4:15pm I come home from Trader Joe’s to find a message on my phone from my vet’s office. My heart stops for a moment, even after I realize that, since I haven’t brought Frankie in for any tests and he is sitting right in front of me, it can’t be dire news about his health. I did drop into the office a few days earlier to pick up needles and Vetsulin, however. Maybe they discovered that the needles were the wrong size, or that the Vetsulin was tainted.
As I always say, even paranoids have enemies.
But no. The call was to remind me that August is Pet Dental Month and that Frankie is due for a cleaning. If I make an appointment by the end of next week, I can still get the discounted rate.
Ever since the veterinary practice was taken over by a corporate entity, I am flooded with generic reminder calls and emails (Frankie is due for his vaccinations! his senior checkup!), including one wishing Frankie a happy birthday on a random day. I usually just find them annoying or, in the case of the birthday email, which came with a cute card, mildly amusing.
But this call really upsets me because it brings back the memory of Frankie’s previous teeth cleaning.
When I picked Frankie up after the procedure last August and expressed shock that he had had seven teeth extracted, my vet said, “Well, don’t worry, this was his last dental.”
I must have looked horrified. My vet immediately explained, “He just doesn’t have that many teeth left.” This calmed me down — slightly. You really do not want to hear the word “last” in a sentence relating to your elderly dog.
But I soon became distracted with worry about Frankie’s post-dental face.
Frankie’s Default Face
When I first adopted Frankie, back in 2004, I didn’t think about his teeth. I would have scoffed at the idea that a dog needed a professional — or nonprofessional — cleaning.
I realized fairly soon that Frankie was pretty low maintenance. He didn’t shed and rarely rolled in disgusting stuff. I in turn was a low key owner. I brushed Frankie, bathed him — not all that often — and gave him home hair cuts. I liked his shabby chic look.
So did others, it turned out. Frankie soon became a poster dog, showcased on a greeting card, napkins and a refrigerator magnet; see the image, above. He also became the star of my book trailer.
It was research for Am I Boring My Dog, the book for which the trailer was made, that convinced me that Frankie needed to get his teeth cleaned professionally. By this time, Frankie was at least 9 years old and his teeth were not in great shape.
The Elvis Sneer
Still, the multiple extractions required for the first two dentals freaked me out because, well, they were multiple extractions. They didn’t do anything to change Frankie’s cuteness however.
The third one, which left Frankie with one upper canine and two teeth on the bottom (in addition to several in the back), was different. About a week after he was back to himself, I realized he couldn’t close one side of his upper lip over his lower tooth properly, which made him look like he was sneering. Yikes. I like a dog with attitude, which Frankie had in spades, but not one of constant disdain.
For the first few weeks, I would try to pull his lip down over the bottom tooth. It didn’t work.
No one noticed, or if they did, they were polite enough not to mention it. But I noticed. At the same time, I was embarrassed that I cared. He was healthy — well, for a dog with diabetes — and happy.
What difference did it make if he had an Elvis sneer?
Frankie’s latest face
Which brings me back to last August, and those seven extractions. One of the teeth that got yanked was the other upper canine, leaving Frankie with only two bottom front teeth and a few in the back on all four sides.
And this brought another — note, I will not say final — change: the sweet little Mona Lisa smile you see in the picture below.
It’s not easy to get a good picture of Frankie these days. His eyes are cloudy, and because of his Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, he doesn’t often have the perky, mischievous look he used to have.
The laws of physics, not yet reversible by science, dictate that we don’t get to go backwards in time. And I am not quite superstitious enough to believe that I am being punished for being so superficial about Frankie’s looks. But this past year, with Frankie growing ever more confused, his senses less directed, have been difficult. With 20-20 hindsight, I would give a great deal to have back the Frankie of more than a year ago, Elvis sneer and all.