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So Cyrus is now determined to make Bedside Manor thrive. Not an easy goal, given that Healthy Paws, the national veterinary chain across town, will stop at nothing to crush its mom-and-pop competitor. And the rival vet practice isn’t Cyrus’s only competition; a handsome stranger shows up out of nowhere who clearly has a mysterious past with Amy. To top it off, Cyrus finds himself both the guardian of a very unique orphaned dog and smack in the middle of serious small town drama.
This charming sequel to The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs is a wild and delightful ride through one jam- packed week, where Cyrus must figure out how to outsmart the evil veterinary conglomerate, win back Amy’s heart, solve several tricky veterinary cases, find a home for an orphaned dog, and detangle himself from an absurd case of mistaken identity. DOG GONE, BACK SOON brims with Nick Trout’s trademark humor, charm, and captivating animal stories, and is proof that all dogs, lost or not, on four feet or two, deserve a second chance.
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PICK UP, PICK UP, PICK UP. NO, NO, NO! AMY, IT'S me—me as in Cyrus—calling to say… just wanted to say sorry, for this evening I mean. Okay, I can come across as too… inquisitive, but in my defense, a question is not an accusation, you know?" I take a deep breath, let it out in a long sigh, and realize too late that now I seem impatient. "Look, I'm sorry. Maybe we can try—"
The high-pitched beep in my ear tells me time's up. Damn. I hang up, indicate right, and pull the old Silverado into the parking lot of my new home, The Bedside Manor for Sick Animals. I slump forward over the steering wheel, driving my head into the horn. Just like the missing sun visor and broken reverse gear, the horn on Dad's jalopy must be an optional extra because nothing happens.
"What have I done?"
Yes, I say this out loud and to no one in particular—a question leveled at two particular facets of my new reality. It's January in northern Vermont—ten below—and I've given up everything (and I mean everything) to rescue a decrepit, if not derelict, building that aspires to be a veterinary practice. Rather than an inviting, brightly lit animal hospital, the place lies in shadows, looking haunted, a mugger's paradise or somewhere to score a drug that requires no prescription. Bad enough, but I've just spent the last ninety minutes blowing the best chance I've had in years of connecting with a woman I can't stop thinking about.
I get out and catch a snowman (correction—snowwoman) emerging from an idling car across the lot. It's her ruddy cheeks, flowing pink scarf, black Stetson, and puffy white ski jacket that create the illusion.
"That was quick," she shouts.
"I beg your pardon."
"I only called a few minutes ago. Margot. We spoke on the phone. Doc Lewis, right?"
"No," I say, "I'm Dr. Mills. Doc Lewis is the other vet at the practice. Can I help?"
If she's confusing me with my seventy-three-year-old partner-in-crime then she's clearly not from Eden Falls. Everybody knows everybody in this town.
I look past her as a second figure emerges from her car, the vehicle's interior light spilling over a tall, rangy character in a gray hooded sweatshirt.
"It's Tallulah," says Margot, and then, across the empty lot, she screams, "Gabe, the Unabomber impersonation has been done to death." And then, in a normal voice, "My son, Gabe," before another drill-sergeant cry of "Don't just stand there! Help Tallulah out of the car."
Gabe does as he's told, pulling the hood back to reveal steel-rimmed glasses and a fuzzy 'fro of red hair. When he opens the car's back door, I glimpse what appears to be a large marine mammal. My double take has me rushing over to assist a half second too late to prevent the creature from sliding off the seat and flopping down hard on the rutted ice and snow.
Turns out, despite her pleading, seal-pup eyes and layers of blubber, Tallulah is actually an enormous English mastiff. She doesn't seem to have the use of her legs, making her a formidable dead weight.
"Let's get her up and inside. You got a towel or a blanket that we can use as a sling?"
Margot doesn't hesitate. Ignoring the biting cold, she unzips her coat (to reveal a particularly festive reindeer appliqué sweater) and slips it under Tallulah's belly like an enormous white cummerbund.
"How much does she weigh?" I ask, unlocking the front door and finding a light.
"One ninety-three," says Gabe, coming around to help lift.
The greatest weight ever recorded for a dog was an English mastiff—343 pounds.
