I love my dog and my dog loves me. There’s no question about that. She gets me. And we have a beautiful little relationship. We never argue; she’s rarely moody; she’s always there to snuggle when I need some snuggling; and I’ve never heard one complaint in all these years. Not one.
And although, deep down, I consider her my dog because I’m the one who rescued her from the shelter ten years ago, I know everyone in my family thinks she’s their dog. But I’m sure it’s like that with most families.
The fact is, though, she’s the family dog. And after all these years under the same roof, there’s a very definite synchronicity when we’re all together—a harmony that’s perfectly in tune ninety-nine percent of the time.
Most days, we’re all in sync with each other and there’s an obvious pattern of behavior that exists during the day-to-day—a routine that’s usually pretty consistent when everyone’s home and in their own little groove.
I mean, Lily obviously can’t tell time, yet she knows, plus or minus only a few minutes, when it’s meal time, when it’s walk time, when it’s bed time, when it’s snack time. Her little internal body clock is uncanny. She’s like a little four-legged Rolex.
And she never deviates from her routine. Every day, she lies in the same sunspots at the same time of day as they move throughout the house. She has her favorite cushion on the couch and her favorite route she runs in and around the furniture when she’s feeling frisky and needs to run off some energy. Always the same direction, always the same number of laps around the dining room table.
It’s amazing to me the depth of the little routines and quirks animals have. I find it absolutely fascinating.
Like how Lily wakes up when I go in the shower but stays on her bed until I’m dressed. Like, doesn’t budge. But as soon as I’m finished getting ready she’s waiting by the bedroom room. Then we hit the kitchen so I can feed her, and after she’s done she trots back to bed until Dave gets up to walk her.
Then they take their morning walk. Always the same route. Always the same outcome (so to speak). And then, after the rest of us have left, they head downstairs to Dave’s office. Him in his chair, Lily at his feet. It’s a very simpatico kind of relationship. That is, of course, until Dave has to go away for any real length of time on business. Then I notice her behavior start to shift. Or at least that’s the pattern I’ve been seeing lately.
Maybe it’s that she’s gotten older and change is becoming a little tougher because she’s so set in her little doggy ways, I’m not sure. But there’s been a noticeable shift in her disposition the last handful of times that Dave’s traveled on business. Enough of a change that I feel safe calling it a funk.
But last week there was a seismic-level shift. Within twenty-four hours, Dave left on an eight-day business trip, Riley went back to college, and Libby went on a ski trip. It was a hat-trick of abandonment. That left Lily and me. Alone. Together. For the first time in over a decade. And needless to say, it threw her. Big time.
The first day she was fine. Ate normally, did her thing normally. Didn’t even flinch funny. It was around twenty-four hours after they all left that she realized everyone was gone gone. Like not coming right back. And that’s when the wheels started coming off the bus. She stopped eating altogether. Wouldn’t take any of her pills. Was pacing the bedroom at two in the morning. Started having accidents in the house and throwing up what little food she did eat. It was a s**t show, for lack of a better word.
The vet was stumped. Dave was stumped. It made no sense. On paper she was a perfectly healthy dog. But in her head, she was a white hot mess. And I was convinced she was suffering from some kind of separation anxiety.
It wasn’t until Dave, the alpha male, as he likes to call himself, finally came home that my hunch was validated. Within ninety seconds of him walking through the door, Lily inhaled her dinner and took her pills straight away, with hardly any coaxing. She slept straight through the night and was completely back on track. Amazing. (Alpha male, shmalpha male.)
This was irrefutable proof, at least to me, that animals are wired with the same sensitive social/emotional system that we are. And although it was nothing I didn’t already know, it was interesting to see it firsthand.
Guess I’m just gonna have to invest in a life size cardboard Dave to keep around the house when he’s away. I’ll just hit it with some of his cologne and move him from room to room with us. Maybe Lily won’t notice the difference.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn/. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.