THIS IS A STORY about a dog, a dog in the autumn of his life who exists now primarily to cause emotional distress to his owners and serve as a financial drain.
It begins on a sunny Saturday, when we let the dog out in the back yard.
When we let him back in, the dog starts choking.
"He's faking it," I say. "He just wants attention."
"Are you crazy?" my wife says. "He's choking."
Look, I say, I know he's faking it. But I check his mouth anyway. There's nothing there. I feel along his throat. Nothing.
But the dog continues to choke. Not only that, but now he starts shaking, too.
Seeing the dog wig out like this, my wife and I react in the way we know best: We panic.
Immediately, we go straight to Defcon 4. "We gotta get him to the vet!" my wife screams.
I grab my car keys. She grabs the dog. We go barreling down the road.
If we had a siren and a flashing blue light to slap on the dashboard, we would have used them both.
Naturally, by the time we get to the vet's office, the dog is fine. In fact, the dog has never looked better. He's wagging his little tail. He's jumping over the seats.
The dog looks so healthy, I'm thinking he's gonna drop and give me 20 pushups any second.
But my wife says, well, we're here, might as well get him checked out. Just to be on the safe side.
So we go into the vet's office. The receptionist says: "Do you have an appointment?" We say no. My wife tells her we have a dog emergency. Meanwhile, the dog is running around the office like he's a track star.
"Better get him checked out," the receptionist says when we tell her what happened. "But it'll cost you more. We have to charge you weekend rates."
Who didn't know that? I think. This dog sucks money out of my wallet like he's a shop-vac.
So we take the dog into one of the examining rooms. The vet comes in. She feels his throat. She feels his belly.
Meanwhile, the dog is having a ball. He's licking the vet. He's playing with the vet's assistant. He's working the room like he's running for mayor.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with the dog.
Except now I want to choke him myself for all the trouble he's caused.
"We need to take X-rays," the vet says at last.
I'm thinking: X-rays? The dog is absolutely fine. You want to take X-rays, let's slap my knee up there and see what we got.
Because my knee's killing me. The dog, on the other hand, couldn't be healthier.
But you know how it goes. You don't want to look like you don't care about your dog. You don't want to look insensitive.
So they take the dog away for X-rays.
Ten minutes later, they come back with the dog and the X-rays.
The dog is glowing by now, he looks so healthy. He looks like he should be in one of those slow-motion commercials where the kid is running through a meadow and the dog is merrily chasing after him.
The vet slaps the X-rays up against the light box, or whatever it's called.
"See this?" she says, pointing to a large dark area.
I don't see anything. Of course, at this point, anything short of an arrow through his spleen isn't going to impress me.
"These are little chicken bones," the vet says. " Maybe 10 or 12 of them."
Oh, I say. Then I remember.
The night before, I had taken some garbage out to the trash cans. One of the bags had ripped.
Apparently, in the darkness, I hadn't cleaned up too well.
"If the bones were bigger," the vet continues, "he'd need surgery to remove them."
I'm thinking: Surgery?! Doc, the only way this mutt is having surgery is if he's covered on your health plan. 'Cause I'm not shelling out a dime.
"But," the vet says, "the bones look small enough for him to pass on his own."
To help matters, she writes out two prescriptions. One is medicine to coat the intestine. The other is to prevent an infection.
"He also needs to be put on a special diet," the vet says, handing me two cans of chicken and rice meal.
I'm thinking: A special diet? The dog already eats better than I do.
In the background, I can almost hear the sound of a cash register opening.
Anyway, the whole thing - office visit, X-rays, medicine, special food - costs me over 200 bucks.
As we leave the vet's office, I look at the dog. He's wagging his tail. He's trying to chase after a squirrel.
The dog is practically whistling now, he feels so good.
Unless he's faking that, too.