Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate |

Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate

“Here, do you want this?” the vet tech says, handing me a pile of little bone scrapings from my dog’s knee on a small napkin.

“Um, no, thank you,” I say, doing my best to hide my disgust.

“Well, some people want to take it home,” she says with a shrug, folding the napkin in half and throwing it into the garbage the way someone might clean up after a cocktail party. She also provides me with color printouts of the digital photos that were taken during surgery, one of his knee pried open, ligaments and bones all exposed and raw, and another of the huge titanium plate they’d screwed in that looks like something out of an erector set.

This I don’t need. I am squeamish about that kind of stuff, for one. For two, I can see everything I need to know just by looking at my poor pooch, all shaved and stoned out on pain killers, with a 6-inch incision that looks like it should be on Frankenstein’s forehead. His ears are at half-mast, his eyes sad and droopy like a billboard for his misery and discomfort.

What’s worse, I can’t take care of him myself because I live alone, two and a half stories up a flight of stairs that’ll likely kill me before I turn 40. The fan club for Psycho Paws (as he is affectionately known around Aspen) is very small, so I don’t have much help. Even my most well-meaning friends have been frightened off by his often unpredictable behavior when it comes to things like tearing houses down, eating small animals, throwing down other dogs and snacking on children under 12, if the mood strikes him.

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The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

The way Nate describes it, he sits at the top of the stairs of my building monitoring who comes and goes like a bouncer at a club, with wired headset and clipboard, going, “You’re not on the list.”

Until now, I was convinced that Psycho Paws was invincible.

For starters, he is not easily sedated. The first time he tried to eat a porcupine, the vet injected him with drugs, and he promptly tried to kill the hospital cat. Even after the second dose, he feigned sleep, often lifting his head up in the middle of the procedure and opening his eyes. “Normally, removing quills is simple,” the vet said, adding “Because the dog is actually knocked out.” She said he is a very willful animal, and I’m pretty sure she was trying to be nice.

Then there was the time he jumped through the tiny front triangle window in my old Jeep and walked away unscathed, without a cut or anything. Or that time he was running full speed and did not see the rock wall over the river and dropped at least six feet into a creek bed. We took him for dead, at least until he came traipsing back up the embankment like he wanted to try it again.

You could say he has not been the easiest dog in the world. My parents agreed to take him during his six-week recovery since they have everything he needs, like a house that has more than two rooms, a deck with a view, so he can keep an eye on the entire Yampa Valley, and the company of Sabrina, a border collie who is the one animal Psycho has never tried to kill. They eat out of the same bowl and sleep in the same bed, and appear to be very much in love.

I know all these things, and yet I still feel like I failed him, like I am a bad dog mom. This is especially true since everyone in Steamboat thinks he is the best dog ever. That includes the people at the kennel, which is amazing considering he is the one who tore down the original Aspen Animal Shelter. It also includes everyone at the animal hospital, who went on and on about how perfect he was throughout the whole surgery ordeal. They all call him “Mr. Handsome,” though one thing no one ever disputed is that he had good looks on his side.

In Aspen, the only reception he’s gotten are from Animal Control and the shelter guy, who once said, “If you had a family of your own and he wasn’t your whole world, I would tell you to euthanize him.” He also said, “Don’t baby your dog!” That was like four years ago and, yes, I am still bitter about it.

Speaking of babies, on the way home from Steamboat, John and I stopped in Basalt to have dinner at Smoke, the wildly popular midvalley restaurant that is owned by our former roommate and Yellow House alum, Damon. (I’m pretty sure Damon still holds a grudge against me for some roommate issues that probably are well-deserved, so I just wanted to give him a shout out and say, love you man and your restaurant rocks, too).

We run into our friends Ken and Stacey and their 8-day-old son, Isaac, who is nothing more than a little peanut lying in the booth beside them, looking freshly hatched.

When we sit down, naturally the conversation goes to baby names, and then babies in general. I reiterate my new stance that I am not all that interested in having one of those things right now, what with my career and my need for a minimum of eight hours of sleep every night. I raise the fact that my track record with the dog is not all that encouraging in terms of dealing with an actual human.

John reassures me about being a good dog mom and then says, “Don’t you think you’ll regret not having a baby when you’re 70?”

I roll my eyes and change that subject. What I don’t tell him is I already do regret it, though I know it’s probably for the best.

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