Muzzled “Where’s the patient?”

The teenage boy with the buzz cut waved me toward the living room. A vacuum cleaner stood in the middle of the wall-to-wall beige carpet.

With over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in student loans for my veterinary degree, I couldn’t afford to be without an income. That’s how I found myself in upstate New York working for an animal hospital that made house calls. We did not service household appliances.

“Where?” I must have misunderstood.

“In there.” The boy nervously shifted back and forth and pointed to the machine. Why that note of anticipation in his voice?

“Are you the vet?” A woman with frizzy auburn hair appeared behind me, wiping her hands on a striped dish towel. Two other children followed in her wake. She appeared frazzled and tired.

“I’m Mary Ellis, and these are my youngest, Damian and Angela. You’ve already met Tommy.” The taciturn Tommy stared at his Reeboks.

“Hi, I’m Dr. Kate Turner, Oak Falls Veterinary Hospital.”

“Oh, my gosh, I can’t look, I can’t look.” Angela, a small girl with bangs, squealed, and then tried to cover her eyes, ears, and mouth with her hands. She obviously loved the color pink because every piece of clothing, down to her sparkle socks and glitter sneakers, glowed with shades from rose to pale pink.

I felt a tug on my lab coat. “Dead, dead, dead!” shrieked a grubby toddler wearing only pull-ups and black cowboy boots, clutching a half-eaten strawberry Pop-Tart. His mouth and cheek were smeared with jam. “Dead, dead, dead,” he repeated like a mantra, then began galloping around the room. A fingerprint of sticky strawberry stained the bottom of my white lab coat.

“Tommy, what did you tell him? Quiet, Damian.” His mother sounded as though she repeated those words to him a hundred times a day.

“Taking control of the situation, I tried to find out why they called me. “Mrs. Ellis, could you tell me what happened? My receptionist said there was some kind of accident.” Had the vacuum cleaner fallen on their pet?

She nodded. “Yes, an accident. Tommy was helping me vacuum, and the next thing we knew, Peanut had disappeared.”

I looked at Tommy. He was about fifteen or sixteen. A sheepish grin flitted across his face before he returned to concentrating on his feet. Now all I needed to know was who or what was Peanut?

“Peanut is our hamster. We got him as a little baby,” Angela whispered from behind her pearl-pink fingernails.

“Dead, dead, dead,” Damian helpfully chimed in as he slowed to a trot, turned counter-clockwise, and started to gallop in the other direction.

“Do you think the centrifugal force from the vacuum exploded him into pieces?” Tommy sounded hopeful.

“Eeewwwww,” contributed Angela.

“Tommy, don’t gross your sister out.” A phone rang. Mary glanced at the screen of her smartphone and started to text.

“Okay, there’s only one way to find out.” I put down my leather veterinary bag and slipped on a pair of exam gloves. “Maybe the kids should leave the room?”

No one budged. Mary didn’t even look up.

“I’ll need a large garbage bag and some newspapers.” The family eyeballed me. Mary, still texting, headed for the kitchen. The kids stayed, not wanting to miss anything. Under their watchful eyes, I searched for my bandage scissors and gauze pads. Even Damian reined in his imaginary horse, raised the Pop-Tart in the air like a sword, and stood next to his brother. Gingerly, I unplugged the vacuum from the wall outlet.

Their mom returned clutching a stack of newspapers and some garbage bags. After handing them to me she called to her daughter, “Come here, Angie.” The girl ran over and pressed her face into Mary’s waist.

With newspapers covering the rug, I opened the red plastic latch securing the vacuum bag, then reached in and pulled it free. Using the blunt side of my scissors, I slowly cut along the top using my finger as a guide. I reached inside. Like a magician, I pulled out a brown hamster covered in lint. The little guy’s eyes were closed tight, but on quick exam he seemed to be okay. I picked all the lint off his fur and stroked his head. Suddenly his eyes popped open, black and bright. He looked around and squeaked.

“Hooray,” the kids cheered.

Still holding the hamster in my hand, I looked at Tommy. “Get Peanut’s cage and bring it here. He needs a little quiet time.”

“Dead, dead, dead,” Damian called out gleefully, then, started to gallop again.

With Peanut safely stuffing his cheek pouches with food, I gathered the family together for a stern lecture on pocket pets and electrical appliances. It turned out Tommy wasn’t a bad kid, just careless. I reminded them about supplementing Peanut’s food with a hamster multivitamin, since hamsters, like people, don’t make their own vitamin C. We all looked at Peanut’s habitat and I made some suggestions for improvement. Damian even offered me the last bite of his squished Pop-Tart. A quick glance at my watch told me that I was already running late for my second appointment of the day.

Out of the corner of my eye Mary gave me a speculative look. Then she said, “Did anyone ever tell you that you look a little like Meryl Streep, only more tired?”

You can read more about Kate in Muzzled, the first book in the “Kate Turner, D.V.M.” mystery series, published by Poisoned Pen Press. Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

Meet the author
Eileen lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with her husband Jon, also a veterinarian, and their two daughters. She is busy writing the next Kate Turner, D.V.M. Mystery while shooing cats off her keyboard and the dog off her deskchair. Raised in a United States Air Force military family, she’s lived in the Philippines, the former Yugoslavia, France, Italy, and here in the USA, Wisconsin, Arizona, North Carolina, upstate New York, Greenwich Village, and Brooklyn.

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