“Good morning, kids,” Dr. Rebecca Miller said in greeting to the two dogs and three cats who were currently residing in the intensive care unit of the Animal Friends Veterinary Clinic. Dr. Miller was the clinic’s owner and its only veterinarian. She typically arrived at the clinic about an hour before the rest of her staff to check on her patients.
Rebecca stood a little over five feet tall. She had an athletic build that attested to her active lifestyle. She kept her medium length, brown hair pulled back from her face more from necessity than preference. She was all about practicality and keeping her hair pulled back prevented it from getting in her way while she worked. On more than one occasion, she had thought about cutting it all off, but she hadn’t been able to bring herself to do it.
“How’s everyone feeling this morning?” Dr. Miller’s habit of talking to the animals, as if they understood every word she said, was a constant source of amusement to her staff as well as her patients’ owners. It was also one of the reasons she had a reputation for being an excellent veterinarian. Dr. Miller loved animals and it showed. In fact, she felt much more comfortable talking to them than she did their owners. She had never been much of a people person. Oftentimes, she barely even noticed the person standing in the exam room. Instead, her focus was centered entirely on her patient. Oftentimes, a client would approach her at a public place and Rebecca would have no idea who they were until they mentioned their pet.
“Looks like you got your IV all twisted up again, Harvey,” she said reproachfully, addressing the red and white Boxer who sat in the wire cage at the far end of the small room that served as the ICU. Harvey looked up at her through large brown eyes, the wrinkles on his face adding to his guilty expression. He wagged his stubbed tail enthusiastically as she approached him. Rebecca opened the cage door and crawled part way inside. She reached for Harvey’s leg and pulled it toward her in order to flush the catheter with heparinized saline. Harvey bumped his muzzle into Rebecca’s shoulder, knocking her to one side.
“Hey, watch it, you big oaf,” she chided as she righted herself.
Harvey let out an apologetic whimper.
“I forgive you,” Rebecca chuckled, reaching out to rub Harvey on the ears. He moaned softly and leaned into her hand. “Like that, do ya?” she asked as she continued to massage his ear. “I think you’re looking good enough to go home this morning, big guy. How about you don’t eat any more of your mom’s clothes, okay?”
To the embarrassment of Harvey’s owner, Rebecca had removed three socks and two pairs of lacy underwear from Harvey’s stomach two days previously. Rebecca had been relieved that the underwear had indeed belonged to Mrs. Johnston. The last time she had removed underwear from one of her patient’s digestive tracts it had turned out not to belong to the dog’s owner, but instead had belonged to her husband’s mistress. That was a scene Rebecca was happy not to repeat.
She backed out of Harvey’s cage and went to check on her other patients. They occupied the bank of stainless steel cages that were pushed up against the room’s north wall. The bank was arranged so that four small cages rested on top of two larger ones. Rebecca’s short frame made it difficult for her to reach the patients in the top cages. She pulled up a step ladder and climbed onto it, raising herself up high enough to peer into one of the upper cages.
A low growl emanated from the cage. Rebecca smiled at the gray tomcat who sat hunched in the back corner of the cage. The strong ammonia-laced scent of cat urine filled her nostrils. She wrinkled her nose and said, “It smells awful in there, but I’m glad to see you’re urinating, Mr. Jenkins.”
He had been brought into the clinic two days with a blocked urethra. Dr. Miller had passed a urinary catheter to clear the blockage. She had pulled the catheter the night before in the hope that Mr. Jenkins would be able to urinate on his own.
The cat glared at her and let out another low, threatening growl. He twitched his tail in agitation. “I don’t blame you. I’d be upset too, if I’d been put through the indignities you’ve had to suffer for the last two days,” Rebecca said in a soft soothing tone. “Easy does it, I’m just gonna reach in there and pull out that stinky towel. You know, it would’ve been more pleasant for everyone, if you had used the litter box.”
Mr. Jenkins continued to growl threateningly as Rebecca gingerly reached into his cage and pulled out the urine soaked towel. “You are a contrary one, aren’t you? Don’t worry, I’m sending you home today. You won’t have to spend another night in a room full of dogs.”
