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I am counting the toes on Fido's hind legs.
"One-two-three-four," I said. "One-two-three."
I started over and came up with the same answer.
“You are missing a toe, Fido. What gives?”
“Oh the stories I could tell!” Fido said.
I first knew about Fido’s toe anomaly at the shelter before I brought the big lug home. At that time—oh, gosh, this was a long time ago—the vet technician at Whitmore Shelter said that whoever docked this dog’s tail had made a hash out of it, and he was missing a toe.
“How did that happen?” I asked the technician.
“We don’t know much about this dog,” she said. “We don’t even really know how old he is. Someone found him wandering down a road near Mono City, no tags, no nothing, picked him up and brought him to us. He’s a sweetie, though.”
Since Fido has never limped or shown any sign of distress because of his missing toe, I don’t really think about it much. And since he has a big, furry foot, it’s not even noticeable until he walks in the snow and you see the paw prints. Always, one toe print is missing.
The other day, though, I brought up the subject. We were just kind of lounging around the house. Me, I was handicapping Major League Baseball teams, lining up pitching rotations on a long legal pad and checking them against Opening Day schedules and probable hitting lineups.
Fido lay near a sunny spot on the floor, half-asleep in that way he has. But in spite this busywork, at least on my part, I couldn’t get my mind off Fido’s missing toe.
“How did you come up with just three toes on your right rear leg?” I said.
Fido opened his eyes, but didn’t get up. He sighed.
“It happened in the war,” he said. “I really don’t like to talk about it much.”
“You were in a BATTLE?” I said.
“It was pretty awful,” he said.
“I’d like to hear about it, if you’re up to it.”
“The planes came in from the East, right at daybreak, so we had to squint to see them against the rays of the sun,” he began. “They hit us first with cannon and raked the field. We all dived for the nearest foxhole we could find. I never even knew that I’d been hit! Fuzzy, our commander, said, ‘Fido, there’s blood on your paw.’ You’d have loved Fuzzy. He was sort of an Ernest Borgnine kind of dog.”
“Actually, Ermes Effron Borgnino,” Fido said, “but he changed his name for the movies. I put a tourniquet on my ankle, rolled over and returned fire, but the planes were gone and they never came back.”
Fido said that’s when he passed out, and the next thing he knew he was at the Whitmore Shelter, waiting for someone like me to show up.
“That’s an incredible, unbelievable tale,” I said to Fido.
“They gave me a Purple Biscuit, but I gave it back. It was such a small injury compared to some of the others. Spot lost part of a shoulder. Rover is now on three legs, but he doesn’t complain. Max lost an eye.”
“There’s something a little fishy about this story,” I said to Fido. “Where exactly was this battle, and when?”
“Like I say, I don’t like to talk about it.”
Fido closed his eyes and feigned a snooze.
But I could see the beginnings of a har-har-har smile on his leather-lips.
I’d been had.