It's a dog's life. For us, anyway.
Yesterday my beautiful neighbor Tina dropped by to inquire about Kate doing some summer babysitting for her two beautiful children, beautifully named Peyton and Miles. (Peyton's the girl. I am not making these names up.)
Because we have three very excitable dogs, my normal method of answering the front door is much like the mustachioed Emerald City doorman in the film version of The Wizard of Oz. The one who screeches, "Who rang that bell?" I open the door just enough to accommodate the upper portion of my face, while using one hand and one foot to keep the frenzy of furiously barking canines at bay. Since Tina is a bona fide "dog person" — the owner of one very large Chesapeake Bay retriever, she is granted admittance to the dogs' frenzied "hello dance" involving plenty of leaping up/getting underfoot/crotch sniffing. I kick, pull and restrain wriggling dog bodies from my guest and usher her to the tattered couch surrounded by swirling eddies of multi-colored dog hair. After a few minutes the dogs finally settle down from their greeting ritual.
Whew, I think, we made it. If our home was the theme of a video game, this would be the toughest portal to get through.
"Oh, did you guys stain your concrete floor?" Tina asks politely.
I use my foot to clear away a cleanish spot. "Yeah, we had to. The carpet was becoming a simmering sachet of dog, um, smell."
Even though I know Beautiful Tina has two small children and a dog the size of a pony, I suddenly become painfully aware that virtually everything within sight has been altered in some way by our destructive trio of pooches. The Oriental screen concealing the computer is patched with several shades of mismatched paper, the result of having been knocked over a dozen times during indoor dog recreation. Even Kate notices this. She sticks a finger through a hole in the screen. "Aren't dogs great?" she grins.
Sweet, perfect Tina surveys the hedge-like border of wet nose smears on the front bay window and the loose lower panes dangling from duct tape. She kindly shifts in her seat to cover the chewed corner of a throw pillow. "Oh, yeah, we know. Nothing you can do about it. Until they D-I-E," she laughs.
I haven't spent much time thinking about the demise of my four-legged family members, I'm so busy cursing them for ruining my once-cute house. As crazy as Charlie, Allie and Sean Connery make me, as much as they steal countless ongoing hours from my life as I attempt to clean and repair our home, I cannot imagine a life without them. I fast forward in my mind to scenes of nearly blind, toothless, even more flatulent versions of our overly energetic housemates. Wow. This is as good as it gets, I realize. I vow to enjoy them a bit more in the here and now.
I am reminded of another friend, Julie. Every night, she and her husband Paul would hoist their aged 140-pound walrus of a Labrador upstairs to let her sleep in their room, and hand carry her down again in the morning. They did this for the last year of that dog's life, Julie told me tearfully.
Why do we love our dogs so much? I often joke that dogs are the best actors on the planet. Watch a dog's expression as you hold a piece of food. Every muscle on that dog's face will work together to create the most heartbreaking look worthly of an Oscar. Russell Crowe has nothing on a dog watching you eat a corn dog.
Dogs are also the only animal that smiles with the back end. That tail is a emotion-meter that can wag furiously with delight, twitch tentatively with hope, or tuck forlornly between the legs in utter shame. And dogs are the only beasts capable of immediate grace and forgiveness. Step on a dog's foot by accident and he will instantly swish his amazing communication device of a tail to let you know, "I'm alright! It's okay. Don't worry about it." Try that with a cat, cat people!
Last night Kate and I watched late movies from the couch. Sean was curled asleep on his back in his favorite oversized chair, his hind legs akimbo in the air, his pink tongue sticking out slightly.
"Awww, Mom, look. He's smiling." Kate whispered like a proud parent hovering over a crib.