For the last few days, our dog Charlie has been constantly scratching.  He wakes me up at night scratching, so I get up and spray him down with flea spray on the chance he’s picked up a flea or two from the strays outside.  Then I check him from head to toe for any sign of a flea.  I haven’t found the first one, but fleas are tiny creatures.  Maybe I missed one.  By this time, I’m scratching my head literally and physically.  If Charlie has picked up fleas, then I could have one, too.  My left shoulder starts to itch.  As I scratch, I remember Kermit, a huge golden retriever that we had several years ago.

I was still teaching then and when I’d pull into the worn ruts in front of the mailbox, Kermit would frolic across the front yard to greet me.  He grinned with his whole body, wagging a tail known to knock untold items off tables and send cats flying.  He’d escort the car from the driveway to its customary parking place and lead me from it to the back door.  Impatiently he’d wait as I juggled bags, papers, and keys, and then precede me into the house to check his bowl for food and his dish for water.  Occasionally, he’d growl menacingly at a cat who dared to rub against him in greeting.  It was all part of our afternoon schedule.  Then came that terrible sound that stopped the pleasant routine.

“Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch!”

It came always in fives.  This 120 lb. dog would contort his body in the living room floor, biting at an elusive flea on his back side, now under one leg, now under another.  He’d roll from one side to another, emitting a long whining howl.  He’d bite his tail.  With a massive paw he’d scratch one ear.

Whatever I’d been doing, I’d stop and call him.

“Come here, Kermit.”

He’d bounce over and stand still as I checked him for fleas.  I thought maybe his Frontline, a monthly topical flea and tick preventative, had stopped working and needed to be replaced.  Just to be safe, I’d give him a bath, slathering great handfuls of flea and tick killing suds into his thick coat and rinsing him over and over.  There were no fleas—not one.  Then I’d release him to finish drying.  

Ten minutes later I’d hear the scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch again.  Already he’d be whining and gnawing in the living room floor.  I’d scratch my ear and reach with my pencil for an elusive itch on my back while Kermit moaned and snapped at his tail.  By now I was scratching in 3 different places.  I’d go find his $20 bottle of spray that we’d gotten from his vet the last time we’d had this problem and work it into his coat.  It worked well for about 10 minutes.  

“If we survive until tomorrow,” I told him, “I’m taking us both to the vet.”

We did survive and the doctor tested Kermit for allergies.  It seems he was allergic to about 300 different things, including pine trees and dust mites.  We did find a steroid that gave him some relief and me, too.  I really didn’t have fleas or allergies—just sympathetic itching. 

And now Charlie’s itching.  I invested $40 on more Frontline, gave him another bath, and checked him once again.  I sprayed the whole house with flea spray and washed his bedding.  As I sit here at the computer writing, I hear only the sounds of silence from Charlie—a blessed relief.  I do have that one itch on my back though.  And the bottom of my foot itches.  I have two more vials of Frontline.  I think I’ll get Larry to apply one of them to my back right between my shoulder blades.  You can’t be too careful when it comes to fleas—real or imagined.