by Galia Berry

©1997, All Rights Reserved

A week before my fortieth birthday, my mother calls and asks what she can get me.

"Liposuction," I answer.

"No, come on," she pesters, "what do you really want?"

Later that day, my husband corners me. "Your mother called and asked me what you want for your birthday. I said I didn't know. What do you want, anyway?"

I reply: "Liposuction."

"Aw, c'mon, Hon, be serious. What can I really get you?"

It's bad enough that no one takes me seriously around here. I was being genuine. But even more depressing, my dog is getting a face lift. And in dog years, he's forty, too.

My dog Sandy is a fluffy, very furry sort of dog of dubious origin who comes from the pound. He spends most of his days vegetating. Unlike some people and their pets, I don't treat him like I would a child . . . I've got enough of those already. He doesn't get to sleep in bed with me, and he's not allowed to climb on furniture. In fact, he's better behaved than most people I know. I don't even feed him table scraps. He's relegated to eating the same thing day in and day out . . . hard, dry kibble. What can I say? It's a dog's life. But his teeth are white and his gums are pink and they look a whole lot better than mine. Which is why I never imagined his need for a face lift.

About a month ago, he started to smell. Terrible. Figuring he had rolled in something suspiciously organic on one of his trips outside, I dutifully gave him a bath, which is quite an undertaking in and of itself. Within two days, the awful smell returned. It wasn't an ear-infection kind of smell, or a skin-infection kind of smell - - I am unfortunately well-versed in diagnostic dog odors. It was this hideous, rotten smell of decay, way beyond normal canine halitosis. I pried open Sandy's mouth, expecting to see an abscess or infected gums, but all that greeted me were teeth more free of plaque than my own. So I bathed him again. But even as his thick cottony fur was fragrant with Pantene, that not-so-cloying odor of decay lingered.

He was the same dumb, faithful creature as always, and sought attention accordingly. But his look of rejection was nothing short of pitiful as family members pushed him away with, "Ooh, Sandy, you stink. Go away!" Sandy was obviously going through some sort of doggie denial, oblivious to how putrid he had become. Something had to be done. So we scheduled a visit to the vet.

The vet diagnoses Sandy's smell immediately. "You know how, as one gets older, one starts to lose muscle tone?," he says, "And get all flabby and soft, even though you may not have gained weight?"

"Doc," I say huffily, "I came on behalf of the dog, remember? " The vet assures me that he isn't talking about my midlife crisis, although I suddenly feel horribly self-conscious and wish I had worn a girdle.

"Well, " he continues, "just like people get flabby and lose muscle tone as they age, so do dogs. Your dog's lips have started drooping, and the folds of skin are trapping food particles, which then decay and smell bad."

My dog has sagging lips! That's his diagnosis. Sagging lips, for goodness' sake!

The vet explains there are two ways to treat the problem. The first is to keep the fur around his mouth closely shaved, and each time he eats, to clean the dog's mouth area with a disinfectant. I can't even get my kids to brush their teeth, and the vet wants me to practice dental hygiene on a dog?

The alternative is surgery. A nip and tuck. "You know," the vet says confidently, "kind of like a face lift on people."

A face lift for my dog, who has sagging lips. Please, tell me I am dreaming . . . that my life has not become a theater of the absurd. A FACE LIFT FOR MY DOG!!! I can see it now: someone will ask me my dog's name, and I'll have to say (in a matter-of-fact sort of way, as though nothing in the world could be more obvious), "Why, that's Sandy: the Dog With The Sagging Lips."

Aware that humans opt for repeat facelifts as the years take their toll, I ask the vet (while clutching my purse for dear life) if he feels Sandy could become the Dog With The Recurring Sagging Lips. His comforting answer: "Don't worry about it. By the time he needs the surgery again, he'll be dead."

I schedule the surgery. It's going to cost me two hundred bucks. I ask the vet if he'll consider a two-fer, and do a nip and tuck on my double chin while he's at it.

He declines.

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