"What was that?" asks Margot.
I don't bother explaining how I find solace in mumbling obscure facts and trivia during stressful situations but instead reply, "Would you mind calling Doc Lewis? Let him know I'm here and he can go back to bed."
If Margot nods or replies, I don't see or hear it, as Gabe and I grunt, strain, and stagger our way through the front door and on to the work space in the back. Tallulah is as nimble as a Zeppelin-sized float at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, her legs making drunken, halfhearted attempts at walking.
"It's my fault," says Gabe, breathless as his dog crumples to the floor in the center of the room. "Theobromine toxicity. She ate a whole tray of chocolate brownies I baked."
I consider the teenage kid pushing his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. Theobromine is the ingredient in chocolate that is toxic to dogs. How many high school students would know this fact?
"When was this?"
Gabe consults his wristwatch. "Fifty-two minutes ago. We called our regular vets, Healthy Paws in Patton, and paged the doctor on call, but no one called us back. That's why we drove over here."
I decide not to mention that about an hour ago Amy had spotted the entire veterinary staff of Healthy Paws, loud and loose-tongued, on the far side of the noisy bar she had suggested for our ill-fated first date. I guess that explains why Gabe didn't get a call back.
"He's not picking up," says Margot, sans Stetson, letting me see where Gabe gets his hair color and texture. "My little girl's going to be okay, yeah?"
I grab my stethoscope and get down on the floor with her "little girl." Tallulah's out of it, neck outstretched, head flat to the floor, eyes closed, jowls wet and droopy like a sad, sloppy frown.
I listen to her heart—thirty beats per minute—really slow, even for a dog of this magnitude.
"Has she vomited?" I ask.
"No," says Margot. She checks in with Gabe, who seems to deliberate before shaking his head in agreement.
I lift up a heavy eyelid. Tallulah's left eye is unfocused, eerily black because her pupils are almost fully dilated.
"Could you pass me that thermometer? On the counter."
Gabe obliges, but I catch the nervous tremor in his hand.
"This is your fault, Gabe," says Margot. "You and that girlfriend of yours."
"She's not my girlfriend," Gabe protests, but the blush in his cheeks begs to differ.
Margot folds her arms across her chest. "Okay, so what happened to this… friend… who happens to be a girl? Funny how she had to rush off."
"I told you, this has nothing to do with her."
"I even cooked a cobbler for supper. Why bother with brownies at this time of night?"
Still holding on to the thermometer, I realize where I've seen Gabe. Or rather, someone who looks like him. Remove the glasses and he's Art Garfunkel in Catch-22. (Hey, I happen to love classic movies, but if you prefer pop culture, leave the glasses on and go with Napoleon Dynamite).
Gabe ignores the question. "We need to make her throw up, right, Dr. Mills? I read online how that's one of the first things you do for chocolate poisoning."
I check Tallulah's temperature—97.2°F—way too low.
The most expensive dog ever sold was a red Tibetan mastiff named Big Splash, the price tag: $1.5 million.
I study Margot and Gabe. For all the similarities in their features, two distinct and separate facial expressions capture my attention: concern on hers, guilt on his.
Getting to my feet, I say, "This was a store-bought brownie mix?"
Gabe nods. "But I added chocolate chips," he says. "Lots of them."
"What's a lot?"
"Couldn't have been more than six ounces, half a bag," says Margot. "That's all we had in the pantry."
Six ounces of chocolate ingested by a 193-pound dog.
"And the chips were what, semisweet chocolate?"
"That's right," says Margot. "Hershey's."
The expression in Gabe's eyes has transitioned from shame through remorse to beseeching.
Tallulah's clumsiness, low body temperature, slow heart rate, and dilated pupils tell me Gabe may have been making brownies, but they were almost certainly laced with something more interesting to a teenage boy than chocolate chips.
I hear the chime of the old shopkeeper's bell that sits over the front door, and Dr. Fielding Lewis appears. It's after eleven at night, but he's still sporting one of his trademark silk bow ties—wisteria and blue plaid.
"Ah, I see the good Dr. Mills is already on the case. What's going on?"
