When I sat down to write my endorsement essay this August and took a look at the question, “What contributes to the nourishment of your faith, health and well-being?”, immediate props had to go to my dog, Barnaby. This is his shout-out: “As a large and active animal, he requires that I get out and walk regularly. As an enormous goofball, he makes me smile every day. The mental and physical health benefits of being his owner absolutely compensate for the many shredded squeaky toys.”
And all of this is true. I am so tremendously grateful and blessed to have this enormous lummox in my life. Seminary can be stressful, but it’s awfully hard to get too down on myself when there’s a German Shepherd mix waiting in my apartment, ready to explode with excitement at the very sight of me, and to beat me out of my blues with his furiously thrashing tail if necessary. (Seriously, the tail is something else. It’s like being joyfully hit with a fluffy baseball bat.)
Ah, but the apartment. Barnaby lived with me in an efficiency when I first moved to seminary, bumbling about the small space with his enormous paws and cute teddy-bear frame. We moved out of the efficiency before Barnaby was full-grown. The following year we lived in a two-bedroom apartment. This year, moving back into an efficiency, I knew it was going to be a squeeze, but between being crate-trained and having regular exercise, Barnaby has borne up well under the pressure. In fact, far from worrying about fitting into the apartment, this 75-lb canine now spends a fair amount of time trying to fit under my desk.
In fact, everything was sunshine and roses until last week.
That’s when the honeymoon ended. My beloved pooch hit week four of being in this apartment and something flipped in his synaptic connections, some switch that was telling him at first that the apartment was mine and he just lived there has suddenly started telling him that this space is his personal kingdom, and his new mission is to disabuse me of the notion that I am in charge of it.
But my dog is too smart to go into straightforward action. He knows that he gets yelled out for overt signs of mutiny, like jumping up on the counter to steal and eat entire sticks of butter, or systematically emptying the trash can and slowly shredding every single Kleenex he finds. He knows it’s got to be subterfuge all the way. This, insofar as I understand it, is his general technique:
“Wait until her defenses are really low.” Barnaby generally chooses his hour of attack to coincide with the times he knows he is least likely to get yelled at. So far, he’s figured out the following windows: when I’m in the shower, when I’m doing homework, and when I’m asleep. The accuracy of his deductions is a little scary. In the shower, I can neither hear nor see what he’s up to, and even if I could, his safety window extends to the point where I could towel myself off enough to prevent embarrassing skidding across the floor. When I’m doing homework, I find that it’s often just not worth the continual distraction of chastising him for minor infractions. And when I’m asleep, frankly, a bomb could go off and I would just hit my snooze button and keep drooling.
Using this technique, Barnaby successfully stole one of my pieces of toast from breakfast while I was putting on makeup last week. Not from a plate; out of the toaster. And just one, not both, because both would be suspicious.
“Push her to her limit. Then start nudging.” This is especially effective during homework time. Today, in desperation to finish just one single chapter of Ethics reading (please oh PLEASE finally let me complete one!), I looked the other way when I saw Barnaby putting his front paws on top of his crate in order to get into his toy box. I figured he’d take out one toy and entertain himself and I could finish my reading. But when I looked up from the chapter, it was to find that Barnaby had systematically removed every single toy from his toy box and had disemboweled every single candidate for disembowelment the box had afforded. Stuffing was strewn everywhere, freely mixing with the foamy stuff some of his toys are stuffed with. We give his toys names (so we can tell him which ones to go get), and it was with great sadness that I thus witnessed the violent demise of such stalwart friends as Fluffy Bone, Hedgehog, Squeaky Purple Hedgehog, Poor Goose (“poor” because he chewed its bill off within five minutes of meeting it), and Angry Bird.
It reminded me of the Squeaky Alligator Massacre of October ’11.
“Push her to her limit. Then start nudging.” Barnaby is becoming a master of envelope-pushing. To choose an example at random, let’s take his latest enterprise: trying to establish himself as my bed-buddy. Barnaby knows that he has two choices for sleeping: floor or crate. In the past week, neither of these has been sufficient to assuage his impeccable taste. So he waits until I’m in bed. Then he’ll come and put his chin on my mattress at the foot of the bed. If I don’t look up, he’ll whine softly. If I still don’t look up, he’ll whine louder. And he will slowly increase, not the volume of whine (he gets yelled at), but the sheer pathos he manages to convey, until it’s like I have an entire Greek chorus at the foot of my bed. If dogs were statues, he’d be the Pieta. His performance would move an entire theater audience to tears.
It’s at this point that I usually tell him to shut up.
So he’ll philosophically give up. At least, until 2am, and I’m so dead asleep that jet engines in the hallway couldn’t wake me, when he jumps up anyway. I’ll wake up when my alarm goes off, confused because I’m hanging halfway out of bed. This because Barnaby has positioned himself with his back to the wall and has extended his legs so that he is slowly but surely pushing me off the mattress. He also hogs the blankets, mostly by dint of lying on them while inexorably shoving me out of bed.
It is actually a combination of these three factors that explains why the dog is sleeping in my armchair while I’m composing this post. The thing is, he just looks so peaceful. Looking at him, I can’t help think how cute and lovey he looks…and about how sleeping in my armchair is keeping him from doing so many other things I would have to yell at him for.
Good night, sweet pooch, and delusions of grandeur sing thee to thy rest.