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Smell the Coffee: Cardinal knowledge

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Not long ago, I was sitting on the picnic table at the dog park when a man in a lab coat came over and sat on the other end of the bench. He was clearly upset about something, so I asked if he wanted to talk.

"I did something awful," he said. "I slept with one of my patients."

Phew, I thought. Was worried for a second there he was going to say he'd killed a woman at a dog park.

"That's not so bad," I said. "I'm sure that kind of thing happens all the time."

"You don't understand," he said. "I'm a vet."

"Oh, please," I said, with a wave of my hand. "I sleep with dogs all the time. Every night. Cats, too."

"I don't think you're getting me," the man said. He let out an exasperated sigh, ran his fingers through his thinning hair. "I mean ... in the carnal sense."

"You slept with a cardinal?" I said. "That's adorable! But weren't you afraid of rolling over on it? I mean, my mom raised a blue jay once, and she used to nap with him sometimes, but not out and out sleep, like in the all-night sense. She'd be snoozing on the couch and the jay would fly over and snuggle down on her, tuck his head under his wing. I guess if you need someone to talk to about sleeping with birds, she might be able to help."

He opened his mouth to speak, but after a long moment, closed it again. He stared at me strangely, shook his head, and then left. I was relieved to see him go. There was something not quite right about the man.

I've just returned from a long sick. It was nothing serious, but for most of the first long weekend I was stuck in bed, unable to sleep, while the rest of the time I was stuck in bed, unable to stay awake. During that whole time, there wasn't a moment at least one animal wasn't with me.

Concerned and selfless creatures that they are, during the days when my fever was raging, the cats stayed especially close, often sprawled on top of me in an almost luxuriating way. I suspect they were feigning that look of extreme comfort to deter me from attempting to stand and move about, knowing I wouldn't want to displace them. Cats must instinctively know bed rest is essential for human recuperation.

The dogs were equally helpful, serving as foot-, arm- and headrests, and occasionally testing whether my congestion had lifted based on my reaction to their noxious gases.

The dogs also served as a measure for knowing when I absolutely had to force myself from the bed. This service they provided by sniffing me rather thoroughly, registering an expression of glee, then flinging themselves onto my body, upon which they would roll. Knowing this behavior is generally reserved for when they've found something decomposing, I recognized it was time for a bath.

And a trip to the doctor.

While in the waiting room, I noticed a familiar-looking man, wearing scrubs, seated in the corner. He avoided meeting my gaze.

I wanted to ask, but refrained.

Was he there to be treated for canarial disease?

Or a reptile dysfunction?

Reach Karin Fuller at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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