Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's All In A Day

Six a.m. The alarm bleats its unpleasant call. Another day. My dog Frodo is resting comfortably between my knees, where he's been most of the night. Hercules is under my arm pressed against my left side. They are Italian greyhounds, so they get cold easily and sleep under my blankets and sheets, even in the middle of summer. Neither show an interest in allowing me to move. I stare at the ceiling wondering how on earth I'm gonna make it out of bed this morning, or if there is any excuse I can conjure that might let me stay in my blessed cocoon, away from my worldly cares.

My daughter opens my bedroom door and my third dog Durin, a Pomeranian, scrambles into my bed on top of me and begins to lick my face. My arms are under the covers, protecting my vital areas, while he tramples all over me. I turn my head in a vain attempt to avoid his kisses and breath. Hercules begins to growl at the intrusion. He is being trampled too. While Hercules emerges from beneath the blankets, the jostling extends to Frodo as well.

Herkie and Durin are now engaged in a contest of wills. They are growling and whining and gnawing at each other. This amuses me and I tip my head to enjoy the show. Someone inevitably steps on my face. Ow, dammat! Playtime is over. "C'mon boys," I say as pull myself out of bed and trudge across the bedroom. Two follow eagerly, while one lingers in bed. I'm not sure how they determine who stays behind. But one of them always seems to. I spend a half a moment coaxing the third along, and we all go downstairs to the front door.

I open the door and the three are off like a shot! Greyhounds are fast, and because Durin has two greyhound brothers, he has become quite speedy himself. Usually they bend to the left to chase the squirrels on the lawn into the silver maple tree in the corner of the yard. Frodo is the fastest: he takes the outside track and still beats the other two. Sometimes they race to their favorite marking spot. I watch them for a moment, then go fetch my juice and coffee.

It's six twenty and the dogs are barking at something: a bicyclist, a pedestrian, a baby stroller, another dog. I loathe this behavior, but nothing I've tried seems to keep it in check. I'd better go check on them before Hercules decides to jump the four-foot high fence, which he can do easily. Left unsupervised, they charge the fence to defend their yard and bark until I intervene or the person is passed. I apologize to the passerby, and tell the boys that they are perpetuating the stereotype of yippy little dogs. But do they listen? No. I ask them if they are sorry for what they've done. No answer. Bastids.

By this time I've finished my juice and I am halfway through my coffee while having a look at the morning news, mainly for the weather. The boys sense that their time is approaching and begin to pine for their walk. Durin begins to bite my nose out of excitement. Hercules and Frodo bow and let out short, high-pitched, happy barks in anticipation. "Shhh!" I tell them. This does not help. "Are you ready? Do ya wanna go? Do ya?! OK!" I offer, more to their liking. They caper about and jump for joy.

I need to use the toilet and dress before we go, but they don't mind. They'll follow me anywhere. So the four of us spend a moment in the bathroom, then I replace my pajamas with jeans and a shirt. I come back downstairs and they are in a frenzy, so excited they can't stand it, twirling and jumping and vocalizing with pleasure. I pull on my shoes and fasten their leashes and we are off.

Though our walk follows a prescribed one-mile route around the neighborhood, it never is exactly the same. My favorite walks are when the four of us remain silent for the entire half-hour circuit, each lost in his own thoughts. I sometimes try to fathom their dog-thoughts, which I imagine are formed by their incredible sensory acuity. But then I think that, just as I am entitled to my own private musings, so are they. My mind wanders back to its own reflections.

These quiet walks are sadly somewhat rare, because all too often there is a bicyclist or another dog at whom to bark, or a neighbor who wants to say hello, or a curious passerby who wants to meet these three. I don't mind the attention, but I do prefer our solitude. When the dogs bark or become unruly, I shush them and force them all to heel. It isn't easy to walk three dogs at once. I can't complain too much, though: they are mostly high-spirited, enjoyable, and respectful fellow travelers.

Walking the boys is all about scents and marking and bodily function. They seek out every clue and investigate every curiosity. They micturate upon landmarks and squat to do their business. Hercules is the most careful about marking. By the time we are one-third into the walk, Frodo and Durin have no urine left, while Hercules has saved himself to hit every spot he intends.

It is strange and funny and altogether remarkable what they notice. Once they barked at some Halloween decorations placed in a pattern around the base of a sapling tree in a neighbor's yard. They were spooked by a landscaping boulder, a favorite spot to mark, which had been rolled out into the street. When ant swarms appear on the sidewalk in midsummer they seem to superstitiously avoid the miniature melee.

We make it back to the house and they are quite pleased with themselves. I put them into their kennel. I shower, shave, and dress for work. I make my lunch and find my way in to the office. It's eight fifteen now. No dogs here. It's people who want something from me now: someone is knocking on my cube, my telephone is ringing, and the email is pouring in. My stomach is growling, because I forgot to eat breakfast again. The makings of a long day. Oh well. At least the boys will be happy to see me when I get home from work.

But maybe I shoulda stayed in bed.


J G-W said...

You could have titled this post, "My Life As a Dog."

Interesting how we like to refer to ourselves as "masters" in these relationships.

Göran and I have long known that our cats are the true owners of our house. After all, they spend roughly twice the amount of time we do there. And who pays their mortgage for them and does all the work to make sure they are fed and their poopies are cleaned up?

Yeah, I'd have to say the person who cleans the poopies is definitely the inferior in any relationship.

Knight of Nothing said...

Ya know, that title actually occured to me this morning as the ritual was getting underway! Great minds...

Obviously I agree with you on one level. :-) But I was actually trying to reach a little deeper. These creatures live with us and we live with them, and there is an enormous amount of subtlety and nuance in the relationship that defies easy categorization.

Remove the anthropomorphization, and think of everything that goes on between the human, feline, and canine creatures in a household. It's fascinating. You've got some feline intrigue going on right now at your place!

J G-W said...

Oh, I know. My comment was lighthearted, but I actually do have a kind of awe about the relationships we have with our pets.

I became aware of it shortly after we adopted Cleopatra and Tabitha. I realized there are fairly complex (non-verbal) communications that go on inter-species, and that animals are capable of an amazing range of emotion and interaction with each other and with us.

It has prompted me on occasion to think about how we evolved, and how much of what makes us "human" probably became a part of our species long before we achieved language and sentience. It's quite awe-inspiring to think about.

J G-W said...

Web of life and all that stuff. We really are all interconnected in quite amazing, miraculous way.

Knight of Nothing said...

Yes, precisely! When I was in Africa, the researchers debated the question of animal intelligence and emotion every night. I found their discussions fascinating - not the least because in my mind this shouldn't even be an open question any more.

And on to the tangent... One anthropologist argued that pets have come to fill a vital role in the human animal's biology. Human culture has so sexualized touching that our instinctual need for physical comfort cannot be met through human-to-human contact without fear of breaching some taboo. It is "safe" to touch our animal companions, however, and we seek them out to provide the platonic physical contact that we crave. A very interesting hypothesis, don't you think?

J G-W said...

Hmm. An interesting hypothesis. Though I suspect that even in affectionate households where touch between humans is OK, we would still crave contact with pets.

I'm just remembering that as a kid animals were fascinating... They seemed magical to me.

BitchKitty said...

Channeling Cruella Deville....