Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

We have to pussy-foot around this place

My vet clinic went cats-only... Who mew?

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It's early on a sweltering August morning and I'm standing in a small parking lot behind a row of buildings, shuffling my feet, sweating profusely and trying to blend in with my surroundings.

I'm doing my best to appear inconspicuous, which is not easy considering I have my miniature wiener dog, Zoe, casually tucked under my golf shirt.

If you were here, you would probably say: "Is it just me, or does that guy with the wiener dog-shaped bulge under his shirt look conspicuous?"

This probably explains the odd look on the face of the woman who is strolling by us right now. I smile to reassure her I am just a normal guy with a wiener dog hidden under his shirt and not some deranged lunatic hanging around a parking lot for no good reason.

Me: "Good morning."

The woman: "Um .. hello?"

The wiener dog (muffled): "Woof!"

Me: "Sorry, I have a cold."

The woman (edging away): "???"

As you have no doubt already deduced, I am taking the wiener dog to see the veterinarian, which for most people is no big deal, but for us borders on Mission Impossible because our longtime vet now owns a cats-only clinic.

Cats-only clinics seem to be popular these days, likely because cats are extremely "sophisticated" pets in the sense they can barely tolerate people, let alone other animals; whereas dogs are more "down to earth" in the sense they greet each other by thrusting their noses into each other's personal regions and will happily wander off with anyone, including serial killers and the criminally insane, provided they have a pleasing salty taste.

What this all means is that when we need to go to the vet, like today, we are required to lurk in the parking lot like escaped convicts until our vet pokes his head out to give the "all clear" signal, then we sneak in the back door.

This is reasonably easy to do with the wiener dog, but when our basset hound needs to visit the cat clinic I have to disguise myself as a UPS guy delivering a long, drool-covered package.

I suppose we could find a "regular" vet, but we refuse to do that because my wife and I are dog people, which means we are loyal and faithful. You see, we love our vet. He's been our friend and vet for at least 25 years, even back in the day when most of his clients were (this is true) cows, pigs and horses.

Most of the time he's able to make house calls, but today Zoe needs to be clandestinely anesthetized at the cat clinic so she can have a few teeth pulled.

Safely inside, the wiener dog and I are surrounded by cats of all sizes and descriptions, most of them in cages but a few slinking around on the floor and giving us the sort of scornful looks you'd give to a waiter at a fancy restaurant if he suggested you drink red wine with fish, if you can imagine.

I pop the wiener dog into a small cage alongside a row of feline inmates. "What are you in for?" is the clear telepathic message the cat next door is sending.

If you have never seen a lonely, confused wiener dog in a cage, surrounded by a cell block of suspicious cats, it's a pretty tragic sight. When it's time to leave, I try to nuzzle Zoe through the bars but am coldly rebuffed in the way parents typically are when they drop a disgruntled kid off for a three-week stint at band camp.

A few frantic hours later, I get the call -- the wiener dog is awake and doing fine, other than the fact she is now missing a few teeth and, thanks to the effects of the anesthetic, looking like a small, hairy frat boy after an all-night kegger.

Once our vet calms my jagged nerves, I wander out to the front of the clinic to pay the bill. As I sit waiting for my turn, another customer gives me a gentle smile.

"What kind of cat do you have?" she purrs, politely.

"Um," I say, thinking quickly, "I have a German longhair."

"Oh," she replies, her face scrunched in confusion.

"They're quite rare," I sniff.

With that, I stride back into the bowels of the cat clinic and scoop up the wiener dog, which is happily zonked the way thousands of long-haired rock fans were back in 1969 at the end of the Woodstock festival, but with much cleaner teeth.

A few of the feline patients are starting to get their hackles up, so, after thanking our vet for his heroic care and compassion towards undercover canines, we make our escape out the back door.

But, please, don't tell anyone! I'd hate to let the cat out of the bag.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2011 A2

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