I stood at the gas pump, hit the button for the cheap stuff, and let out a sigh. It had been too long between stops. Dark clouds hung low and the air felt stale; it smelled like dirty rain and old gasoline. I locked the nozzle on full, leaned against the camper shell, and that’s when I saw the dog. She trotted around the back end of my truck, sat down on the other side of the hose and gave me the look.
She held her head tilted, her eyes were bright and unblinking, and her ears stood at attention, though the tips folded over. She looked young and clean, delicate but not small, around thirty five pounds I guessed. Her appearance mesmerized me. She had brown eyes that sparkled from a spattering of light blue chips. Her merle coloring with copper highlights on her face enhanced those eyes. A ribbon of white fur ran from the patch on top of her head, between those eyes, to her full white muzzle. It had been a damp day, spitting rain at times, but she was dry.
The loud clank from the nozzle shutting off jolted me from our connection; she didn’t appear to notice, she kept watching me. I removed the nozzle and replaced it in the pump, screwed my gas cap back on and secured the little door. She sat there and watched me the entire time.
“So, what cha doin’?” I asked her.
Her lips parted and she gave me a small smile; she started panting very slowly, her eyes locked on mine. It wasn’t a challenge, but I knew her full attention was focused on me.
I smiled back at her and tried my best line, “Do you come here often?”
No answer, but she cocked her head to the other side and stopped panting.
“Is that darned mutt yours?” A greasy man had come out of the office.
“No,” I said, “she just came over to say hi.”
“It’s been hanging around since this morning. It won’t let anyone git near and it hasn’t gone near anyone else, so I thought it was yours.”
“Nope, but she is a cutie.”
“Grab it if you can,” he yelled, “I’ll take it to the pound.”
I held my hand out with my index finger up, “Hang on a minute.”
I turned back to the dog; she was still waiting, watching me. I squatted down, keeping my distance and asked her, “Are you friendly?”
She offered me her right paw. It was white, like the rest of her feet, and elegant.
I stretched out and took it, being as gentle as she looked. “Nice to meet you, I’m Marty.” I released her paw.
“She’s wearing a collar,” I called out to the man. It hung loosely around her neck; a blue plastic tag with lettering was attached.
“Can I read your tag?” I asked her.
She scooted closer to me, stretched out and gave me a light kiss on the corner of my mouth. She sat down with her tag now in easy reach.
I grasped the tag, turned it and read aloud, “I AM YOURS.”
She woofed at me in agreement. I felt a big grin break out on my face. I stood up and opened the door of my truck, “Okay, if that’s how it is, load up.”
She leaped, light as a feather, up into the driver’s seat, hopped across to the passenger seat and sat down, looking like she owned the place. I noticed that she didn’t have a tail.
I waved over to the man, “Yeah, she is my dog, I just didn’t know.”
He looked disgusted, flapped his hand in our direction and stalked back into his office.
A ray of sunshine broke through the clouds and shone on my truck, giving it a glowing aura. A light breeze brought freshness to the air. I looked up and a rainbow caught my eye, standing out from the mostly cloudy sky.
I climbed into the driver’s seat, shut the door and took a look at her. She gave me a glance and continued to look out the front windshield.
“You look like you’re ready to travel,” I told her.
Her small short whine told me she wanted to get moving.
“I’d welcome another traveling companion, sweetie, but I should do my due diligence and check to see if someone is missing you. I wouldn’t feel right about just taking off with you.”
No answer. She kept staring straight ahead.
“Okay, let me talk to the Gypsy and find the nearest animal hospital, they usually know about lost dogs.”
I pulled the GPS, my other traveling companion, out of the center console and showed it to her. She gave it a cursory sniff and turned her attention back out the windshield. I powered it on and waited.
“I call this my Gypsy,” I told her, “G P S, gypsy. I figure that a gypsy never gets lost, get it?”
She was not impressed, she ignored me.
“Hey, if you’re done here, quit clogging up my pumps. Take yer mutt and git moving,” the greasy man had come back out of the office.
I waved at him, resisting the urge to give him a different finger than before. The dog looked over at him and gave a low growl.