"Sorry, Lewis. Ms.…"
"Stiles," says Margot. "Margot Stiles. And this is my son, Gabe."
Gabe manages a sheepish nod.
"Ms. Stiles did try to call you back and tell you not to come," I say, "but since you're here, maybe you could give me a hand. Where do we keep the activated charcoal? Tallulah has an acute case of semisweet chocolate poisoning."
Lewis considers the collapsed dog on the floor before eyeing me with overt skepticism. He reaches down, feels for Tallulah's femoral pulse, inspects her pupils, and claps in her ear. Tallulah doesn't even flinch.
"You quite sure of your diagnosis?" says Lewis, pulling a large plastic syringe from a drawer, filling it half-full of water, and ladling in enough black powder to make a gruesome-looking slurry. "Only, to me, it looks much more like…"
"Baking chocolate," I say, too loudly, snatching the syringe from him. "Yes, you would think… but Tallulah's clinical signs are practically pathognomonic."
"Patho-what?" says Margot, visibly suspicious of our contrived banter.
"Pathognomonic," says Gabe, deflecting her skepticism. "It means characteristic of a particular disease."
"Very good, young man," says Lewis. "You have a bright son, Ms. Stiles."
Margot appears to vacillate, caught between accepting the diagnosis and the compliment about her son. "Yes, well, if he'd stop playing on that computer of his and pay more attention to what's going on in the real world around him, perhaps my poor dog wouldn't be in this state. She is going to be okay, isn't she?"
"Definitely," I say, almost too quickly and in unison with Lewis saying, "Of course." The two of us share a moment of understanding of what we are keeping to ourselves. Time to clear the air.
"Lewis, would you mind taking some basic information from Ms. Stiles so we can start a file for Tallulah? Gabe and I will set about getting her warmed up and starting some IV fluids."
Lewis looks like he actually does mind until I catch his eye and jerk my head in the direction of the waiting room, urging him to get Margot away from her son so we can have a word in private.
"Here," I say, handing Gabe a tower of clean towels and blankets. "Wrap her up in these while I grab an IV catheter and a bag of warm fluids."
Gabe does as he's told, creating an inviting nest, leaving Tallulah's forlorn face poking out like she's wearing a babushka. He kneels down on the floor next to her, closes his eyes, presses his pimply temple into the vast wrinkly dome of her forehead, and whispers, "I'm sorry."
Let me be clear, I don't do pep talks or shoulder squeezes with virtual strangers. For the past fourteen years I relished working as a veterinary pathologist. The only patients I examined were deceased. This line of work nicely avoided awkward, emotionally fraught confrontations with the pet-owning public, which was fine with me, until just over a week ago when I took over my late father's practice, Bedside Manor (yes, I appreciate the irony in this ridiculous name).
"If you must know," I say, squatting down and gesturing to the unresponsive brindle blob on the floor, "your dog is on the verge of a coma caused by the ingestion of tetrahydrocannabinol. It seems pretty clear the canine ganja high is not a pleasurable experience."
Gabe can't meet my eyes. Interesting. It's definitely a little easier to do preachy over touchy-feely. So long as he doesn't think I'm offering fatherly advice.
"How did you know?" he whispers.
I smile. He's petrified. I could let him suffer a little longer but instead say, "Look, I'm not going to tell your mom, so relax." Gabe reaches out, pats Tallulah, and this rouses her enough to open her lids. Her eyes roll up, revealing waning crescent moons around the edges, the little-girl-lost effect noticeably compounding Gabe's sense of shame.
"For what it's worth, fatal marijuana ingestion is pretty much unheard of in dogs. And I knew because her signs were all wrong. Chocolate toxicity makes dogs hyper, nervous, with a racing pulse. Tallulah's clearly stoned. She's the one who got baked this evening. Here, let me show you how to raise a vein so I can place this catheter."
Gabe seems eager to be involved, to physically help out, and as we get her hooked up to fluids he talks about a recipe for pot brownies he found online. Clearly his use of the word epic differs from mine.
"Mom'll kill me if she finds out. I'll be without a computer for like… a week."
I flick some air bubbles in the line with my finger just like in the movies. Gabe makes an Internet-free seven days sound like a sentence on death row.
