The rolling pastureland along Butts Mill Road is picturesque. A red barn with white trim. Board fences that seem to run forever along Big Bear Farm. A fishing pond or two. The woodland ridges in the distance give this place a backdrop suitable for framing.
A mile or so down the road there is a gravel drive that turns off to the right and meanders between two pastures on its way to the door of Valley Veterinarian Associates. In these parts, Valley Vet for short.
Max and I are on our way to see Dr. Mike.
The massive oaks out front provide plenty of shade for parking on a hot September day. The building is simple. A brick façade, one story office. Outbuildings and pens around back. A one-horse trailer in the yard. Horses grazing beyond the barbed wire fence in front of where I park my truck.
It smells like animal hide and excrement around here. It’s an aroma that I recognize readily from the farm where I grew up. It’s funny how one man’s stench is another man’s memory of home.
Today is a follow-up visit. I brought Max in last week because he had some kind of skin infection that stunk like rotting flesh. The smell of manure I barely notice. This was not that.
“How come he stinks so bad?” I asked as Dr. Mike inspected Max’s saddle area between his back legs.
“The infection is causing his skin to rot.” Tell me about it. “Good news is, we can fix him right up.”
Max has been on a pill regimen twice a day for seven days now. Getting a 55 lb. dog to take a pill is like getting a child to swallow ipecac. Lots of gagging.
I asked for advice. “What’s the easy way to get him to take these pills?”
Dr. Mike is animated when it comes to animal care. Shirt tail half hanging out. Dirty khaki pants with one leg outside the boot and one inside the other boot. He talks with his hands.
“Well, a lot of people say to hide the pill in peanut butter which probably works okay. You could always just pry his mouth open and stuff it to the back of his throat. My personal trick is to hide the pill in a glob of Cheez Whiz. Just stop by the Super Value and buy a can. I’ve never met a dog that doesn’t like cheese.”
So, it’s a new day. Max swallows Cheez Whiz like candy and he’s never once been able to pick the pill out of middle. He’s like a kid with Ready Whip in a can.
Last visit, we got in and out pretty quickly. Maybe forty-five minutes at most. Today, the yard is full of vehicles. Dogs strolling under the big oaks with their masters on leash. The two benches on the front porch are occupied with pet owners. Every chair inside is taken.
I stand at the counter to check in. For a minute no one speaks because they are stapling papers and talking on the phone. Finally, Amy gets off the phone. I give her my name. She promises it won’t be long.
I meander back out to the porch and one end of a bench is open. Max is tugging at his leash because he seldom sees so many canines and felines in one place.
The gentleman next to me breaks the ice. “What’s Diversified Trees?” I’m wearing the company logo on my shirt. “Is that a nursery?”
“Yes sir,” and I give him the rundown on what we do.
“I grow Japanese Maples,” he says. “Mind you, not many, but I sure do like that tree. I make bonsai out of them. Carowitz is my name.” He sticks out his hand and we shake.
Turns out the wait wasn’t short, and the conversation was long. Mr. Carowitz is from Nebraska. He was running cattle on horseback when he decided that he wanted to play football for the Cornhuskers. At 6’2” and 220 pounds, he was told he was too small to play tight end for a division one school. So, he joined the Army.
The plan was to enlist for a few years and come back to school on the GI Bill. Turned out he stayed in the Army and jumped out of airplanes for 21 of his 26-year career.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” he said. “I didn’t think I was gonna make it out of Vietnam, but I did.”
CSM Carowitz (retired) never made it back to Nebraska except to visit. After the Army, he worked for McDonalds. Not flipping burgers, but management. He eventually bought into and owned the McDonalds over in Manchester up until he was 81.
“Told my wife I was tired and sold the store.” He’s 88 now and walks with a cane because 21 years of jumping out of airplanes will rearrange a man’s knee caps.
The front door opens, and Dr. Rachael comes over to Max. “Is he still on his meds?”
She’s got his back leg stretched out and is taking a good look under the hood.
“Finished up his last pill yesterday.”
“Come on inside. Let’s weigh him and get him another round. We’ve gotta get him cleared up or it might come back.”
She grabs Max by the ears and rubs his head like she’s peeling a cabbage. “We’re tired of all this scratching aren’t we. Yes we are.”
It was a long wait for a very short exam. I’m standing at the front desk talking with Amy, who is young, full of freckles and enthusiasm. We are making small talk when a fella walks by with Dr. Mike right on his heels. The man is carrying a chicken clutched in his arms like a baby. I can’t say that I’ve ever read the expression on a chicken’s face, but this one looked worried.
“That was weird.” This was Amy’s assessment of the situation. “We don’t get many birds in here. The cats and dogs are all cute, but I like it when we get some of our more unusual patients. This one man owns a skunk. We get iguanas. One time a man brought a ground hog in here. He was about this big.” Amy holds her hands apart to show me how tall. “He was so cute. And I just love the rabbits.”
“That so?” I’m intrigued.
“Yeah. And every now and then we see some of the monkeys from the Wild Animal Park. I just want to scratch their little scruffy heads.”
Dr. Rachael comes up with Max’s meds. “They’ll bite your finger off if you’re not careful.” A warning shot fired across the bow.
In the meantime, Max is getting love pats and at-a-boys from everybody that walks by. He’s been turning circles and sniffing any creature that would allow it.
I don’t get to the Vet often. It’s a regular zoo in there. But Max doesn’t seem to mind, and if the meds will get him on the mend, I’m all for it.
Next stop, the Super Value. Max needs more Cheez Whiz.