A Tail of Destruction
By Bill Stork, DVM
Margie was 23 pounds of tongue, tail and adorable. She had been with her family for two weeks, had not had an accident in six days, was comfortable in the crate and slept through the night without making a sound. She was charming beyond words, at ease with a crowd and easily self-entertained. Whether meeting a German Shepherd or Jack Russell Terrier, she approached with a play bow, and a precocious sideways “woof?”
As we made conversation, I carefully checked for bite abnormalities, heart murmurs, hernias and conformation. The 12x12 exam room could barely contain the feel-good as Margie politely sat for treats, took them gently, then extended her paw to ask for another. Megan, our technician, confirmed her birthday as August 15. As we speculated on her breeding, I watched her 12-inch tail wag the entire Margie, from her ears south. At only 90 days of age, her hinder stood close to 10 inches off the ground. The engaging personality, the soft, wiry coat, long snout and friendly tongue, and The Tail…
The warm fuzzies were sucked under the door as déjà vu flooded the tiny space. My fading Texas tan turned to ashen. As Megan deftly knelt to collect a kiss and deliver a belly rub, I foresaw that the years to follow were sure to be filled with love and laughter. Equally certain, there would be damage deposits, destruction and pain.
My veterinary career began at age 14, working for Dr. Bill Van Alstine at the Brush College Animal Hospital. Doc V was known for his heart, handshake and mustache. It was equally true that he was not of the nature to turn his back on a dollar. Being the youngest, least qualified and the last hired, I was in charge of cleaning up after and walking the dogs and cats he boarded on weekends and holidays.
BCAH had 6 runs, 18 cages, three bathrooms, an office, two exam rooms, a surgery and two hallways. On many a Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving and Independence Day, the future Dr. Stork was cleaning up after thirty animals, morning, noon and night. By my 30th anniversary of practicing, I hope to have cleaned more anal glands than kennels.
After three and a half decades, I remember a couple breeds and pooping patterns. One, however, I will never forget. Her name was Bittsy.
Bittsy belonged to our closest family friends, Wayne and Shirley Cox. She was as friendly as a Disney tour guide, with a wiry coat and a long rounded snout. She was 20 inches at the hip, with a tail that could be registered as a lethal weapon. You may soon begin to feel my fear.
(At this point, a pause. Recall Dr. Stork’s “rough math” when telling stories: numbers are generally rounded to the nearest “5” or “10”, for the sake of easier figuring. Mostly, they are rounded down, in the event they should be challenged. Occasionally they are rounded up, if they do not seem sufficiently dramatic to carry a story. Construction-based stories are reported in English measurements. Science and medical stories are based in metric.)
Bittsy’s tail measured 26 inches long (the metric system hadn’t made it to the states yet). Using water displacement and tissue density data, we concluded it must weigh about 3.5 lbs. While wagging at a constant rate of 30 rpm, with surges up to 60, the velocity of her tail tip could top out at 55mph, and was capable of delivering a blow roughly equivalent to that of the burly kid who always hit the home run in 7th grade whiffle ball.
This was an absolutely life-altering realization for the Cox family.
They would learn to adapt. Like the “Screamin’ Eagle” at Six Flags, there was a taped line on the frame of the door. No children below this line were to be left unattended, as the risk of concussion was equal to that of tackle football or Bantam level youth hockey. Nothing of value, liquids or food capable of staining was to ever be placed on a coffee table. As adorable as she was, her name was never to be called unless she was outdoors.
The Cox family took a California vacation, leaving Bittsy at BCAH for the 10 days they were gone.
Checkbook open, pen in hand, Shirley arrived to pick up Bittsy.
The consummately professional receptionist, Adele, slid the neatly typed invoice across the counter. Shirley's eyes drifted straight to the bottom line: $3,500.25.
Boarding, bedding, food and bath were the standard $55.00.
The balance included drywall patches, trim boards dislodged from door frames, broken panes of glass, and hockey goalie shin pads. Also itemized were radiograph and replacement of dislocated knee cap prior to hockey pads, as well as ice packs and aspirin for Dr. Van Alstine, whose waist was but a few inches above the tip of Bittsy’s tail.
The future of health care is anyone’s guess, but some things are a dead lock cinch. For Margie's family, the future is full of licks, laughs and love. There will also be plenty of broken glass and spilled milk.