"I swear I'd never harm her. She won't have any permanent damage, will she?"
I look over at Tallulah, resting comfortably, and think about Gabe's question.
Mastiffs rank number eight in the list of—how best to put this?—most intellectually challenged breeds of dog.
"No," I say, keeping the "not so as you'd notice" to myself.
"Thanks, Doc, for everything. You know… for keeping this… between us. I owe you."
"Sure, but don't worry about it."
Gabe presses his glasses into the bridge of his nose again. It's like a nervous tic.
"Where are you from, Doc? Your accent?"
I can't tell if he's making conversation or snooping.
"Here, originally, but I've spent the past twenty-five years in and around the Carolinas."
Gabe gets to his feet, visibly deliberates, and then asks, "You married? Dating? Got a significant other?"
Definitely snooping. Don't tell me he's trying to set me up with the snowwoman.
"Let's keep our focus on the patient," I say, nodding to the sleepy beached whale.
The kid regards me with a vapid expression worthy of his frizzy-haired doppelganger when his mom walks back into the work area with Lewis in tow.
"How we doing?" she asks.
"Good," I say, as Lewis hands over the new file he's put together. "We've got Tallulah set up for the night. Pretty sure she'll be able to go home tomorrow."
Margot eases herself down, pinches both of Tallulah's doughy cheeks, and plants a drawn-out kiss on the dog's snout like the creepy aunt children try to avoid at family gatherings.
"Most expensive brownies of all time." Margot waves for a hand up. "Gabe, what do you say to the doctors?"
Gabe assists his mom before stepping over to Lewis, deferentially bowing from the neck. Then, pointing to the manila folder in my hand, he says to me, "You ever want to go paperless, let me know."
Margot lights up. "Maybe we can barter on the bill? My son's a genius with computers."
Lewis seems intrigued by the offer.
"Thanks, Ms. Stiles," I say, "but I'm pretty sure we won't be computerizing our record keeping anytime soon."
I hope that sounded like a polite refusal rather than a desperate need for actual cash.
Lewis reads her disappointment and swoops in. "We can sort out the bill tomorrow," he says, ushering them toward the front door. "Have a good night. Give us a call in the morning."
Neither of us speaks until the chime of the shopkeeper's bell confirms that they've gone.
"Baking chocolate?" Lewis says with a bemused smile.
It's nearly midnight, and this old man with his steely thatch of hair is not only wide awake, he's actually enjoying himself.
"I know. Lucky for me, marijuana poisoning was one of the few intoxicants I recall from my days as a vet student. In dogs, not people. I mean, I never—"
"Of course, Cyrus," says Lewis, stepping in. "Have to say, I'm impressed by your… your…"
He searches for the word. "Benevolence," he utters, looking pleased with himself.
If this is a compliment, I ignore it. My motive was simple—figure out the problem and solve it. And also avoid an embarrassing scene.
"Smart kid, but obviously not smart enough," says Lewis. "Mom wouldn't stop going on about his addiction to computers. Let's hope that's the least of her worries. Now, to more pressing issues. You all set with your license to practice?"
"Yes, sir." If the "sir" sounds too formal, blame my time in the south. For the last three days, I was back in Charleston making sure I'm not going to get arrested for impersonating a veterinarian.
"Excellent. You get back in time?"
He's referring to my much awaited but postponed first date with Amy, one of the waitresses from the Miss Eden Falls diner in the center of town. Not much gets past Lewis. The phrase an elephant never forgets refers to the way these pachyderms pass on a genetic memory of directions and locality, including their loved ones' final resting place. Lewis may lack total recall, but he's clearly watching my every move.
"Yep," I say curtly, hoping he'll back off.
"How did it go?"
No such luck.
Lewis folds his arms across his chest, eases back in his stance, obviously awaiting details.
"Look, I'm out of practice at this dating game. Amy got this phone call that she simply had to take, so I'm twiddling my thumbs for a full twelve minutes and then she's all cagey about who it was and—"
"Well, knowing Amy it must have been important. She apologized for taking the call?"
"But she wouldn't tell you who she was talking to?"
"She wouldn't answer any of my questions."
