I have been made gradually aware, over the course of getting to know Rally, that my service dog possesses a few…quirks, little unique flaws, which, depending on the situation, can make him either adorable or deplorable. These particularities range from his very vocal groan of contentment to his “seal bark” when he is lonely, to his acute dislike of ice cubes to his love of butter. One such special characteristic of my dog that I discovered only yesterday is that he has different sized feet.
German Shorthaired Pointers are bred to hunt in the sunny southern slopes of this majestic country, and therefore — as the name implies — have very short coats coupled with a slow metabolism — not exactly ideal for combating the cold. I have discovered that I can accurately judge the temperature based on how much Rally is shivering; slight to moderate quaking suggests a balmy seventy degrees, while a severe trembling, accompanied by a dripping nose, bug eyes and an aghast expression, might alert me that a cloud is covering the sun. Further adding to Rally’s discomfort is the endless number of tile and hardwood floors that he must lie upon, waiting until I am done with class or finished eating at a restaurant. With his attention fixated on quivering and moaning at the softest breeze, he could miss the warning signs of an impending migraine, which would mean he would have to accompany me to the hospital. As Rally hates ambulances with a passion that nearly matches my own, he does his best to remain focused, but it was growing clear to me as the winter deepened that the fur with which nature had equipped him was no match for the fearsome Reno winter that we are currently enduring.
Thus, in sympathy for my dog’s obvious and pitiful intolerance for the cold — or even cool — temperature range, and in a fervent desire to avoid a noisy car ride to the hospital, I decided to go to a pet store and help Rally conquer the cold. I quickly located a fleece coat and lingered a few minutes to chat with the sales lady, who was ecstatic over Rally. As it turned out, not only was she a German Shorthaired fan, but also a devout service dog admirer, and when she saw his blue vest her smile could have swallowed him whole.
“He’s such a perfect specimen!” she gushed, feeding Rally six pieces of goat liver with such speed that he no longer bothered to chew but just held his mouth open and swallowed the offered pieces with a gulp. “I just love big dogs! They’re so majestic and strong! Such a hunting dog! And a service dog as well!”
By then my ears were burning, and I’m pretty sure Rally’s pointy head was swollen to twice its original size. I thanked her kindly for her exuberant praise and had almost escaped beyond the threshold with my purchase in hand when she suddenly suggested, “What about booties?”
“Oh, no.” I said quickly, wincing at the memory of countless little Pomeranians and Chihuahuas that I had witnessed mincing their way through the streets, their tiny paws encased in miniscule snow shoes adorned with pompoms and buttons bedazzling the tops. “I think it’s enough to have to dress my dog in a vest and a jacket,” I explained before she could take offense at my obvious horror. “Besides, isn’t he a little big for boots?”
“Nonsense.” She laughed, and before I could counter, had whisked out a pair of sequined footwear from a nearby shelf. “His paws will be warmer,” she coaxed, clearly having experience with the type of owners who are reluctant to commit to getting their dogs shoes. First it’s shoes, then it’s costumes. “Just try them on.”
I sighed, looking at Rally for help. He promptly led me down the aisle to where the smiling sales lady was waiting with another handful of treats. And thus began my unwilling indoctrination into the vast world of doggy footwear. Some footwear, I can attest, even have skulls and rainbows on the sides. I was immediately drawn to the last box, which upon closer inspection, I could see were clearly dog shoes made to be worn while touching the ground.
“Oh, Ruffwear makes great shoes — worthy of even a German Shorthaired service dog!” the sales lady gushed, sensing that I was wavering ever so slightly in my determination not to succumb to the world of dog fashion. “These are especially sturdy! See the rubber tread on the bottom, and the mesh fabric? They cinch closed at the top and then you tighten this little strap here —“
Before she had even finished, I was sitting on the floor with Rally pinned between my knees, offering one of his paws towards her like a ritualistic sacrifice.
“What size might he be?”
“Oh. I don’t know.” I looked down at Rally’s feet, blissfully unaware that I was about to uncover yet another of my dogs unique traits. “He’s around eighty pounds…”
“So a large then.”
She unwrapped a set of booties, captured Rally’s reluctant paw and slid the boot on, but the boot fell right off. “Too large.” She shrugged, her crush on Rally fading slightly in her disappointment. “He must be a medium. Such small feet.”
She returned quickly with another set of smaller boots.
She straightened when these boots were also too big, looking dubiously at Rally’s feet as though waiting for the wool over her eyes to dissipate. “Your service dog has really small paws.”
“I guess.” I handed her back the shoes. “Maybe he’s a size small?”
She raised her eyebrows doubtfully but reached for the row of boxes. “He’s got the smallest feet on a big dog that I’ve ever seen.”
The man from behind the store’s counter snickered. “Yeah, like a little ballerina.”
I cast him my most dignified stare. “It’s not a big deal.” I assured Rally, who glared at me as the sales lady finished shoeing his other front paw and moved onto his two back ones. “Maybe you were a Yorkie in another life.”
“These are too big!” I could see the sweet compassion in the sales lady’s eyes draining as she straightened from over Rally’s left hind foot. I joined her, peering incredulously down at Rally as I finally realized yet another particularity about my service dog.
“His feet are different sizes?”
“His feet are different sizes,” she confirmed.
“Oh,” I brightened, redemption on the horizon. My dog might have tiny dainty little front paws, but surely his back ones must be massive. “What size are his back paws?”
She paused. “Maybe an extra small?”
The man from behind the counter had to duck down for cover, he was giggling so hard, and I was distinctly aware of the saleswoman’s thinly pursed lips. What remaining shred of admiration and envy for my German Shorthaired service dog was clearly fossilized and buried. I hastily purchased the boots, mumbled my thanks and left the store before she could accuse me of owning an unmanly dog.
Since then Rally has pranced, moonwalked and sauntered his way at my side, bundled up like a first born infant in his fleece jacket, service vest and all terrain booties, and I must admit that he does shiver far less — in fact, now he pants and pauses after every hundred yards to wipe sweat from his weary brow. But I don’t mind. He might be in danger of heat stroke and he still has tiny, different-sized feet ill befitting such a proud breed in such a noble profession, but he’s keeping me safe and sane in this chaotic world, and that’s what matters the most.
Kendall Winship studies English and Spanish. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.