The widow and her teenage daughter were strongly attached to their ailing cat, so I saw them often. One day the woman said, "Dr. Miller, we are lonesome at home with Dad gone, and Tommy is old and sick half the time, as you know, so we've been thinking about getting a dog. You must run across situations where people have to give up a dog or perhaps an injured stray is brought in. Will you let us know when you find one suitable for us? We're not in a hurry, and we'll leave the selection entirely up to you."
I readily agreed to find them a dog, and then asked what kind of dog they'd like.
They looked at each other and smiled with some embarrassment. The daughter explained, "Well, we don't expect to get the kind of dog we'd really like to have because that kind of dog is too expensive for us. We'll settle for any kind of medium-sized dog that's not too shaggy. We considered adopting one from the pound, but you know us and we'd have more confidence if you found one for us. We've never had a dog before—just cats."
"But what kind of dog was it that you shopped for?" I asked the daughter, a polite 16-year-old.
The mother answered, "She's just crazy about Cleo, that basset hound on TV. We both are! We'd give anything to own a dog like that, but of course, we don't expect you to find anything so valuable for us."
I promised to remember and to place the first appropriate homeless pup in their home.
A few weeks later, a basset breeder came in with a 4-month-old female. "I want her put to sleep," the breeder said. "Her front feet splay out badly, and I have to cull her."
I suggested that we place the pup, sans registration papers, as a pet. "I even have a home in mind," I offered. Then I told the breeder about the widow and daughter. She agreed to give me the pup, but first made me swear that I would not reveal where it came from or what its bloodline was.
After examining the puppy, immunizing it, and finding it to be sweet and gentle, I phoned the widow at work. "I have a dog for you," I told her. She was delighted and promised to come in before our office closed.
At 5:30 p.m. the lady and her daughter showed up, eyes sparkling with excitement. "I have a dog for you—a female —and I think you'll be pleased," I said with careful indifference. I was savoring the surprise I had for these nice people.
"What kind of dog is she?" asked the woman.
"How old is she?" asked the daughter.
"I've examined her, and she's fine. She's had all her vaccinations," I responded.
"How old is she?" asked the woman.
"How big is she?" asked the daughter.
"If you're not happy with her, you're free to return her," I said. "But I'm confident that you'll become very fond of her."
"Where is she?" asked the widow.
"Can we see her?" asked the daughter.
I continued, "The present owner cannot keep her, so if you like her, she is yours to keep forever."
The daughter wrung her hands. "Can we see her, Dr. Miller? Where is she?"
I led them into the kennel room, and still keeping them in suspense and ignoring the barrage of questions they fired at me, I reached deliberately into a cage. Turning around, I deposited the enormous -eared, loose-skinned, tricolored puppy into the daughter's arms.
I wasn't prepared for the reaction. Happy smiles gave way to tears. Mother and daughter hugged each other and the puppy, and they cried. I heard and saw simultaneous joy and sorrow, both expressed in tears. Soon I too had tears streaming down my face.
The puppy, in gratitude, was named Roberta and, of course, lived happily ever after.
Every veterinarian has known moments like this one. I went home that evening feeling satisfied with the world, with my profession, and with myself. Good moments like that one more than compensate for the many bad moments we inevitably face in life.
Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his Web site at www.robertmmiller.com .