“It is a truth universally acknowledged . . .” that an assignment to the Pentagon casts one into the bureaucratic pit of hell. All good officers fight to avoid the Pentagon, but many end up there. The Air Force dragged me back from Germany screaming, my nails digging deep ruts in the rich Palatinate soil, my eyes looking back to the beloved country we were leaving.
When we first went to Germany in 1988, we took our 12-year-old dog Tippy with us. At the San Antonio airport, we had dutifully given her a happy pill, then sent her away with the luggage. In Frankfurt, she had come out with a far-freaking-out look on her shaggy face, like she was saying, “Man, I can see my paw. It’s so cooool.”
When we returned to the States eight years later, we forgot that Germany’s attitude toward dogs is quite different. We gave Maisie, our beagle-mix pup, her pill before we checked in. So of course the person at the desk said, “You don’t have to go back to the gate for two hours. Just set her kennel over there and keep her with you till then.” So we walked with her up to a café where she snoozed at our feet. She was so spaced out by the time we left, we had to carry her.
As soon as we got into the luggage area at Dulles airport, we heard her. She was mad. She barked her head off at everyone and everything. She was still barking when we picked her up, went through customs with her, rolled her with our luggage through a pair of glass doors and out into her new land. A man in uniform, a lieutenant colonel, held up a sign, “DIETRICH.” Maisie yelled at him too.
He peered cautiously into her kennel. “What kind of monster do you have in there?” He was my new boss, a thin, energetic man with a boyish face.
“This is Maisie, the Amazing Dog,” I said.
“Hello, Maisie,” he said quietly. She shouted at him—in German.
When we got out of the airport I let Maisie out of her kennel, walked her around to stretch her long legs and do her business. My new boss led us to his car, and my heart sank. I’d have to put her back in her kennel. I dreaded not only doing it to her, but also the music our diva would perform for us. But the lieutenant colonel said, “Let her sit in the back seat with you. We haul our dogs in here all the time.” It was a friendly car, the type that looked like it hauled dogs.
We were going to be staying with dog-hostile friends for a while, so our first stop was the kennel near the airport. Several people had recommended it. I was relieved to find a pleasant, shaded building surrounded by woods; Maisie would feel at home here. While my husband went back to check out the accommodations, I filled out the paperwork.
Kenneling a dog had changed substantially in eight years. “It’s sixteen dollars a night,” the young man at the desk told me. “Would you like her to have a soft mat to lie on? That’s an extra dollar fifty a night.”
We were abandoning Maisie for two weeks, after moving her so abruptly away from her homeland. How could we leave her to languish on the hard kennel floor? “Sure,” I said.
“Great. Now do you want to set her up for nature walks in the woods?”
“Oh, yes! She’s used to a daily walk in the woods.”
Doggie playtime? Exercise class? A pedicure? A bath? I okayed it all, recklessly adding activity to activity to her schedule, fueled entirely by guilt. If they’d offered it, I would have signed her up to make me a paw print ashtray. Eventually, her nightly rate at the kennel equaled the amount it would cost us to stay in a decent highway motel. The only thing I turned down was the Frosty Paws™, described as “ice cream for dogs but not made of dairy. We give it to them before bedtime.” I refused it, but only because we had her on a diet.
My new boss muttered plaintively, “But how will she feel when all her Doggie Playtime buddies are getting a bedtime treat and she’s not?”
I thought, I’m going to like working for this man. I’m going to like it here. And I did.
When we went to get Maisie, she had a report card; her only markdown was that she didn’t chase insects. There was also a picture of her and her handler outside the nature walk area. She seemed happy and healthy. She lived to be seventeen, a happy American dog who barked with the slightest of German accents. She died quickly and quietly with the two of us beside her, stroking her and crying.
As for my Pentagon boss, he’s a three-star general now, the highest ranking personnel officer in the Air Force, a brilliant, friendly, honest man with a great sense of humor. And a fondness for dogs. He’s retiring next month. Sir, may you be as successful in your next career as you were in your last. Thank you for all you did.