Honoring First Responders


It was a glorious autumn day and I almost cancelled the trip.
It was time for one of those tri-annual, $250, “wellness” trips to the veterinarian. Mr Science was going to be a vet for a while, and he worked at the animal hospital all during high school, so I know everyone in there on a first name basis. (I make wellness trips there three times a year: once for Pip, once for Dot, and once for Lily Cat.) It was Mr. Pip’s turn.

For those of you who don’t know this yet, Pip is running for President on Facebook. His platform is “A Return to Kindness.” He has 74 likes, so technically he is a write-in candidate.

Pip is a funny little dog.
He is a part-Besenji, part-Jack Russell who looks like a brown and white tator-tot with legs. He’s adorable and he knows it. He’s very sweet, not very smart, loves his people, and is terrified of just about everything, including the vet; especially the vet.

He’s terrified of the vet.
When we arrived for his 3:30 appointment the waiting room was packed and Pip was shaking. The vet techs and front desk gal greeted us (I told you we know them all, we’re practically family) and I took a socially-distanced seat near the front door. Pip was trying his best to look brave and remain calm while shaking when in walked a sheriff: Tightly buzzed white hair, brown uniform, badge, gun, the works.

He’s more terrified of police.
The only thing Pip is more afraid of than the vet is a sheriff, BECAUSE he was once arrested in South Carolina and taken to the animal shelter as “material evidence” in an animal hoarder case. (If you want to hear the story of how Pip ended up with me and Mr Science, click here.)

Anyway, the sheriff muttered something dark and lo to the vet tech who nodded, and said “We’ll use Room 5,” and spun around into the surgery to fetch the doctor.

When the sheriff turned in our direction to head out, it happened. It happened so fast I couldn’t stop it. Pip jumped up and began licking the sheriff’s hand. When I tried to stop Pip, he said, “It’s okay Miss. I guess he knows what I need.”

Their eyes met.
When the sheriff leaned down to look at Pip, both of them sank to the floor, like synchronized swimmers. Pip climbed into the sheriff’s lap, snuggled against him, and pushed his sweet little face into the man’s chest. It wasn’t a long encounter; 3 minutes, maybe less. When the vet tech reappeared, the sheriff gave Pip a squeeze and said, “I have to go now little buddy.”

Pip seemed to know exactly what to do next. He hopped down from the sheriff’s lap and sat at attention. And when I say he sat at attention, I mean he sat upright like a tiny soldier; ears erect, shoulders back, eyes following the sheriff’s every move.

Pip became the honor guard for a hero.
As the vet tech held the door, the sheriff walked outside to his SUV, lifted an enormous old German Shepherd out of the back seat and carried him into Room 5. This wasn’t a pet. This was a partner.

When the vet tech closed the door to the room, she shook her head and whispered, “Cancer.”

As the door closed, Pip lifted his head even higher, his eyes and ears pinned on that room like laser beams.

He sat erect for what seemed like an eternity and then suddenly he collapsed to the floor, held his head between his paws, and sighed the saddest sigh I think I’ve ever heard. He knew, the minute it was over, he knew. Above the din of cats cursing and dogs whining, Pip somehow heard life leave Room 5.

He knew the dog was dead, he knew.

They were still in there when they ushered us to the room next door. Pip insisted on pausing at the door of Room 5. He lowered his head in respect, before being pulled by the vet tech into the next room and submitting to the indignities of his annual examination.

By the time they were done with his exam, the SUV was gone. As I drove in silence, Pip had his head out the window, a distant stare in his eyes.

Now I am swirling in the mystery called “how?”
How did my dog hear what that sheriff could not bear to say? How did he know this gruff officer would welcome his kisses, how did he know to offer him the support that would mean the most to that particular man, at that particular moment? How did a dog who usually quivers at the vet, manage to sit at full military attention with every muscle, every nerve honoring that first responder’s loss in exactly the way that officer would have honored a colleague?

Fear not mortal, the mystery says.
When hearts speak,
God listens,
and oft times the angels wear fur.

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