Lewis leans forward. "Questions, plural? Not a good idea."
"That's what I said. 'Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.' And Amy said, 'Tonight or coming home to Eden Falls?' That was just before she stormed off."
"Let me guess, you replied, 'Both'?"
I hang my head in shame and then feel my left bicep squeezed by his trademark lobster claw grip and meet the slate gray eyes of this little old man.
"Take it from someone who's been married for fifty years," says Lewis, "women are not attracted to insecure, pushy men."
As if to emphasize his point, my right bicep gets the vise grip as well.
"Call her. Apologize." He waits a beat before adding, "Besides, isn't all this about second chances?"
How does Lewis do it, the way he manages to angle his head up, unblinking, to peek inside you?
"I saw what happened to you last week," he says. "Coming home, taking this place on. Something hibernating in your life woke up, right?"
I say nothing. Blame guilt or a craving for redemption, but I walked away from my old life as a respected pathologist (okay, there was the matter of a suspended license and huge legal bills) and committed to saving the late Bobby Cobb's floundering, debt-ridden practice. For fifteen years, after the death of my mother, I willfully never saw or spoke to my father again. Last week, Bedside Manor taught me what a fool I'd been. It's his legacy, all that's left of him, and I woke up because I caught a glimpse of something worth fighting for.
One last double-barreled squeeze and Lewis turns his attention to taking another rectal temperature on Tallulah. Our patient barely notices.
"Ninety-nine. Much better. Nice to upstage Healthy Paws," he says. "It's not often we get new clients from over in Patton."
Patton lies across the valley, and with a population five times the size of Eden Falls, it can sustain a mall, movie theater, and chain restaurants, making it a metropolis compared to our little town.
"Amy and I were out that way," I say. "The Yardarm. She saw them, the vets from Healthy Paws. Out celebrating I guess. The bar was packed and I couldn't make them out, except some guy with an annoying, distinctive laugh."
Lewis offers a sage nod. "Let me guess, braying donkey meets croupy pig?"
"That's the one."
"He's their office manager. And that laugh may be his most charming feature. According to Doris, he's declared war on Bedside Manor."
Doris is the Bedside Manor's only other employee—a chain-smoking, beehive-wearing, geriatric receptionist who makes it her business to know everything about everybody. I am not surprised to hear her gossip network extends out to Patton.
"Come on. War?"
"This is serious, Cyrus. Round these parts Doris provides better intelligence than a CIA drone. Healthy Paws was convinced you'd either default or sell the practice to them. Apparently our little trick with the free clinic last weekend has set them on edge."
Before I left for Charleston, we opened up the practice to the public, trying to attract new business with the promise of a free examination for their pets. To be honest, the accompanying free booze and munchies were probably the bigger attractions. Somehow we clawed back enough bad debt to temporarily stave off closure by the odious Mr. Critchley of Green State Bank.
"Look at this place. Sometimes I wonder if my father used the word manor instead of clinic or hospital to avoid false advertising. We're not in the same league."
Lewis steps into my personal space again, and I try not to flinch. "Sure, we lack their bells and whistles. But they're still worried about the competition."
"Not at all. Think about it, Healthy Paws is a national chain. Doris's source swears their doctors are jealous of the way we get to practice veterinary medicine. And I mean the scary type of jealous."
A scary type of jealous? Is that how I acted when Amy insisted she had to take her phone call ten minutes into our date, going all wide-eyed and animated on me, feigning her apology as she giggled with the caller on the other end of the line?
I come back with a dubious nasal huff.
"I'm not kidding," says Lewis. "Healthy Paws eats up struggling practices for breakfast. Their unofficial catchphrase is 'If we can't have you, nobody else can.' "
What have I done? Gone for three days and now I've got a rival for Amy's affection as well as a rival for our business. As it is I'm hopelessly romantically challenged and Bedside Manor's already received last rites.
I take a deep breath, mustering renewed resolve. "Well, like you said, Lewis, this is about second chances. Yes, I'm out of my league, comfort zone, and probably, my mind, but if you're willing to fight then so am I. I mean how bad can this be? Surely a little competition will do us good?"
