I am apprehensive as we prepare to go to the vet. I am worried that the dogs will have some important medical concern like heartworms. I leave a little early so that I can take the half-hour drive out to Archer slowly. Jazzy jumps nimbly into the car, while Rasta gives me a look that I am learning means that she has no intention of trying to do what I am asking her to do. It’s the typical beagle look: stubborn and sweet enough to get away with it.
When I lift Rasta into the seat, she curls up and goes to sleep, while Jazzy watches out the window for the entire drive. The drive from Gainesville to Archer, Florida is stunning. There are many landscapes in this state that take my breath away, but the rolling hills of the countryside is one of my favorites. The fields are studded with ancient live oaks whose branches gently sway with their draperies of Spanish Moss. Horses stand dozing in the shade or graze slowly under the hot sun.
I pull onto the property of Dr. Wendy Biggs. Hills gently slope up the drive to her little office. Horses prick their ears at me as pull up and park in the grass. Somewhere a dog barks. I pause as I get out of the car. I soak in that special country silence that I forget that I miss in town. I breathe in deeply the smell of fresh grass and horses. Then I bring the dogs into the office.
The office is cute and cozy. A few chairs sit in a tiny lobby. A giant mastiff lays in a crate in the corner. “Hello?” I call out. Dr. Biggs comes out of the exam room, wiping her hands on a towel, and asks me to have a seat and wait for Robin to discuss what needs to be done.
I sit. The hall that goes to the exam room is lined with cats in carriers. Occasionally, a meow drifts down the hall. The mastiff begins to snore.
Robin arrives and soon after the other fosters, with the other three dogs that are in foster care. One dog was taken by another rescue, Puppy Hill Farm, which is a huge relief. The dogs meet each other with a combination of friendliness and reserve. Rasta is quickly overwhelmed by all the activity and hides under my chair as Mickey, a beautiful little Australian Shepherd mix, comes in, rubbing against everyone like a cat, wiggling with his whole body. Jazzy climbs onto my lap, her front end draped over my legs, plume tail wagging and smacking me occasionally in the face.
Soon the dogs get settled and lie down among our legs. Dr. Biggs and her technician begin taking dogs back one by one. When it is Jazzy’s turn, she staunchly refuses to leave without me, so I walk back with her. She sits like a good girl on the scale. She is worried but well-behaved as she has her blood drawn and her shots given. I wait as the heartworm test is processed, willing it to be negative. I see Dr. Bigg’s face fall as she turns around. “Positive,” she says. I sigh, staring into Jazzy’s eyes. She licks her lips and yawns anxiously. “Well darn,” I say.
Untreated, heartworms are fatal, and they can be risky to treat. To make matters worse, Jazzy has a very slight heart murmur. Exercise restrictions will need to be strict. Because she is a Collie mix, only certain medications are safe. Many Collies carry a gene that causes them to react dangerously to common drugs, including drugs used to treat and prevent heartworm.
I am relieved that the rest of the dogs are free of heartworm. One of them needs to have a couple of teeth pulled, including one with a painful exposed nerve. Otherwise, they are healthy. We get dewormer, heartworm preventative, and are back out into the breezy, sunny hot afternoon. Robin gives me two new dog beds that have been donated, and I drive back through the beautiful rolling countryside, my heart a bit heavier than before.
On Monday night we have the kind of thunderstorm that only comes in the south in the summer heat. The good country dogs lie on the screened porch, grateful for the soft Orthopedic bed between their bones and the wood. They are indifferent to the rain pouring outside and the lightning and thunder that shakes the floor and makes the lights flicker. As I jump at a particularly loud crash of thunder that follows immediately on the heels of a blinding flash of lightning, Jazzy stretches all four legs out and sighs with deep contentment.
I remind myself to take inspiration from the dogs’ calmness in the face of uncertainty. I don’t know how we’ll pay for what they need, or if Jazzy will survive heartworm treatment. I don’t know if or when they’ll be adopted. I don’t know how many dogs will die in county shelters because they don’t have fosters to go to while we try to find homes for these dogs. The worries fill me and threaten to overwhelm me. Then I look at the dogs, and I remember:
Florida people and their dogs, we’re pretty tough. We figure things out. We’re the kind of crazy that makes northerners say, “That would only happen in Florida.” We take on gators and sharks and mosquitoes year-round.
“We can handle a little thing like heartworms, can’t we girl?” I say to Jazzy. She slowly thumps her tail. Rasta nuzzles my hand. “Good girls,” I say.