Ms. Rezdog and Her Dad Scott

Once Was a Sheepdog by Keshawn Jackson of Dine College

Once Was a Sheepdog by Keshawn Jackson of Diné College

“Can you drive me to take Rezdog to the vet’s tomorrow?” Scott my neighbor asked, as he gazed steadily at the barn off to my right. These days he avoided eye contact as though he knew that the left side of his face looked . . . I don’t know . . . dead somehow, frozen, still. I overlooked it. Just like a lot of things that I now overlooked about him, things that I once found insufferable. He was a family friend, he’d had a massive stroke at age 38, and his life now was pitiful.

Scott had a high paying job, a high IQ, and a high opinion of himself to match. Now, unable to work, he couldn’t stand or walk for very long before lightheadedness stole his equilibrium, sometimes waking to find himself sprawled on the floor. No more hours of creating culinary masterpieces for his guests. Now he ate microwave meals alone. No more fancy cocktails or cruising. His medications forbade alcohol, and I drove him to the store and to various appointments on our small reservation.

“It’s about time,” I answered, relieved as I thought of his elderly companion, Ms. Rezdog, as I called her. For two months the breath of the little black labrador reeked from a mouth full of bad teeth. Till today, my carefully phrased entreaties to get her teeth seen to, had been met with indifference.

“She’s just a dog, I gave her a good life, she’s an old dog, time for her to go,” he often said. But now, could it be that this guy has grown a sense of empathy towards the afflictions of others, now that he was afflicted?

“She doesn’t cry, so she shouldn’t be in any pain,” he mused. Some individuals have a high pain threshold and some cry in agony over very little, obviously animals can be the same, I silently mused. Scott fell somewhat into the latter category; I’d listened sympathetically as he often described his symptoms, but now I realized that he had no comprehension of those who could be in considerable pain and still not express it.

“Scott, toothaches aren’t pain-free—haven’t you ever had a bad toothache?” I asked cautiously.

“Yeah, but I’m the one who’s her dad, I’ve had her all her life, she’d let me know if she was hurting,” he insisted, as he gazed down into her adoring eyes, rimmed with spikes of soft white hairs.

“See you two tomorrow then,” I said, as I headed out.

The next morning, after we’d muscled a wildly squirming Ms. Rezdog into the backseat, we set out to the next town of Bottineau’s veterinarian clinic, an hour away. We drove with the windows half open in the autumn chill; the odor from the poor dog’s mouth was intolerable in the small car.

Suddenly he blurted, “I’m just going to have her put down, this is too much, she hates riding in the car, they’re going to want her back for repeat visits after the infection’s down, she’ll hate that, she’s too old for all this …” he spoke rapidly as he stared at the pasturelands we passed.

“Oh,” I sighed.

“Oh,” he repeated my word back to me. After some moments he continued, “It’s not fair to her, she’s too old now to go through all this …” his reasoning droned on. I considered his words, saying nothing. Ten minutes of silence passed.

“I need to stop at the pet store, my goldfish only eats dried shrimp flakes. How spoiled is that? My cat, she got finicky too. How does that happen do you suppose? She’s trained me into buying fancy brands of food. My mother only likes a certain type of soda-pop and snacks. Man, these people around me, so spoiled!”

“Not like us, huh?” I kidded. I would not proffer any sympathy, no objection, nor an opinion concerning his decision about his dog.

“Fine then! I’ll find out,” he growled. “I’ll get them to examine her, see how bad her teeth are, take ‘em all out. . . . How is she supposed to eat then, huh?” he exclaimed in a rush, to my open-mouthed surprise.

“Dog food in cans,” I replied, flatly, as I glanced behind us at Ms. Rezdog, trembling in the rear seat.

“The decay is severe, her rear teeth can be saved, but there’s the infection to be treated first. The extractions will require sedation, surgery, but she’s a good candidate for this. given her age, she’s in remarkably great shape,” the veterinarian doctor, a petite woman with a low soft voice, explained.

“Two thousand dollars, at $75 a month. Dang, I may not live long enough to pay it off,” Scott said later, as half of his face smiled.

“She loves her face rubbed just that way,” Scott said with a hoarse voice as he stepped into the room. I softly massaged her jaws, the black velvet of her ears tickling my wrists, as I sprawled on the floor cuddling Ms. Rezdog. He’d returned again from speaking to the tiny lady doctor. She’d also returned to the exam room, holding a syringe containing a clear pink fluid.

“She’ll be alright then? You’ll be alright then?” he asked me.

“You’ll be alright then,” I repeated his words to him, as I watched him exit the room slowly. The doctor shaved an inch of fur off the little dog’s forearm and injected the contents of the syringe into the blue-white skin.

“It’ll take around three to five minutes,” she whispered. As she stepped out, I gazed at the little dog. I arranged her small, heavy body into a comfortable position. The movie Steel Magnolias came to mind. Death hovered, the men stepped away, but the woman stayed, her loving presence a solace for the one slipping from this life.

“You good girl, Ms. Rezdog,” I crooned, as I stroked her silky forehead. Her downy muzzle slowly nestled down into my hand.

Soon she slept.

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