cottage with the finest sunset views on Rock Lake. Since it lacks central heating, when the snow piles on the roof, he maintains a residence outside Chicago. In a manifestation of “which came first,” he’s a Jordan era Bulls fan. Though he can recite the starting offensive and defensive lines of the Packers, he quietly reminds us his heart belongs to the Bears. We’re going to have to agree to disagree when it comes to the Cubs versus Cardinals. From finance to bluegill fishing, Joe knows. Someday I’ll find a topic he doesn’t have conversational, if not extensive knowledge of.

I’ve never felt smaller than the day I found myself frustrated with Joe’s hearing deficiency, knowing full well I will suffer the same fate. In a crowd he needs to be positioned with his good ear out, and you need to speak directly. We were leaving a Dave Alvin concert when I asked if his hearing was a casualty of Rock and Roll.

“No, I was a gunner in Vietnam.” I looked for the smallest crack in the sidewalk to crawl into.

When his time in service was done, Joe went to Iowa State University. He took math classes randomly. What he did not know was that he was taking graduate level classes; by his junior year of undergraduate study, he had run through all of the PhD-level math classes. <insert your favorite Iowa joke here>

Then Joe went to the University of Iowa, followed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne. After blowing through every math class at both, he became the COO of Southwest Airlines.

He’s also the friend who will engage your father when he comes to visit, and laughs on cue, though he’s heard the story five times.

[Photo: Kiya, courtesy Joe Trytten]

Never far away from Joe will be a seventy-pound chocolate Lab, with legs like Lolo Jones and eyes kind as a nanny. She’s the dog little kids take for a walk around the beer garden, and who quashes Tugger to the ground with her neck when he’s being a three-month-old Catahoula puppy. If something were to happen to Joe, I’d take Kiya in a heartbeat. She’s that dog.

Their union is solid proof of love at first sight.

Joe was on a bike ride when she barreled across the yard and into the road. Faced with flight or fight, he stopped his bike to say hello. He reached with an up-turned palm, which Kiya instantly licked.

Her owner hobbled across the yard, apologizing. Exasperated, he made a grand wave and an offer: “If you like her, you can take her.”

[Photo: Kiya, courtesy Joe Trytten]

Kiya is not without her vices. She has an addiction without an antidote: tennis balls. She can jump from Joe’s dock half way across Rock Lake when Joe chucks them into the water. She will not return without two.

[Photo: Kiya, courtesy Joe Trytten]

Throw a ball into a stack of leaves the size of a VW microbus, and the pile will explode like a tool shed in a tornado.

Which darn near killed her.

Joe was amazingly calm, “I think Kiya is going to need a few stitches.”

I suppose compared to what he saw in Vietnam it was minor, but stateside, this was a big deal. She had followed a tennis ball into the neighbor’s leaf pile. At the base of the leaf pile was the cut stump of a small tree. As she dove in to retrieve the ball, it cut her like a bayonet, piercing her at the thoracic inlet, and slashing past her elbow to her eighth rib. It did not slow her retrieve.

Dr. Clark and staff managed to extract, re-construct, and re-assemble her chest against the onslaught of a busy Saturday.

Kiya may be one of the luckiest dogs I know. Though her first home was fine, she was a bit too much pup for the elder dog in residence. Life with Joe is as good as a girl can get.

A cursory knowledge of anatomy and physics reveals that a few centimeters cranial or caudal, or a few degrees closer to vertical, and Kiya could have bled out from a lacerated jugular vein, or collapsed a lung.

This is not an isolated incident. Unless you have an arm like Aaron Rodgers and your dog runs like Mister Rogers, when you throw a stick, the dog’s going to get there first. If the ground is soft, the stick protrudes like a javelin. Injuries sustained have ranged from perforated soft palates to collapsed lungs.

So, as opportune and quaint as it may seem, if you’re going to play fetch, please get a ball.

*Google the Buster Brown logo. The little round-headed dog looks to be rabid. I’m not sure which is more frightening, him or the Gerber Baby.

[Photo: Kiya, courtesy Joe Trytten]

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