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Barking Up the Wrong Tree

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It’s May third, and Alison Hendrix is going about her day absolutely normally. On this particular Friday, she is preparing for her last appointment of the day, a dog named Pilot. Apparently she is going to be put down. Kidney failure. Alison knows she is going to cry, but she also knows it’s probably for the best.

 She finishes tidying her exam room, down to making sure the colorful pictures of cute animals hang correctly. She checks the clock. 5:30.

Alison walks to the waiting room, clipboard in arm, and calls out, “Pilot?”

A young woman stands up, next to her an old German shepherd. The dog’s muzzle is grayed, and she walks unevenly as her owner makes her way to Alison. “Beth,” she says, smiling briefly. (Her eyes look sad, though. Alison knows those eyes. She’s seen them too many times.)

She is rather pretty, Alison notices, almost in hindsight. Her smile is warm, even though she knows most of her life is about to fall apart. She is almost Alison’s height exactly, but the way she stands somehow makes her look taller.

In fewer words, Alison likes this Beth girl.

A few minutes later, Alison is ready. She holds a thin needle and syringe in a gloved hand, and asks if Beth wants a few moments with her dog. The woman has seemed so distant up until now, but Alison can see tears pooling in her eyes as she nods. When Alison returns a few minutes later, Beth’s eyes are red.

“She was my partner,” Beth says simply. “K-9 Unit. I loved her.”

“Oh,” Alison says. (A cop. This Beth girl was a cop. Alison makes a mental note of this, even though she might never see Beth again.) “I’m sorry. I’m sure she was a great partner.”

“Yeah.”

Beth holds her dog as Alison gently pushes the plunger of the syringe. She hears Beth give a little gasp, but she’s stopped crying for the most part. Now, Alison is the one with tears in her eyes. She hates this part, watching people pretend like nothing is wrong.

Alison’s the first one to break the silence (one established by a dying breath). “Do you…do you want to take her home?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I think so. She’s family. She deserves a burial.”

Alison nods, and turns to find the paperwork she’ll need to fill out. A dog carrier is found, and a blanket to wrap the once-living body.


Beth leaves without saying anything else except a quiet “thank you” to Alison.
Alison finishes up her daily work and drives home. She can’t help but hope Beth is doing okay. (She’s not supposed to think this much about a patient.)

A few weeks have passed, almost three months, and Alison still thinks of Beth from time to time.

                She wonders if Beth gave her dog a funeral or if she just dug a hole and did what had to be done. She hopes Beth is doing okay. She hopes Beth isn’t doing too okay, forgetting her pet completely. A pet is family.

                She’s thinking too much about this.

                                       * * *

                Alison is bustling about, cleaning up an unfortunate accident left by the last patient, a cat named Achilles.

                She is rushing, getting ready for her 2 PM appointment, a young German shepherd named Riot. There’s an owner listed too. Beth Childs.

                It can’t be Beth-from-a-couple-months-ago. Beth, of the sad smiles and firm handshakes. There were probably dozens of Beths in their small town. Still. Maybe.

                Her heart’s racing, and she knows she’s on the wrong path here. Barking up the wrong tree seems appropriate, and she laughs to herself. Barking. She’s practically fallen in love with a woman whose only interaction with Alison was when she killed her dog. Yeah. Great times. Great choices by Alison Hendrix. Seriously.

                She takes a few deep breaths, and walks out to the waiting room. When she calls out Riot’s name, Beth Childs stands up.

                It’s her.

                Jesus.

                They make awkward small talk on the way to the exam room, “hey”s and “have we met before?”s. This new puppy is barely six weeks old, a ball of fluff and limbs and tiny barks.  She’s trying to lick Beth’s face, and Beth is giggling uncomfortably, holding the puppy away from her face.

                Alison holds Riot on the exam table, much to the dismay of the puppy, who’s barking up a storm (well, not really a storm. More of a light shower).

                “Alison Hendrix, by the way,” she says, holding up the puppy’s ear.

                “Beth Childs.”

                “So I saw.”

                More pseudo-flirting ensues over the next few minutes, between Alison’s trying to check over Riot.

                The rest of the check-up goes as planned, with nothing unusual at all (except for Riot trying to nip at Alison’s fingers- twice).

                As Beth’s turning to leave, latching the pet carrier, Alison holds out a little scrap of paper.

                “My number,” she explains, a sly smile on her face. “You know. To call. So I can make sure Riot’s doing okay.”

                Beth knows nothing was wrong with her dog, but takes the number anyway.