Marty climbed into the driver’s seat, shut the door, and took a closer look at the dog. She gave him a glance and continued to look out the front windshield.
“You look like you’re ready to travel,” he told her.
Her small short whine told him she wanted to get moving.
“Having another traveling companion would be great, sweetie. I’ve been alone for a while. 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 ahead.
“Okay, let me talk to the gypsy and find the nearest animal hospital, they usually know about lost dogs.”
The GPS, his other traveling companion, sat in the center console. He pulled it out and showed it to her. She gave it a cursory sniff and turned her attention back out the windshield. He powered it on and waited.
“This is my gypsy,” he told her. “G P S, gypsy. I figure that a gypsy never gets lost, get it?”
She was not impressed, she ignored him.
The greasy man had stepped back out of the office. “Hey, if you’re done here, quit clogging up my pumps. Take your mutt and get moving,” he yelled.
Marty waved at him, resisting the urge to give him a different finger than before. The dog looked at the greasy man and gave a low growl.
“I guess you figure people out pretty quickly, eh?”
He buckled his seatbelt, turned the key, and his trusty Toyota, Topper, fired right up. He’d bought him used four years ago but Topper had been in storage the last two years when Marty had been serving in Afghanistan. He’d taken him in for a quick tune-up before hitting the road a couple of weeks ago. Topper was a little SR5 extended cab pickup with a camper shell. A foam mattress in back along with his sleeping bag and pillow, allowed him to pull off the road and sleep anywhere. He kept his Army rucksack, camping gear and two-man tent back there also.
“Hit the road Jack.” That song, the Ray Charles version, popped into Marty’s head every time he started driving. He left the gas station and pulled over right away to program the gypsy. They were in a small municipality called Midstown in southwest Washington State, so he didn’t think it would be too hard to find a vet. The first result showed TLC Veterinary Hospital a little less than half a mile up the road.
As he followed the verbal instructions the gypsy gave him, he heard the dog whine. He looked at her and saw she was nosing the gypsy. With her eyes wide open, mouth shut, and her ears up, she definitely looked curious. He guessed she’d never heard a talking map before.
They 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-like bricks with a lot of windows, it had glass doors to give view of other animals entering or leaving. The doctors’ names were listed on a plaque next to the doors. Everything looked clean, giving him a good feeling about the place. He checked the hours listed on the door; good, they were open till eight, another hour.
“You wait here while I check inside,” He told the dog, “I’ll be back real soon, be a good girl, okay?”
He opened the truck windows about a third of the way. Marty looked at her, she looked right back at him, yawned and turned to watch an older couple walking their beagle out to their car. She didn’t make a sound. He got out, locked the truck, and walked to the front door, where he paused and looked back to check on her. She was watching him. He waved at her and headed inside.
A bell announced his entry. The interior was just as clean as the outside. Pet merchandise decorated the side walls with benches in a central waiting area. Bulletin boards displayed announcements of pet news, rescues and adoptions, and what he was looking for, lost pets. The service counter stood before a large wall, where the shelves were being used to store files. A nice looking girl, who looked to be a few years younger than his twenty-five, fidgeted behind the counter talking on the phone.
She gave him a quick wave and turned halfway away from him. He heard her talking in a loud whisper, “You have to quit calling me at work.”
He turned away to give her privacy and looked out of the window. He could see the dog sitting in the passenger seat, watching the front of the building.
“You need to just leave me alone. We have a customer, I have to go.” He heard the phone placed back onto its cradle.
“Sorry about that, may I help you?” She said in a normal tone of voice.
Marty turned back to the counter. The girl, looking a little stressed, had a tight smile on her face.
“Um, yeah, I have a dog,” he said.
She raised her eyebrows, “In your pocket?”
Involuntarily he patted the side pockets on his light jacket eliciting a small giggle from her. “Oh, no, she’s out in my truck. I was wondering if I could get her checked out.”
“Checked out how? Is something wrong?”
“No, she’s fine, but I just got her and thought I should have her looked at.”
“Okay,” she said, “you haven’t been here before, have you?”
“No, I’m, um, we, we’re just passing through town,” He looked at her name tag, “Suzanne?”