Just then, Rebecca heard someone knocking on the front door. She stood and hurried toward the front of the clinic. She knew that someone banging on the door at that time in the morning meant they had an emergency, or at least they thought they did. Pet owners were funny. There were the owners who completely overreacted to a mild symptom and rushed their pet in to see her, and then there were the owners who would wait until it was too late for her to help the pet before they brought it in. She really never knew which one she was going to get.
As she entered the waiting room, she saw a woman with a panicked look on her face peering through the window. Rebecca pulled the door open. Before she could say anything, the woman blurted out, “I just ran over my dog. He’s in the car. He’s bleeding. Please help him.”
“How big is he? Do I need to get a stretcher?” Rebecca asked.
“He’s only about 20 pounds. I was afraid to move him, so I left him in the car,” the woman answered, casting a worried glance toward the Jeep that was parked in front of the clinic.
“Okay, let me take a look at him,” Rebecca said as she walked toward the woman’s vehicle.
The woman hurried ahead of her and opened the left rear door. Rebecca leaned inside. A brown and white mixed breed with wiry hair was lying on a blanket. He was taking quick, shallow breaths. Rebecca could see blood oozing out of his nose. His right rear leg hung at an awkward angle. Rebecca wrapped the blanket around the dog and gently lifted him into her arms. As she turned to move toward the clinic, she asked, “What’s his name?”
“Benson,” answered the woman.
Rebecca took Benson into one of the exam rooms. When she placed him on the stainless steel table that took up the center of the small room, he lifted his head and wagged his tail at her.
“Aren’t you a sweetheart?” Rebecca cooed. “I know you’re hurting and yet you still managed a tail wag for me.”
She continued to talk to him while she performed her examination. She listened to his heart and lungs, palpated his abdomen, and looked for any external injuries. Benson’s owner stood on the opposite side of the table nervously wringing her hands. When Rebecca finished, she looked up and said, “His lungs sound like he has a contusion on the right side. He is also showing signs of shock and his right rear leg is broken. I need to get him started on an IV to stabilize him. Then I’d like to take some radiographs to see how badly the leg is broken and to look for any other broken bones.”
“All right,” the woman answered. “Please do whatever he needs. I feel terrible. I didn’t even know he was outside. My husband let him out the front door right as I was backing out of the garage.”
The bell over the front door jingled as someone entered the clinic. “Good morning, Rebecca,” the new arrival called.
“Good morning, June,” Rebecca responded. A moment later, a large-boned, older woman with short gray hair poked her head into the room. Her round face was smooth despite her age. Her blue eyes sparkled with intelligence and good humor.
“Who do you have there?” she asked.
“This is Benson. He’s been hit by a car and is in shock. Could you please give me a hand getting an IV started?”
“Sure thing. Let me just put my stuff away and I’ll be right there.”
June Montgomery had been Rebecca’s receptionist since she had opened Animal Friends five years ago. Rebecca had hit the jackpot when she had hired June. She was friendly, efficient, and caring, all the qualities needed in a good receptionist. She and June had immediately bonded. She relied heavily on June to handle the duties of smoothing the ruffled feathers of unhappy clients as well as collecting overdue payments. Rebecca knew the place wouldn’t run nearly as efficiently without June there to handle the front office.
She nodded in response to June. Then she said to Benson’s owner, “Make sure he doesn’t decide to leap off the table while I go get the supplies I need to place the IV.”
A few minutes later, she had the IV running. She and June shot the radiographs. Then she carried them into the exam room to show Benson’s owner. “Benson’s right tibia and fibula are broken. Those are the bones in the lower half of the right leg,” she said, pointing to the break on the radiograph. “The good news is that the break was clean. He’ll need to be in a cast for 4-6 weeks, but the leg will be good as new. Nothing else seems to be broken.” She pointed to the chest radiograph and said, “The lungs should be black. Air doesn’t show up on a radiograph. However, you can see all this cloudy, white stuff here.” She pointed to the spot on the radiograph. “That’s the contusion I was talking about. It will heal with the help of some medication. Bottom line, with a little TLC, Benson is going to be fine.”
The woman sighed with relief and said, “Thank you so much. When can I take him home?”
