The Most Consistent Thing in My Life is My Dog
“We need to either get me a dog to cuddle with or arrange for a night shift boyfriend. You choose.” After two years of sleeping alone in the bed, this was the option I gave my ex-boyfriend six years ago.
I enjoy cuddling, it’s one of the perks of a relationship, but it’s hard to do when your boyfriend sleeps on the couch every night because of a back injury.
“Well if you’re getting a dog, don’t get one that sheds”, was his answer.
A couple of days later I hopped in the car to go “see” a ten-month-old Lhasa Apso from a Craigslist ad. And by “see”, I really mean, “bring home.” It also happened to be my sister's birthday so I gifted the honor of naming my new pup to her. After careful consideration and deliberation, she bestowed him with the name Albert.
The Boyfriend’s Gone but Albert Remains
That was six years ago. The boyfriend is long gone, but Albert has remained. After you spend a lot of time with animals, you kind of learn how to communicate with each other.
Of course, Albert knows the commands to sit and stay, but our conversations aren’t always one-sided. For example, Albert lets me know when I’m moving too much in bed at night by sighing at me. If I don’t stop, his sigh is followed by begrudgingly getting up to leave me in favor of sleeping on the floor. He also reminds me which days we go to the park by migrating to the front door to wait, while I’m still getting dressed. I swear, sometimes he’s more human than dog.
I know people love to gush about their pets, and I’m no exception. I could probably continue to ramble, long after you’ve lost interest, about all the wonderful things about him. But I won’t. I will mention a couple of things though.
Take the Time to Enjoy the World Around Us
Albert has never done well on walks. It’s not that he pulls on the leash or snaps at anyone on the street. He just can’t walk more then a couple of feet without stopping to smell the flowers, or a rock, or a fallen tree branch.
I used to get annoyed. I had things to do, people to see, work to get to! Tugging on the leash didn’t do much. Sometimes he’d come, but mostly he’d brace against it while shooting me a dirty look, before returning to the sniffing I had so rudely interrupted.
It wasn’t until I tapped into my empathy and stepped out of my ego that could I rationalize how poor Albert is cooped up all day. If I spent all day — every day — in the house, I’d probably want to explore every single thing outside too. I’d want to draw out my experience and soak up every smell to hold onto during the hours spent looking through a window. So close, yet so far from the outside world.
Now, I make sure to schedule our walks for when I’m not pressed for time. Together we walk at the pace of a sloth, it can take us over ten minutes to walk one block. I stopped being annoyed and instead took a queue from him. I look at the houses, the trees, and the sky, I notice when the trees are starting to turn and when flowers begin to bloom. I see all the things I used to miss when walking with a deadline.
My mind calms, my anxiety subsides, and for thirty minutes we enjoy the world around us.
Have Standards but Be Thankful
At home, Albert has several types of treats. There are three kinds at the top of the stairs leading to the backdoor and another three in my room, not to mention his bones to chew.
He’s figured out which behaviors earn treats and which family members he can con the most treats out of. He knows I think it’s cute when he lays his head on his front paws, so he repeats it while I’m eating hoping I’ll give him a bite of my dinner — sometimes it works. He also knows he can get my mom to give him “second dinner” by leading her to his empty food bowl while staring at her as if he’s starving.
He likes some treats better than others and has his favorites for sure. And no matter what, he’s always thankful and excited when he gets one. His happy dance is the same regardless of size or type, and he always trots off to enjoy his reward in private.
I got so used to him doing this that I assumed he's a glutton who’d eat anything given to him. I was wrong, he’s won’t accept just any treat.
There’s a guy who brings bits of kibble to the dog park to share. All the dogs know him and in turn, they each make their way over at least once to say hello and receive their treat. Except for Albert.
Albert always says hi, but he also always refuses the treat. I joke he doesn’t take candy from strangers, but the truth is he has high standards. He has no interest in people pretending dog food is the same as a treat, nor does he care for any healthy ones. Albert also refuses treats offered by the vet, the groomers, and the Starbucks baristas.
He’s not a snob — okay, he’s kind of a snob — I think he just knows his self-worth. He knows he’s a good boy. He doesn’t need your kibble, but he’ll still say hi.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m one of those people who view pets as part of the family. Albert and I have conversations, we compromise, and we have a mutual understanding. Never in a million years would I considered giving him away, even when having a dog is inconvenient. As a result, for the last six years, Albert and I have been best buds.
I admit I probably wouldn’t be as patient, or empathetic as I am if I didn’t have Albert. Now with the Coronavirus, and working from home, we’ve been spending even more time together. I know he won’t be around forever, but I want to make his life as good as possible because that’s what we do for those we love.