Lewis looks up at me with his piercing eyes, his tightening crow's feet adding to my unease. "Listen to me. This makes handling the bank look easy. Pay up and at least the bank leaves you alone. This is different. This is about professional reputation. This is about quality of service. Healthy Paws employees play dirty, and they'd love to expose our flaws and our antiquated ways. They'll try to highlight every weakness because for Healthy Paws this is personal. This is about humiliation. I wish it was just about competition, but I'm telling you, they don't want to compete. They want to wipe us out. They want to bring Bedside Manor to its knees."
LIVING IN THE APARTMENT OVER THE PRACTICE, my childhood home, feels like a blessing and a curse. Great commute in the morning but no possibility of truly escaping from work. Given this new development, maybe that's not a bad thing. If the rival practice thinks Bedside Manor is going to roll over and pee like a submissive dog, it's very much mistaken. And that's why I jog down the flight of stairs and step into the waiting room like the president stepping off Air Force One, a distinct pep to my stride.
It's my first morning of appointments since getting back to Eden Falls, and what's this? A Christmas miracle—the waiting room is full.
"Good morning, Doris. Don't suppose there are any urgent messages for me?"
From behind the reception desk, the mocking arch of her penciled-in eyebrows is all the answer I need. Damn. Still nothing from Amy.
"A word in your ear, Dr. Mills," says Doris, the summons enforced by a nicotine-stained index finger insisting I come closer.
"Looks like a full house," I say under my breath, trying to contain my delight. "Guess the word must be out."
Doris eases back her chin and narrows her eyes as though she can't decide whether to pity me or stamp on me. For the record, Doris's loyalty still lies with my father, the late Doc Cobb, and she harbors a grudge for the son who was never there for him. I'm not sure I'll ever be forgiven (or if I deserve to be), but I sense there are moments, however brief, when she almost approves of what I'm trying to do to save this place. This might not be one of them.
"You seen this crew?" Doris asks. "Take a closer look."
Her eyebrows jump with a "well, go on then" ferocity, and I do as I'm told. It seems everyone on two legs, four legs, and no legs—a yellow python drapes over the shoulders of a teenage boy with what looks like brass knuckles tattooed into his neck—is staring at me, and to some extent, I see what she means. Dog collars and leashes have been replaced by lengths of frayed rope; cats are restrained not by carriers but by nylon shopping bags or ratty, partially unzipped ski jackets.
"Could have told you that free clinic last Saturday was a bad idea," says Doris. "All it did was bring back the low-rent pet owners we've already sent to collections. You won't get a dime out of this lot."
An imaginary itch at the back of my neck gets the better of me. I hate public speaking, but I think this is the time to air an unpleasant truth.
I turn to address a blank but attentive crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen, um… thank you all for coming in this morning, but I need to draw your attention to this particular notice."
I point to my handwritten poster pinned to the wall.
PAYMENT IN FULL IS EXPECTED FOR SERVICES RENDERED.
"Hate to be so, um… so direct, but this is not a free animal clinic."
"Pawsitively delightful.... [Nick Trout] once again hits the mark with a wholesome, heartwarming story.... No doubt many animal lovers are panting in anticipation of the next Bedside Manor installment."
- "This novel is packed with intriguing medical mysteries and a veterinarian hero who understands animals but is clueless about humans. An entertaining read for animal lovers."—W. Bruce Cameron, author of A Dog's Purpose
"An enjoyable read...Trout writes from a place of deep knowledge and regard for the bonds people have with their companion animals, and his wry sense of humor provides many smile-inducing moments."
- "Animal lovers can unite in heartfelt agreement on the delightful charm, drama, and humor of Trout's follow-up. The book is full of intriguing and colorful characters but none so engaging and endearing as Cyrus, the socially awkward, but genuinely kind, country vet."—Library Journal (starred)
- "Pet lovers, grab your bookmarks. There's a new Big Dog on the shelves, and his name is Nick Trout... Your book group will like this book. Your parents will like this book. And I think you will, too, particularly if your roommate has four feet."—Terri Schlichenmeyer, "Bookworm Sez," syndicated column
- On Sale
- Nov 3, 2015
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Hachette Books