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FAMILY HISTORY/Antonia Clark IT WAS ELLEN who had insisted on taking the dog to a new doctor, one who specialized in canine personality disorders. A shrink for dogs, Gil thought. "What's the matter with the vet?" he had asked her. The local veterinarian, Jon Fletcher, had, as necessary, inoculated, neutered, bandaged, once resuscitated, or put to sleep all three dogs they'd owned in their fifteen years of marriage. "The vet," Ellen informed him, without looking up from her book, "doesn't know a thing about dog psychology." She was curled into her customary reading corner on the sofa, her feet tucked up under her frayed pink robe. "The dog could be disturbed," she added, turning a page. "I've been reading up on it." Loki, their three-year-old shepherd, definitely did not look disturbed to Gil—only devious. Across the room Loki pretended to ignore them although, Gil noted, he was quivering with alertness, no doubt listening intently. Loki didn't miss a trick. Ellen had made up her mind and Gil did not doubt that she'd read everything available on the subject. Gil studied the cover of the book that obscured her face. Stern block letters on a solid red ground spelled out Masters ofDeceit. He wondered whether it was fiction or nonfiction and mused that it could be a book about dogs, or criminals, or politicians . Or errant husbands, for that matter. Lately they had developed the habit of not looking at one another during a conversation, as if what they were saying wasn't very important . Of course, this could be attributed to their growing uneasiness with the dog, who was always on guard, waiting for one of them to divulge , however subtly, a new passion, an attachment to some household object. It was nuts, Gil thought, being psyched out by a dog. That dog has our number. "Dr. Boardman always tries a behavioral approach first," Ellen said. With her usual efficiency she had already called Gil's secretary to clear his calendar, made the appointment and planned the route they'd take on the four-hour trip to the dog shrink's clinic in Massachusetts. "What else can he try—talk therapy?" The whole idea of a dog psychiatrist, or psychologist—whatever he was—struck Gil as ridiculous . Of course, they had always rewarded Loki's good behavior, but they had no idea how to discourage his bad habits. They rarely caught him in the act of doing anything that would merit a reprimand. The Missouri Review «227 "Of course not," Ellen said. She held the book up like a shield at the side ofher face and whispered behind it in a mock display of secrecy— pretending to fool the dog, Gil thought. "I'm sure he does talk to the dog, but I assume the point is to talk to us." They avoided calling the dog by name when they talked about him. Lately, they always said "the dog." Soon, Gil thought, they would be spelling out words the way some of their friends did when they didn't want their children to know what they were saying. Their first dog had been a wedding gift of sorts from Ellen's former boyfriend, Mac, whose fiancée had claimed to be allergic to Rollins. Since the dog was already devoted to Ellen, it made sense that she and Gil should take him in. Rollins, already nine at the time, was a squirming sausage-shaped animal, whose front and back ends appeared always to be moving in opposite directions. But he was a low-maintenance , good-natured pet, a fitting companion for the first few years of Gil and Ellen's life together, years that rolled merrily along like their trusty old Volkswagen bus on a good-time tour. Rollins survived for seven more years, during which Gil and Ellen both returned to college, completed graduate degrees and found themselves embarking on careers they had never quite expected. Gil had begun as a lecturer in the History Department and Ellen started working at the university library. When Gil's colleague, Mitch Leonard, who lived twenty miles away in Richfield, moved to...


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pp. 117-126
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