Here is the news I receive on a cold and gray January morning, with credit card bills from Christmas coming in and a new hot-water heater just purchased after the old one burst: The dog needs dental work.
This comes courtesy of my wife, who has just returned with the dog from the vet.
"The dog needs the plaque removed from his teeth," she says. "It helps prevent infection. It'll make his breath smell better, too."
I don't care what his breath smells like, I say. I don't plan to get that close to him.
"The vet said he really needs it," she says.
He really needs it. Please. The dog is 16 years old and hangs on mainly so he can run up huge medical bills and eat top-shelf dog food and sleep on the couch all day.
Now he's getting his teeth cleaned.
What's next for the dog, I say, whitening strips?
But my wife sees where this is going and leaves the room. And that's the end of that discussion.
So now I pick up the phone and call the vet's office, because this news is so astounding I must get further details, including the price, which is no doubt a heart-stopper.
The woman who answers says removing plaque from a dog's teeth is a routine procedure, and they do it all the time.
Good luck poking around in my dog's mouth, I tell her. He's a little guy. But he's wired like Cujo. He'll take your arm off.
"They'll give him anesthesia to do the scaling," the woman says.
As soon as the word "anesthesia" is out of her mouth, I have a vision.
In this vision, the dog is being wheeled on a gurney into a gleaming operating room.
At the same time, a bone-white Lexus LS pulls into the parking lot and out jumps the anesthesiologist.
He sweeps into the OR, knocks the dog out in five seconds, scribbles a bill for hundreds of dollars and drops it in my lap in the waiting room.
Then he hurries out to his Lexus and is gone, probably back to the golf course.
Finally, I snap out of it.
OK, I say to the woman at the vet's office. How much will this cost me?
"The price for a small dog is between $202 and $294, depending on several factors," she says.
She doesn't say what those factors are, and I don't ask.
One factor is probably whether you want the dog's teeth brushed with some kind of organic toothpaste or Crest or whatever.
Or whether you want a silk robe around him during the procedure or a pillow for his little head.
All I can think of is: 300 bucks to have a stupid dog's teeth cleaned.
What has happened to people in this country?
How did we let our fixation with pets get so out of hand that when the vet says, "Your dog needs his teeth cleaned," we nod like a bunch of bobble-heads and say, "Sure!" instead of calling him a nutjob and a quack?
I have had six dogs since I was a kid and not one of them ever had the plaque scraped from his teeth, even though their breath would knock a buzzard off a telephone wire at 500 feet.
Doggie teeth-cleaning ... give me a break.
Anyway, all this is running through my mind and I'm about to hang up when the woman at the vet's office says: "There's a big discount if you get it done next month."
February, she says, is Dental Awareness Month.
There's a Dental Awareness Month for dogs?
"It's Dental Awareness Month for all pets," she says.
Funny, we didn't get that memo.
Then she goes on to say that the February discount is big, something like half-price. She'll mail a flier out to me with details.
This sounds like a way better deal than I got when the old hot-water heater went Chernobyl and there was water all over the place, and we had to buy a new one on the spot.
So the dog will have his teeth cleaned next month. That's great.
After that, he'll probably chow down on some gourmet dog food and sack out on the couch for a few hours.
Because that can really take a lot out of you.