So our vet says that our dog is officially a senior muttizen.
"His teeth are a disaster," says Dr. Fink, pulling back his rubbery lips. "Caked with tartar ... probably needs some extractions."
We didn't come for teeth. We came to get refills for prednisone, which Scottie lives on because he has extremely allergic skin. Special dog wash. Special dog food. Special dog drops. Cha-ching. Cha-ching. About once a year, he gets a big-time skin infection that costs about $500-600, in spite of everything. This, for a dog of questionable parentage.
With body hair so thin he looks like a "before" picture for Rogaine, the only prize Scottie could win in a dog show would be Mr. Congeniality. His only two redeeming dog values are his equally large personality and bladder, requiring only one outside potty visit per day.
"How much would that cost?" Bob asks the doctor. This time, I made him come with me because he pitches a fit every time I come back with the bill.
"Can't tell until we get in there ... somewhere between $750 and $1,000 most probably," the good doctor says. "But you have to keep in mind. That same surgery would cost $5,000 if it were on a person."
"Uh-huh," Bob says, unimpressed.
"Scottie's at the age where you have to think about senior care, and he's going to start getting expensive."
We don't know exactly how old he is, since he was rescued by a friend of ours seven years ago from her neighbors who had left Scottie tied to a bush during Hurricane Isabel. There, when he was a couple of years old, he had been traumatized by the storm and chewed up by other dogs. As a result, he's terrified by the mere whisper of a spring rain and threatened by any dog, leashed or unleashed, within two blocks.
Heck, he's freaked out by a plastic bag blowing down the street or blow-up Santas in the yards at Christmas. We're talking a major woos dog. He has to be tranquillized to ride in the car for a mile to the vet's office, otherwise he gets so anxious he throws up in the car.
We adopted Scottie after Bob swore we'd never have a dog in spite of three boys in the house. He'd had a dog in his first marriage, Duff, a Westie, who died with cancer the week we got married. That dog, he said, had cost him thousands of dollars in chewed furniture, ruined floors and vet bills, and he vowed never to have another.
That pledge stood in spite of the pleas of three little boys who begged for a dog for years, then alternately bargained for other pets -- cats, snakes, gerbils, rats, iguanas ... the whole Animal Planet. Bob nixed them all. Once I found the boys in the backyard with a shovel digging a hole, and when I asked them what they were up to, they informed me they were hunting worms for pets.
Even that didn't melt Bob's cold, cold heart.
It wasn't until our youngest, Nathan, was in the hospital at age 14 that Bob lost the battle. When Bob asked Nathan if there was something he could do to help him, Nathan looked up at him with his big blue eyes, and said, "Dad, get me a dog."
That finally did it.
The following week, an email went out across campus where I worked at Virginia Wesleyan College from a professor, friend and animal lover who maintains a house full of animals she has rescued. She was looking for a home for Scottie, who she had rescued and nursed back to health. Once Nathan was out of the hospital, we drove to Suffolk and picked him up.
But first there was a lecture that came with the dog.
"First of all, boys, he's your dog, and you have to feed and walk him, understand?" Bob told them.
"Oh, yes, Dad," they promised. "We will."
"And just so you know, we're not the kind of people that spend a lot of money on a dog. The dog gets sick or hurt -- we have the dog put to sleep. I'm not going to spend hundreds of dollars on this dog. OK?"
"OK, Daddy, we understand."
Within a week we were walking and feeding the dog. In two months the dog ran out of the house, got hit by an SUV and was in the hospital with 60 stitches up his leg and side, resulting in a $900 vet bill.
So here we are in the vet's office talking about spending $1,000 on this dog's teeth, after having spent at least $5,000 on a neurotic and physically compromised dog that we weren't going to spend anything on. The boys are long gone from home, and here we are with the dog.
"So what happens if we don't fix the dog's teeth?" I ask.
"Eventually, his teeth will get rotten, he'll get an absess, and you could have to put him to sleep," Dr. Fink says, among other things. After more discussion and a heap of guilt, we decide to let nature take its course.
"But you could brush the dog's teeth," Dr. Fink suggests. "That would help."
First, we've never heard of brushing a dog's teeth. Second, we're sure that Scottie will find that idea just as acceptable as clipping his toenails -- which is why they don't get clipped.
But we agree to try.
You can see our efforts in the video. This is right after I have the bright idea that perhaps we could actually clean the dog's teeth ourselves if we tranquillized him first. Maybe use a credit card or other sharp instrument and scrape away. How hard could that be?
Since trying to brush his teeth, I've changed my mind about being his dental hygenist. I don't think I even want to try to teach him to floss.