I can always tell when my beloved pooch Betsy dreams that she can climb trees like a cat and chase squirrels on her beloved master’s woodland estate.
Betsy, you should know, has quite a way with words.
Sit back while I transcribe for you.
My paws twitch as the sound of my muffled barks and growls filled the room. I magically possess a cat-claw grip allowing me to leap from limb to limb, high among the oak and pine canopy. The greatest threat to life as I have come to know it is those dad-gum squirrels. To the best of my abilities I am going to try and make sure there are none in my Cracker master’s yard.
And just as I’m about to catch up to one of them, my doozy of a dream is interrupted by the familiar sounds of Master Steve fumbling around in the dark as usual.
Snoozing in my personal leather chair, I crack a canine eyelid to see this dutiful doggie daddy shuffling around before daybreak, trying to fix his coffee.
He always mumbles, “Good morning, Betsy, are you ready for breakfast?”
I am, since the last thing I remember was both of us in our recliner watching TV; all 45 pounds of me draped upside down across his warm lap. I seem to recall he was watching an episode of “Downward Dog,” while enjoying a late-night scoop or two of ice cream. The show is about this lonely dog trying to navigate 21st century relationships. Boy, can I relate.
Steve Nelson’s Wild Life: Read and see more of Steve’s stories and artwork
Did he say breakfast?
I am dog-hungry and my stomach is suckin’ backbone.
Hold that thought while I scratch.
I’ve always wanted to tell him to try not to get my bowl mixed up with his. It’s going to happen one of these days. Mine is the one with leftovers topped with a healthy dollop of shredded cheese. His is that bland shredded wheat; I tried it once – not a fan. The last thing I need is more fiber that tastes like wood splinters and gets stuck between my teeth.
Steve mumbles, “Let me stick this bowl in the microwave for a sec and your breakfast will be served.”
Wait, did he say stick? Where? Where? I love sticks!
Most of my friends play with sticks. We use them to play fetch with our masters. Sticks are not only possibly the oldest toys, but probably the best! Humans play with sticks too. They like hockey sticks, baseball bats, boomerangs, cane poles for fishing, walking sticks and marshmallow roasting sticks.
But I digress.
Mmmm! I love, love, love marshmallows, too.
“Mealtime,” he announces oh so proudly, as if he had made something delicious from scratch. I spring from my chair, leaping and waltzing in circles, chomping my jaws, slinging long gelatinous drool that leaks like icicles from my lower lip as he places my bowl on the floor. I wolf down my food and begin to beg him to let me go outside. As the door swings wide, he hollers, “Release the Kraken.” He says that every time I go outdoors, and he must think it’s funny, but I have an urge that needs sweet relief.
Besides, what the heck is a Kraken? Maybe I’ll find one today.
I race out to begin my daily doggy diligence. After taking care of business, my first stop is a quick dip in my prissy pink plastic pool decorated with a flowery pattern. Now I’m ready to terrorize all flora and fauna not fenced off. Like Wonder Woman, I am a mighty force to be reckoned with and have mad skills. Leaping high in the air, I latch ahold of a tantalizing tree branch and, dangling by my jaws, do my happy shake until finally losing interest.
Now I’m ready to do some digging. There are never enough holes in the yard. I can’t seem to get these humans to twist their ankles, but I’m trying. Digging everywhere and chewing almost everything is part of my personal skill set and charm. My routine also includes visiting every armadillo, bunny and gopher turtle hole – and sniffing out any new arrivals. In a moment of sheer boredom, I chew on several of my master’s plastic garden pots, but only the ones with wooden tomato stakes. I thoughtfully leave the shredded pieces strewn up and down his driveway like an obstacle course that will welcome him home. Then I do my best to help on the homestead by slinging his very best garden soil everywhere just like he does.
And, I really love chewing those wooden stakes.
That’s when I hear “bad dog,” followed by “Betsy Diane.” The only time he calls me by my full name is when he is irritated with some facet of his life. I arrived as a rescue dog with just a first name, but I somehow wound up with another name – I think it’s from the pastor’s wife. Although he never has told me how it came about, I like to think it’s because we both have beautiful brown eyes, sparkling dispositions and don’t take no for an answer.
Don’t you think it’s kind of sad that humans don’t have tails? It sure would make it easier for me to read their moods.