“I guess you can figure people out pretty quickly eh?”
I buckled my seat belt, turned the key and my trusty Toyota, Topper, fired right up. I’d bought him used four years ago but he hadn’t been driven much the last two years when I’d been serving in Afghanistan. I’d taken him in for a quick tune-up before hitting the road last week and he tested out great. He’s a little SR5 extended cab truck with a camper shell so I can sleep in the back when I want. I have a foam mattress back there along with my sleeping bag and a pillow.
“Here we go,” I said. I shifted into first and drove out of the gas station. We were in a small town in southwest Washington, the state, so it shouldn’t be too far to find a vet. I pulled over on the side street as soon as I could. Grabbing Gypsy, I programmed her to look for a vet. The first result was a TLC Veterinary Hospital a little less than half a mile up the road.
“Follow the highlighted route,” Gypsy said, followed by, “turn right.”
I had stopped right before the intersection, so I started up again and took a right.
“Proceed point four miles to destination, on right.”
“Okay Gypsy, will do,” I said. The dog was looking at Gypsy like she’d never heard a talking map before.
We took a right into the vet’s parking lot and parked a few spaces away from the door. It looked like a relatively new building. Built of light gray slate type bricks with a lot of windows, it had glass doors so you could see to avoid animal collisions. The doctor’s names were listed on a sign next to the doors. Everything looked clean, a good sign. I checked the hours listed on the door; good, they were open till six, another hour. I opened the truck windows about a third of the way down. I looked at the dog, she was looking right back at me.
“You wait here while I check inside,” I told her, “I’ll be back real soon, be a good girl okay?”
She yawned at me, then turned to look at an older couple walking their beagle out to their car. She didn’t make a sound. I got out, locked the truck and walked to the front door, where I paused and looked back to check on her. She was watching me. I waved at her and headed inside.
The inside was just as clean as the outside. Pet merchandise hung from the side walls above the benches. The counter stood before a large wall, where the shelves were being used to house boxes of files. Bulletin boards on either side of the shelves held announcements of pet news, pet rescues and adoptions, and what I was looking for, lost pets.
“May I help you?” A nice looking girl about my age, twenty-three, stood behind the counter, smiling at me.
“Um, yeah, I have a dog.”
She raised her eyebrows, “In your pocket?”
Subconsciously I patted the side pockets on my light jacket. “Oh, no. She’s out in my truck. I was wondering if I could get her checked out?”
“Checked out how? Is she hurt?”
“No, she’s fine, but I just got her and I thought I should have her looked at.”
“Okay,” she said, “have you been here before?”
“No, I’m, um, we, we’re just passing through town,” I looked at her name tag, “Suzanne.”
“That’s me. Here, fill out this info sheet and Dr. Taylor should be able to see you in a few minutes.” She handed me the paper attached to a clipboard with a pen on a chain.
I took the clipboard and walked over to look at their lost pet board. I scanned it quickly and didn’t see any notices about dogs that fit the description of the dog. I let out a small sigh of relief and sat down to fill out the form.
I filled out my name and address, only a P.O. box now, but when I got to the part about the dog, I couldn’t fill it all out. I wasn’t sure what kind of dog she was and I didn’t know her name yet. I took the form back to Suzanne.
She quickly looked over the form. “Does your dog have a name?”
“Um, no. I haven’t named her yet, I just got her.”
“Okay,” she said with a quick smile, “do you want to bring her in now?”
“Sure, but I don’t have a leash for her yet, do you have one I could borrow?”
“Of course,” she said. She reached under the counter and pulled out a braided nylon cord with a large loop for a handle and a small loop at the other end. She pushed the handle through the small loop to create a noose. “Just put this around her neck and bring her in.”
“Okay, thanks. I’ll be right back.” I smiled at her, she was very helpful.
I walked out to my truck. The dog was still sitting in the same spot, watching me as I came out the door. I stuck my hand in my pocket and thumbed the unlock button on the truck key. She glanced at the lock as it popped up near her shoulder. I walked up and greeted her again.
