As I begin my routine each morning, I am flanked by two yellow Labrador Retrievers. They alternate positions, but one tucks under the drop-lid of my desk and splays across my feet while the other plays sentry behind my chair. The Ragdoll-Himalayan watches my back from the wood-slat box under the window ledge. Or he saunters in to the annoyance of the vigilant male Retriever who is ever-ready to charge the cat with a rumbling order to comply with protocol and not disrupt my quiet. (He means well.) Such as they are, these are my writing companions. Sometimes they distract more than they help. Yet, there are several benefits for keeping this roustabout rabble around.
- They get me up every morning. Although I allow myself a sleep-in on Saturday mornings, these three rarely allow me to stay in bed past 8:30. The cat often announces his consternation at my apparent laziness as early as 7:00 by chirruping, flopping on the carpet, and flicking the tip of his tail. (Never mind, that this dramatic entrance once again irritates the male Lab.) Most of the time, our female Lab is already nestled on my side of the bed, and the male is curled into the crook of my knees. My husband holds on to the edge of the bed on his side so as to keep himself from falling on to the dog beds. Once he tires of that effort, he rousts himself. Then both dogs launch themselves off the bed, ready to be let outside. They quickly return. Feedings are my department. So, they cuddle in and sigh once in a while until I get up as well. Most mornings they don’t need to go through all the waiting. I’m a morning person by nature. But, the important role they play in creating a reason to get up is essential.
- They need me. I am at the point in my life when my children require less and less assistance from me. Or rather, I’m insisting they assert themselves with their own routines. But, pets lack the ability to do many things we take for granted like preparing our own food. (Yes, we’ve tried self-feeders, but frankly, I don’t trust the animals to ration nor do I think the machine’s innards remain sanitized enough for their overall health.) I don’t mind the responsibility of meeting their basic needs. It keeps me focused on someone other than myself.
- They encourage self-care. However, sometimes I forget to take care of myself. I am a perfectionist and a ponderer as much as a doer (a confusing combination, by the way). I can over-focus on others to my own detriment. My dogs know this about me. So this is why I think they monitor my movements by following me from room to room. At certain times of the day, they stare at me. I know what they are saying with their eyes. It’s time to sit down now. It’s time to be with us. You’ve vacuumed enough. You’ve written enough. Let’s all take a nap together. Sometimes I sit (after removing the cat from my chair that he’s been told several times does not belong to him), and the dogs take their naps. But, the idea is that we are in the same room together doing almost nothing (at least in their minds).
- They provide inspiration. Last year, almost nothing turned into a story based on the cat that was published in Ink Dreams. I find the actions of these three comical and a healthy break from taking myself too seriously. They have been the subjects of several poems as have their predecessors. I enjoy sharing my pet stories as much as I love photographs of family and friends who display their pets online.
- They connect me with the outside world. The dogs especially encourage outside interaction because they have to go outside several times throughout the day. The cat knows he is not allowed to go outside, but he sneaks out anyway. Without these moments, I might never open my backdoor. My front door provides escape into the neighborhood and exercise through walks. We’re still working on why we don’t lunge at other dogs or get too excited around little kids.
- They help with my socialization. I need to get out more. In this world of Internet’s bring-it-to-me options, I could stay home all the time. I realize more and more how these three are the subject that rejuvenate waning conversations and dispel dry small talk. They are the topic that always gets a laugh when I feel less than funny.
For all their antics, my pets prevent me from my natural obsessive tendencies when it comes to maintaining order and routine. They are the happy interruption I need to keep my life in chaotic balance.