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It’s a dog’s life

A tale of cultural change

Some of you will be reading this on Feb. 12, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1809. Lincoln is integral to the story I’m about to tell, but, first, some context.

Susan and I are the proud caretakers of our fourth dog, Greeley, named after famed newspaper editor Horace Greeley, whose birthday was Feb. 3, 1811. We liked our previous three dogs, but we like 5-year-old Greeley even more, so what I’m about to relate is no reflection on him: It’s a tale of cultural change.

We gave our three previous dogs carrots and bones to chew on. We took them to local veterinarians and made sure they had all their shots. Our third dog, Pokey, lived to be 17. But we did not buy them fancy toys, elegant sweaters, and “curated dog food,” such as “a perfect blend of nutrient-packed ingredients like carrots, pumpkin, and blueberries to provide antioxidants and phytonutrients,” whatever they are. 

This brings me to a document we received from our local vet. It’s an estimate of what it would cost to clean Greeley’s teeth professionally: at least $429, maybe $537. He would need at least a pre-anesthetic profile and electrocardiogram for $70, a dental X-ray for $38, the “canine dental” itself for $216, and other touches for $105. 

“I have never heard of cleaning a dog’s teeth. For $429, you should get a liver transplant.”

Our local vet is by no means extravagant. Anesthesia-based cleanings can cost up to $1,000. They are the most thorough and the only kind some dogs accept, since when they are unconscious they cannot complain. 

But I can. One website says, “Veterinarians recommend a professional dental cleaning once or twice a year, depending on your dog’s needs.” So before whipping out a checkbook, I wrote for advice to my rancher friend John Erickson, author of Hank the Cowdog books, who has had great dogs with great teeth. 

My email said, “Our vet would like to clean the teeth of our dog, Greeley, at a cost of $429. The vet’s note says, ‘Be assured that the health of Greeley is our highest concern.’ What’s your sense of this?”

John replied, “I have never heard of cleaning a dog’s teeth. For $429, you should get a liver transplant. Our local dental hygienist cleans my teeth for $130. She has never told me my health was her highest concern but she throws in a free toothbrush. I can give you her number if you wish.”

That brings me back to Lincoln. He gained his “Honest Abe” nickname as a young clerk in a small store when he failed to give a customer the correct change. The story goes that Lincoln walked for miles to return 2 cents. Yes, those 2 cents are worth a dollar now, given inflation, but it’s still an impressive making-things-right, and shows the importance of growing up with Ben Franklin’s “a penny saved is a penny earned” adage.  

What would Lincoln say about turning savings into dog tooth-brushing? We know a bit about Lincoln’s dog sense from his decision to leave Fido, his yellow lab mix, in Springfield, Ill., when the master headed to the White House. Franklin Roosevelt famously took his dog, Fala, on trips in Sacred Cow, the president’s airplane, and Ferdinand Magellan, his train car, but Lincoln was sentimental regarding humans and not dogs.  

We all want to be good stewards of the money God has given us. When I asked Nick Eicher, he recommended carrots. What’s your experience, and your advice to me?  

P.S. I do need to mention what happened to Fido. Lincoln gave him to a carpenter, John Eddy Roll. In 1954 a Roll descendant, Johnny Roll, told a Time reporter what happened in 1866, a year after Lincoln’s death: “One day the dog, in a playful manner, put his dirty paws upon a drunken man sitting on the street curbing [who] in his drunken rage, thrust a knife into the body of poor old Fido. He was buried by loving hands. So Fido, just a poor yellow dog, met the fate of his illustrious master: assassination.”