“Hi sweetie.” I opened the door and she sat and waited. “I need to put this leash on you to take you inside to see the doc, okay?” I showed her the leash and let her smell it. She gave it a good sniffing for about ten seconds and then looked up at me.
I pulled the loop wide and showed it to her, “This needs to go around your neck, okay?”
She stuck her nose into the loop and let me slide it down around her neck. It was a loose slip knot so I needed to take up some tension so the leash wouldn’t fall off. It fit right next to her blue nylon collar; I made sure it didn’t catch on the tag. I looked at the tag again, “I AM YOURS”. It gave me a warm feeling.
I moved aside to give her room to exit. “Okay hun, jump out.”
She jumped out with ease and sat right at my feet, not pulling on the leash at all. I closed and locked the truck and asked her, “ready?” I started walking and she came right with me, staying even with my side.
When we walked in Suzanne said, “Wow, she’s beautiful. She’s an Aussie, I love that breed.”
“Oh,” I said, “what’s an Aussie?”
Suzanne gave me a quizzical look. “An Australian Shepherd, they’re a working breed. You didn’t know?”
“No, I just got her. The guy didn’t know what kind of dog she was. He just called her a mutt, I think he wanted to get rid of her.” I felt bad about stretching the truth this way, but I didn’t know how else to explain it.
“She’s a blue merle, that’s what they call her coloring.” Suzanne walked to the hallway and said, “Bring her around here, I’ll take you to Room B and the doctor will be with you shortly.” She led us into a small room with a door on the opposite side. The dog walked with me, neither of us put tension on the lead. A stainless steel table dominated the center of the room, with a small sink, mirror, and cabinets filling one side. A padded bench was against the other wall, parallel to the steel table. Pictures of various breeds of dogs hung on the open walls. A good clean smell went with the clean sterile look of the room.
“Is it okay if I pet her?” Suzanne asked while crouching down in front of the dog.
Suzanne held out her hand, palm down, for the dog to smell. She gave it a quick sniff, a small lick and sat back and smiled. Suzanne reached out and scratched her under her chin. I saw some movement down at the dog’s rear end, I realized she was wagging her little tail.
“She likes that,” I said
“She’s so sweet and I love her eyes. I can’t believe you haven’t named her yet. What do you think of Matilda, you know, from that Australian song, Waltzing Matilda?”
“That’s cute,” I said, “but we’ll figure it out soon. We’ll know when it’s right.”
“We? Does that mean you and, uh…” Suzanne let it trail off.
“What? Oh, no it’s just me and her,” I said nodding toward the dog. I was watching her tail, when it wagged it was like her whole furry rear end wagged.
“Okay,” Suzanne said. She stood up and smiled at me.
I crouched down by the dog and stroked her, starting at the back of her head and slowly moving down to her rear end. Her fur was soft and felt like silk. I looked closer; it was a blend of black, gray and white, with a few bigger black spots. She looked around at me and again I marveled at her eyes, they just sparkled. She was wagging her tail as I stroked her.
“How come she doesn’t have a real tail?” I said, more to myself than a real question.
Suzanne giggled, “It’s real. Aussie’s are a working breed so most of them have their tails docked after they are born. I think it’s so the tails don’t get caught somehow when they’re working.” She touched my shoulder. “I have to get back out front; the doctor will be here in a couple of minutes.” She walked out, closing the door behind her.
I stayed crouched down petting her and looking her over. She sat there looking like she enjoyed me scratching behind her ears; her eyes were half closed and she looked like she was smiling, with her mouth slightly open, panting slowly. “You’re a good girl, aren’t you,” I whispered at her.
A soft knock at the back door caused us both to look over. An older man wearing a white smock and carrying a file entered. He first looked at the dog for a few seconds and then turned to me and held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Doctor Taylor.”
I stood up and shook his hand. “Marty.”
“And this is Miss No Name?” He dropped the file on the table and sat cross-legged on the floor in front of her, with his hands in his lap. Doctor Taylor looked like he was in his forties, with thinning hair touched with gray. He wore old fashioned wire rim bifocals with an obvious line in the middle of the lens. He didn’t look like he was in great shape, but he didn’t look overweight either.
—– and that’s all I have so far…