“He’ll need to stay here today to get more fluids. He should be able to go home tomorrow. We’ve got him all set up in a cage in the ICU. You’re welcome to go back and see him before you leave,” Rebecca answered.
Rebecca took Benson’s owner to the ICU. Silent tears ran down her cheeks as she opened Benson’s cage door and gently ran her hands over his head. “I’m so sorry, Benson,” she whispered. “I love you. You’re such a wonderful dog.” Then she said to Rebecca, “I really need to get to work. I’ll call later this afternoon to check on him.” She closed the cage and hurried out of the room. Benson whimpered softly.
“Don’t worry, Benson. She’ll be back,” Rebecca soothed.
After the woman left, Rebecca finished checking on her other patients. Lobo, a young Blue Heeler mix, had broken his leg and had a large section of his skin torn off of his hip and thigh when he fell out of the back of his owner’s pickup. Rebecca had given Lobo’s owner an ear full on the importance of making sure his dog was secure when riding in the back of a truck. The man had been shocked and a little angry, but Rebecca hadn’t cared. She was usually very even-tempered. However, dogs riding unsecured in the back of pickups was one issue that could get her fired up quickly. She had been embarrassed by her outburst after the man left, but whenever she looked at Lobo’s leg, her irritation returned. She would have to wait for Jimmy, her technician, to arrive to help her clean and dress his wounds.
The two kittens, one male and one female, in the other top cage were litter mates. They had been brought in to be neutered and spayed. Their owner had asked to leave them overnight due to her late work schedule. They would be going home first thing this morning.
A few minutes later, Jimmy sauntered into the clinic. “Morning, Doc,” he greeted. Just out of high school, Jimmy still had the acned face of a teenager. He was tall and lean with sandy blond hair that fell across his hazel eyes. He wore a faded T-shirt and jeans with rips in the knees.
Three months ago, Jillian, her previous technician, had suddenly eloped leaving Rebecca in a jam. Jimmy had walked in two days later asking for a job. Rebecca had been certain he wouldn’t last, but he had been very persuasive during his interview and she had decided to give him a chance. Since that time, he had proven himself to be a hard worker and a fast learner. He had not given Rebecca any reason to regret her decision.
“Good morning, Jimmy,” Rebecca returned.
“Who’s the new arrival?” Jimmy asked.
“That’s Benson. His owner accidentally ran over him with her Jeep this morning.”
“Bummer for him,” Jimmy responded.
“Yeah,” Rebecca agreed, “Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt too badly. Grab Lobo while I get some bandaging material and we’ll see how his wound looks today.”
A few moments later, Jimmy laid Lobo down on the grated table in the middle of the treatment area that ran behind the two exam rooms. “Man, you sure tore into that dude yesterday. I’ve never seen you so mad,” he said, grinning at Rebecca while she carefully removed Lobo’s bandage.
“Yeah, well, you can see what his negligence did to his dog,” grumbled Rebecca defensively.
“I didn’t say he didn’t deserve it,” replied Jimmy. “I just didn’t know you had it in you. The guy outweighed you by 100 pounds and you intimidated him. It was fun to watch.”
Wanting to change the subject, Rebecca said, “It looks really good.” She ran warm water over the wound to clean it and to stimulate blood flow to the area.
Understanding Dr. Miller’s desire steer the subject away from what happened yesterday, Jimmy let it drop and replied, “Sure does. You think it’ll leave much of a scar?”
“No, once it’s all healed, it will barely be noticeable.”
The rest of the day passed like most days in a busy veterinary practice. Dr. Miller spent the morning performing spays, neuters, and other minor surgical procedures. She spent the afternoon seeing patients. She administered vaccines, treated ear infections, and gave several lectures on the importance of dental hygiene. By the end of the day, she was exhausted.
As Rebecca was locking up for the night, she felt a spurt of satisfaction. She loved being a veterinarian. It was all she had ever wanted to do. She had set her goal on becoming a vet while she was still in elementary school and had never wavered from it.
Rebecca drove the short distance to her home at the end of a cul-de-sac in an older subdivision. The house had belonged to her grandmother. Rebecca inherited it when her grandmother had passed away a year ago. It was a red brick home built in the 1970s. It still had all the trimmings inside typical of houses from that era, including orange Formica countertops, wood paneled walls, and green shag carpet. All of her savings had gone into building and starting up Animal Friends, so there hadn’t been any money left to remodel the house. Now that the clinic was finally making a profit, she intended to start fixing up the place. The green shag was definitely going to be the first thing to go.
