I glanced around the vet’s office. Minimal. Functional. Sterile. No windows. The only light flickered down from a strobe overhead. The neon globe emitted a low-register hum that battered against the tension already building near the base of my skull. If it was causing my head to ache, I figured it must sound even worse to the sensitive ears of Zeus, the German shepherd sitting on the tile floor beside me.
I lowered a hand to one of Zeus’s ears and began to stroke it. Zeus pushed into my leg in pleasure. “It’s alright, mate,” I said. Which was about as far from the truth as possible.
The single door to the small room opened and a woman in a white coat entered. Tall and athletic, her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail. From behind expensive-looking glasses, she considered me for a moment before she spoke. “How is he with needles, Officer? Do you want a muzzle?”
I looked down at the six-year-old shepherd, seeing instead the eighteen-month-old pup Zeus had been when we were first partnered together. Those initial weeks before we’d established a bond had been hell. For all his size, Zeus had been terrified of the injections required of all new police dog recruits. Zeus had nipped and scratched and fought to avoid his inoculations—my hands still bore a few faded scars to prove it.
I’d worked hard to desensitise Zeus to the process. After some trial and error, I eventually stumbled across a fix in the unlikely form of a Bic ballpoint pen. I discovered that pressing a pen to Zeus’s neck, nib retracted, and then clicking the end button to extend the nib, resembled the needle experience. Zeus had a high tolerance to pain. It was more the sensation of force on his neck while he was restrained that frightened him.
Over months and years, it became a constant in our life together. Before he was allowed to play with his Kong, Zeus had to lie down and remain calm while I pressed the pen to his neck and clicked the pen nib out and in a couple of times. Zeus soon associated the experience with the promise of chewing his Kong, and the struggles and nips ceased.
“Officer? Would you like me to get a muzzle?” the vet repeated.
I snapped back to the present and looked down at Zeus. “No. Zeus doesn’t mind. Thank you.”
“Are you ready?”
I signalled for Zeus to drop, and went down onto a knee beside him. I wrapped an arm around his neck, conscious of the strong heartbeat pumping beneath thick fur. I nodded, not trusting my voice.
The vet took out a large syringe full of green liquid and expertly found a vein.
Zeus didn’t flinch. I looked into his brown eyes, recognised the implicit trust that existed, the knowledge that we’d done this together a thousand times before. That everything would be fine.
Only this time was different. Degenerative Myelopathy, a progressive disease of the spinal cord, was quickly eating its way through my courageous police dog. Any day now he could wake up paralysed. I wouldn’t let that happen.
Zeus turned his head briefly, looking for his Kong, and then closed his eyes. He rested his head on my hand, deciding he’d hunt for it after a quick nap.
I’m excited to announce that Green Dream took out 1st place in the 2019 Flash Memoir Contest at Writer Advice.
To top it off my good friend, Sarah Russell, took out 2nd with her brilliant flash Donny, 1968.
Here’s the link if you’d like to check out all four winning entries: Writer Advice 2019 Flash Memoir Contest
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank editor, B. Lynn Goodwin at Writer Advice for the wonderful job she does hosting a range of great competitions and writing resources on her site.