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.
“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.”
My GPS, my other traveling companion, sat in the center console. I pulled it out 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.
“This is 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.
The greasy man had stepped back out of the office and was yelling again, “Hey, if you’re done here, quit clogging up my pumps. Take yer mutt and git moving”.
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’d been in storage 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 a couple of weeks ago. He was a little SR5 extended cab pickup with a camper shell. I had a foam mattress back there along with my sleeping bag and pillow, allowing me to pull off the road and sleep anywhere.
“Here we go,” I said. I drove out of the gas station and pulled over to program the Gypsy. We were in a small town in southwest Washington state, so it shouldn’t be too far to find a vet. The first result showed a TLC Veterinary Hospital a little less than half a mile up the road.
As I followed the verbal instructions the Gypsy was giving me I heard the dog whine. I looked over at her and saw that she was nosing the Gypsy. With her eyes wide open, mouth shut, and her ears up, she definitely looked curious. I guess 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 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 me a good feeling about he place. I checked the hours listed on the door; good, they were open till six, another hour.
“You wait here while I check inside,” I told the dog, “I’ll be back real soon, be a good girl, okay?” I opened the truck windows about a third of the way down. I looked at her, she looked right back at me, yawned and 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 interior was just as clean as the outside. Pet merchandise decorated the side walls with benches in a central waiting area. A bulletin board displayed announcements of pet news, rescues and adoptions, and what I was looking for, lost pets. A central counter stood before a large wall, where the shelves were being used to store files. A nice looking girl about my age, twenty-three, stood behind the counter talking on the phone.
She gave me a quick welcoming wave and turned halfway away from me. I heard her talking in a loud whisper, “You have to quit calling me at work.”
I turned away to give her privacy and looked out of the window. I 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.” I heard the phone placed back onto its cradle.
“Sorry about that, may I help you?” I heard in a normal tone of voice.
I turned back to the counter. The girl, looking a little stressed, had a tight smile on her face.
“Um, yeah, I have a dog,” I said.
She raised her eyebrows, “In your pocket?”
Involuntarily I patted the side pockets on my 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 I 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,” 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 and found animal board. I scanned it quickly and didn’t see any lost pet notices 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.
“I had to leave some parts blank.”
“That’s okay,” she said. She scanned the form, “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?”
I shook my head, feeling a little embarrassed.
“It’s 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 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.” I flashed her a thank you smile.
Back out in the truck, the dog sat 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 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, hop 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. I marveled at how well trained she was.
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?” The only dogs I’d been around were my mom’s golden retrievers. We always had two or three up until I was in High School and mom’s latest army boyfriend didn’t like dogs and she didn’t replace them when they passed away.
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. She was such a good girl. 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 clean smell 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. 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 nodded toward the dog. I watched her tail, when it wagged it seemed like her whole furry rear end wagged.
“Okay,” Suzanne said. She stood up and smiled at me.
I 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. 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 wagged 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.