Howard, the $10,000 Dog

Howard — the ten thousand dollar dog

Sounds like a Disney movie doesnt it? Here he is: The Chanel suit I wanted to be buried in, the vacation to Ireland to follow my ancestors lives from pub to pub, fifty injections of Face Filler, a down payment on a Winobago, property taxes for five years, recording of another lousy CD. Is Howard worth it?

Well, it really isn’t about Howard, it’s about me.

Last night I contacted my doctor and asked for a broad spectrum anti-biotic to battle the green sludge that lodged in my lungs and sinuses after a nasty flu-cold of last week. What I really needed was sleep. Sleep interrupted by Howard due to his severe diarrhea. His need to be taken outside every half hour. Face down on a mattress strewn with wades of nose blown toilet paper, Nyquil, Excedrin PM and half a chicken and my Buddhist paperback, I tried to focuse on the joy of the moment. Being alive, warm, stomach full, almost able to breath. Howard settled his shit-covered butt parked next to my face. I began to doze off. Howard started shivering uncontrollable. Tail between his legs, he walked into a closet. He hates closets.

I called the 24 hour Vet emergency line at “South Paws”, in Fairfax, Virginia, where Howard had had his spinal surgery a month ago. The doctor said to bring Howard in immediately.

Washington D.C. was beautiful at that hour. Not one car on the highways, just the intermittant explosive glow of white light against the memorials and statues, the White House, the Capital. In an otherwise darkened city, candles on a birthday cake. Ten miles of traffic lights, seemingly useless, continued to turn yellow and then red, and I waited at the more complicated intersections for sometimes up to five minutes. Frozen in time, in the middle of the night, Howard quivering and shitting in my lap, waiting for nothing.

It was quiet enough to hear the old engine in the Volvo, listen for a clunk, thump or rattle that might mean a AAA towing experience. The engine purred like a sewing machine. It seemed to float down the road like a magic carpet, a low flying glider, right up to the Vet clinic door. Oh. Some more joy. The joy of having an unreliable car that actually makes it to a destination.

The graveyard shift Vet took some information and filled out several forms for me to sign. One form is an estimate of the cost, the kind you get when a Volvo mechanic needs to fix your car but doesn’t know what’s wrong with it. Also, a consent form to treat Howard, in other words, permission to do what is necessary to make him better as long as they stayed within the estimated price range of $670 to $877.

The office was magnificent. Marble floored with Freudian style Victorian couches, violently modern oil paintings and pencil drawings of dogs and cats on the walls, a corner tea set on an antique sideboard, a plate of cookies. As expansive as a small ballroom, the waiting rooms were appointed with Early American antiques and Persian rugs. Quite lovely. Nice place, this waiting room, to wait. To wait for a eye bugging bill that would forever change the way you thought about money and your relationship to it.

And There was Howard. A dog. My dog. A good dog. In my bank account, the last of my life savings. The pen in my hand to sign the consent form. It was easy to sign. I like signing my name to consent forms. A mere signature and, voila, events can begin that can make everything right again.

I felt giddy with hubris. Wow. I was not just a lazy, spoiled, slightly bloated American. My priorities were solidly Christian, even if I didn’t go to church or accept Bible stories as the Word of God. Joy!

The vet took Howard into the back and for two hours I thumbed through Washington D.C. society magazines. I looked at all the stiff women in Chanel suits standing next to fat men in Tuxedos. I pretended that I was one of the women, an older version of a trophy wife, with my Louis Vuitton purse and my fat, ugly but charming husband’s credit card, no concern about the cost, not giving it a second thought, just worrying, slightly, about being too tired for my morning polo lesson. What the hell was wrong with that. Screw off, Buddhists! There is nothing wrong with a fantasy.

About four in the morning the vet came out carrying a roughed up Howard. He said he wasn’t completely certain what the trouble might be, but it could be a kidney infection. He comforted me, telling me that kidney transplants were performed with high success rates.

Whatever slight enlightenment bubble I’d evoked had a sudden black-out and I was back in the hell of extra-small thinking. Chanel suit, property taxes, Spain, Ireland. Worse yet: Bed, Bath and Beyond. And an old dream resurfacing, baglady fears, a damp boarding room, a can of cold beans, rot gut booze, a toothless smile, unmarked grave.

I did not hesitate in signing another consent form that recalculated the cost at somewhere between $1,266 and $8,453. I was giddy with the fast ride from ridiculous to sublime; a transition from the fantasy of control to a swirling whirl of hysteria around a calm center. Hurricane head.

Hitting the bottom of my bank account suddenly seemed like a gift, a prerequisite for living out my destiny, a mysterious message from the universe. Just flat-out fabulous.

Howard and I are both on ten day courses of anti-biotics. He only takes his pills if they are wrapped in duck pate. I prefer mine with a can of beans. Good thing.


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