Rebecca pulled her blue Camry into the driveway on the left side of the house and parked under the carport. It was early spring and a light rain had begun to fall. She was grateful for the carport’s protective covering as she stepped out of her car. She hurried across the open space between the carport and her front door. As soon as she stepped inside the house, she was greeted by a large Golden Retriever holding a tennis ball in his mouth.
“Hi, Captain,” she greeted warmly as she came down to her knees to wrap her arms around the dog’s neck. “How’s my boy?” Captain leaned into her embrace. His feet danced beneath him as his enthusiastic tail wagging rocked his big body back and forth. Rebecca chuckled and said, “I missed you, too.”
She straightened and move toward the back door. Captain padded softly along beside her. “Sorry, buddy, but you’re gonna get a little wet out there,” she said as she opened the door to let Captain outside. The big dog trotted across the back porch and leaped off of it, bypassing the stairs. Her back yard was enclosed by a privacy fence, so she didn’t need to worry about Captain wandering out of the yard. Rebecca closed the door and moved toward the kitchen to see what she could rummage up to eat for dinner.
Half an hour later, she and Captain were curled up on the sofa watching television when her cell phone rang. Rebecca reached for the phone and saw that the call was from her mother, Barbara Miller.
“Hi, Mom,” she answered.
“Hello, Rebecca. How was work today?” her mother asked.
“Good,” Rebecca replied. “It was a pretty ordinary day.”
“Did you meet anyone interesting?”
Rebecca sighed. By ‘interesting’ her mother meant had she met anyone who would make prospective marriage material. Recently, getting Rebecca married had become Barbara’s number one priority. Ever since Rebecca had graduated veterinary school, Barbara had made sure to occasionally remind Rebecca about the need to find a good man. However, since Rebecca’s 30th birthday three months ago, Barbara had changed her game plan and made it an almost daily topic of conversation.
“No, Mom. I didn’t meet anyone interesting,” answered Rebecca in a ‘you’re stretching my patience’ tone.
“You’re not getting any younger, Rebecca. You need to start taking finding a husband more seriously. You need a man in your life, honey.”
“I have Captain. He’s good enough for me,” Rebecca said, reaching out to rub Captain’s shoulder as he lay snuggled against her.
“Dogs aren’t men, Rebecca,” Barbara said in exasperation. “And Captain certainly isn’t going to be able to give me any grandchildren.”
“Mom, we’ve been through all of this before,” Rebecca said, trying to hold on to her patience. “It’s not like men are lining up at my door and I’m turning them away. Men just don’t seem to notice me.”
“Poppycock. Men notice you all the time. You’re the one who doesn’t notice them. You need to take off your blinders, Rebecca.”
Rebecca let out another big sigh and said tiredly, “Mom, it’s been a really long day and I’m tired. Can we have this conversation some other time?”
“Will you at least promise me to try to be more open to the possibility of finding someone?” Barbara asked, a note of pleading in her voice.
“Yes, I promise,” Rebecca said reluctantly.
“All right. That’s all I’m asking. I’ll talk to you later. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Mom,” Rebecca answered as she ended the call. Rebecca heaved another big sigh. It wasn’t as if she didn’t want a man in her life. She had dated a few times, but nothing serious. During veterinary school, she had been too focused on her studies. Then, for the last few years, all her energy had been devoted to getting Animal Friends off the ground. When Rebecca added the knowledge that she wasn’t going to win any beauty contests to the fact that she was 30 years old, she concluded her chances of finding someone anytime soon were slim to none. She also knew that her mom didn’t see it that way and therefore, wouldn’t stop hounding her about finding a husband.
“Like I said to her, Captain, you’re the man in my life,” she said, giving him a good belly scratch. He moaned his pleasure. Her mother’s words echoed through her mind. ‘Dogs aren’t men, Rebecca.’ She’s right about that. Dogs are a lot easier to please. Captain doesn’t care that I’m plain and old.