After being banished from the fenced tomato garden, I chew small trees, leaving nothing but stubs. I’ll soon have an endless supply of sticks. I like to think of myself as the chipper/shredder my human always wanted. As the morning gave way to the high sun, I decided to concentrate on these extraordinary skills.
Chomping merrily, I bit down on a tree trunk.
A large splinter, about the size of a Popsicle stick, was wedged across the roof of my mouth. It was cutting into my gums. No matter how much I shook and rubbed, that ornery piece of wood is not going to budge.
Oh boy, how am I going to explain this one to the boss?
This is going to get in the way of my other favorite activity – eating.
With a hangdog look, I try to show him how miserable I am, but he doesn’t understand. What can you expect from an artist and sometimes writer?
“What is it, Lassie? Did Timmy fall in the well?” he asks.
Who is this Timmy and why is he calling me Lassie? Are they Krakens?
Sensing incorrectly that my problem must be related to a snake he saw me torturing earlier, he begins searching my slick black coat for any life-threatening bites. Nope.
With watery eyes, I climb into his lap for the evening and he says, “You look pitiful and your breath is really kickin too. I wonder if you have an infection from a broken tooth.”
Prying my jaws open, he spots the big fat splinter in the back of my throat. “Golly day, Betsy, what have you done?” he says.
I take no joy admitting he really does talk like Barney Fife.
Master Steve begins doggedly (sorry) shoving his hand into my mouth, again and again, but he is unable to dislodge the wooden obstruction.
I wanted to say, “I wish you would stop torturing me and just let me stretch out for tummy rubs until I fall asleep.” Finally, he realizes the slimy immovable stick isn’t going to budge and mumbles something about going to see the doc.
Bright and early the next morning, he fixes his coffee while complaining about not getting much sleep. He loads me in the truck to go for a ride.
What, no breakfast? This is not our normal routine. I’m having hunger pains and you’re whining about not sleeping a wink. I am so confused I don’t bother paying attention to where we are going.
As soon as he parks the truck I hop out and put on the big dog brakes as the dreaded V-word appears on the building in front of me.
The battle ends as fast as it begins with him corralling and carrying me into the veterinary office.
My expression is somber; my head hung low with my ears down and tail between my legs. This says it all as we check in with that catty receptionist.
Oh please don’t leave me here like last time. I went home from that horrible experience with a hangover, an Elizabethan collar, stitches on my tummy and no idea to this day what I did wrong.
Dear old Doggy Daddy carries me into the torturously small examination room filled with portraits of cats, lots of stinkin’ cats. The shelves had pictures of bad teeth and jars filled with heartworms. An assortment of surgical tools and needles are laid out on the table.
I don’t like needles or cats or doctors or rooms with lots of cat pictures. However the vet tech is kinda cute.
I’ve found that in the event of a trip to the doctor, I always have to be on guard. My rule: If getting vaccinated, urinate freely on the guy in the white coat. And just for once, can we please take my temperature orally?
Words are exchanged, followed by “Is she a good girl?” I recognize those words. I have never bitten a soul – yet. So Mr. Vet, you’ll have to ask yourself this question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?
I may be intimidating and a scary looking pit bull, but I’m no Dirty Harriet.
“Yes, she is a good girl,” my puppet master says.
It takes all three humans in the room to pry my jaws open so the vet can get a look inside my tooth factory. Good girl, he tells me as he finishes his assessment. I offered a slight wag of my tail as a preventative measure.
Then he goes probing again, this time with a thin pair of needle-nose pliers. He clamps down on the stick and yanks it right out.
“Good girl, Betsy” he says.
Oh, sweet blessed relief from this stick-induced lockjaw.
I saw in some pet magazine before wetting it down that a dog’s owner spends on average $474 annually for surgical vet bills, so my master is thrilled when he hears those wonderful words. “No charge.”
Now wagging my tail wildly and appreciatively, both of us are thrilled as we climb back into the truck for the ride home. We soon roll up to my house and my best friend says “Well, I hope you learned your lesson, Gussie.” Now stick close to the house and stay out of trouble.”
Gussie? He must be talking to his imaginary Kraken friend.
As for me, ahhhhh, home sweet home.
Did someone say stick?
I love sticks.
I gotta find a new stick.