One image I have stored on the hard drive is my daughter’s first thunderstorm. From Zeloski’s Hill to Wilkie’s Oak View Farm, an ominous bank of thunderheads roiled coal-black, purple, and split-pea green. With Paige swaddled in her summer weight footy PJs, restless from a missed nap or a burp that hadn’t arrived, I stepped to the porch. As lightning flashed her face like Grandma’s Instamatic, the tears stopped, short of her chin. Her whole body perked at the thunder rumbling like a dump truck on a cattle path.
Sadness gave way to wonder. Her face softened as the raindrops pushed past the pines and filtered through the screen, landing on her cheeks.
Ah yes, the world as seen through the eyes of a child.
No less impactful: the world as perceived from the other end of a leash.
Donna Kopp asked, “Well, c’mon Bill, have you ever tried walking without a dog? What’s the point?”
Diane and Larry Alward are Diesel’s third and final home. D weighed in last Friday at just over a hundred pounds. He can vaporize four cups of his special prescription Hypoallergenic diet in seconds, but the three things the boy requires more than kibble are lovin’, ice cubes, and walking.
Hours with Mittsy, and 60mg of Fluoxetine in the morning, have managed to assuage much of the accumulated anxiety that is surely the product of, or the reason for, his tortuous path to Lake Mills, Wisconsin.
What’s left, Diane has opted to walk right out of him.
On Thursday morning last week, I had pulled to the curb in front of Laker’s Atheletic Club and Steve’s Car and Truck Service (and preachin’ parlor). As I texted my ETA to the Griswold farm, I looked up to see Diesel and Diane southbound, past the headlights of the flatbed as Jr. pulled out to make room in the service bay for the first oil change. Six blocks from home, they’ve walked the town from Lakeside Lutheran to Interstate 94, by way of the Sentry Store and Country Campers.
On Friday morning, the appointment jumped off the screen: “Diesel Alward, ADR.” Every profession has its abbreviations. “AGE” is Claire’s conception, the cure for The Boxer Butt Drag. “V and D” is Vomiting and Diarrhea, “DDLA” is she’s feelin’ lower’n a snake’s belly in a wagon rut, and “PUPD” means she’s drinking the toilet dry and flooding the back yard.
ADR is an Illinois acronym for “Ain’t Doin’ Right.”
Twenty-four hours ago he was dragging Diane down Main Street in the home-stretch of a two-and-a-half mile walk.
I was cautiously optimistic when Diesel came bustin’ through the door like Clay Mathews, but experience has taught us that clients’ concerns are always justified.
“So, Diane, what’s he doing?”
“It’s what he’s not. On our walk this morning, he just sat down and quit after 1/8 of a mile. He barely wanted to move. When I got him home, I opened the freezer and cracked an ice cube tray. He didn’t even lift his head.”
“Then I called you.”
Every dog has his prognostication prop. “Ice-cube negative” for Diesel Alward is a signalment as significant as vomiting, diarrhea, or a prolonged cough.
I checked his mucus membrane color, hydration, heart rate, respiration, temperature, lymph nodes, peripheral and central nervous reflexes, and did an ophtho exam. All normal. If the history and physical do not yield a definitive diagnosis, it’s time to take some samples.
If there’s dead-air while waiting on bloodwork, we’ll try and make small talk. Diane broke the silence as I pondered my list of differentials.
“Kids just love him when we walk past the playground. What really strikes me is that little girls are quick to approach and ask if they can pet the hairy black giant, but boys just stand back.” And the gender divide is not age dependent. “At the Farmer’s Market on Wednesday evenings, women are quick to bend down and get a face washing; the guys are more interested in free samples of smoked cheddar cheese curds.”
Her tone was that of curiosity, but her observation didn’t sit right with me. The only answer I could muster at the time was, “hmmm...” At that moment, I was more concerned with getting Diesel back on the road, and ice-cube positive.
It’s taken a week, but Diesel is eating, drinking and eliminating on schedule. His walks are still short.
I’ve been thinking about the men and boys too preoccupied to dignify Diesel with a butt scratchin’.
I recall Keith McFarlane stretching the width of the exam room, his 230lbs heaving and sobbing, as he stroked the Legendary Taylor’s ears. From pulling him laps around the frozen lake in fourth grade through his first born child, he’d never known life without the maniacal black lab.
One of the most meaningful moments of my practice was Dan the truck driver and me, in Carhartts and coveralls, hugging and crying in the shadow of the corn crib when we finally said goodbye to Buck. Years later, I fumbled for the exam room door handle, tears pooled in my glasses, when Jon Dotzler put his arm on his son’s shoulder as he kissed Mikey on his little beagle nose and whispered, “I love you, buddy.”
Not so much in defense of my gender, but more an assurance to Diane: little boys on the playground may be paying too much attention to the little girls. Young men at the Farmer’s Market might be obsessed with The Salsa Man’s Ghost Pepper salsa.
But, just before the Rainbow Bridge, there’s no doubt. Grease stains, calluses, Little League Baseball caps; big men, tough guys, and little boys, they all cry.