“That’s me. Here, fill out this form and Dr. Taylor should be able to see you in a few minutes.” She handed him a sheet of paper attached to a clipboard with a pen on a chain.
Marty took the clipboard and walked to look at their lost and found animal board. He gave it a quick scan and didn’t see any lost pet notices that fit the description of the dog. He let out a small sigh of relief and sat down to complete the questionnaire.
He filled out his name and address, only a P.O. Box now since he had sold his mom’s house. But when he got to the part about the dog, he couldn’t fill it all out. He wasn’t sure what kind of dog she was and he didn’t know her name yet. He took the form back to Suzanne.
“I had to leave some parts blank.”
“That’s okay,” she said. She scanned it, “Does your dog have a name?”
“Um, no. I haven’t named her yet, I just got her.”
“And you don’t know what breed she is?”
He shook his head, feeling a little embarrassed.
“It’s okay,” she said with a quick smile, “but I have to ask you something. I noticed that your address is a P.O. Box and that it’s not local. We have to make sure you have the means to, um, pay your bill. We don’t accept checks unless they are drawn on a local bank. I’m sorry to have to ask.”
“No problem,” Marty said. “I’ve got a credit card, or you can use it as a debit card if that works better.” He smiled. Ironic since he felt like a rich man after selling his mom’s house. Hard to believe he had over a hundred thousand dollars in his bank accounts.
“Okay that’s fine,” she said, “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?”
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, I’ll be right back.” He flashed her a grateful smile.
Back out in the truck, the dog sat in the same spot, watching him as he came out the door. He stuck his hand in his pocket and thumbed the unlock button on the truck key. She glanced at the lock as it popped up near her shoulder. He walked up and greeted her again.
“Hi sweetie.” He opened the door and she waited. “I need to put this leash on you to take you inside to see the doc, okay?” He showed her the leash and let her smell it. She gave it a good sniffing for about ten seconds and then looked up at him.
Marty 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 him slide it down around her neck. It was a loose slip knot so he needed to take up some tension so the leash wouldn’t fall off. It fit right next to her blue nylon collar. He made sure the leash didn’t catch on the tag, stopped and looked at it again, ‘I am Yours.’ It gave him a warm feeling.
Marty moved aside to give her room to exit. “Okay hun, hop out.”
She jumped out with ease and sat right at his feet, not pulling on the leash at all. He closed and locked the truck and asked her, “Ready?” He started walking and she came right with him, staying even with his side. Marty marveled at how well trained she was.
When they walked in Suzanne said, “Wow, she’s beautiful. She’s an Aussie, I love that breed.”
“Oh,” Marty said, “what’s an Aussie?” The only dogs he’d been around were his mom’s golden retrievers. They’d always had two or three up until he was in High School. Then mom’s latest army boyfriend didn’t like dogs and she didn’t replace them when they passed away.
Suzanne gave him 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.” He felt bad about stretching the truth this way, but he 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.”
The dog walked with him, neither of them putting tension on the lead. Suzanne led them into a spacious room with a door on the opposite side. A stainless steel table dominated the center of the room, with a small sink, mirror, and cabinets filling one side. A padded bench stood against the other wall, parallel to the steel table. Pictures of various breeds of dogs hung on the open walls. A good fresh smell with just a hint of antiseptic went with the clean sterile look of the room.
“Is it okay if I pet her?” Suzanne crouched in front of the dog.
Suzanne held out her hand, palm down, for the dog to smell. A quick sniff, a small lick and the dog sat back and smiled. Suzanne reached out and scratched her under her chin. Marty saw some movement down at the dog’s rear end; he realized she was wagging her little tail.
“She likes that,” he 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,” Marty 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.” He nodded toward the dog. He watched her tail, when it wagged it seemed like her whole furry rear end wagged.
“Okay,” Suzanne said. She stood up and smiled at him.
Marty kneeled 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. He looked closer; it was a blend of black, gray and white, with a few bigger black spots. She looked around at him, wagged her tail and smiled as he stroked her.
“How come she doesn’t have a real tail?” he said, more to himself 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 his 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.