It’s 3:23 in the morning. I know that because my left eye is staring at the glowing red numbers of the alarm clock that’s staring back at me from my nightstand. My right eye ain’t seeing anything. It’s buried in my pillow.
At 3:22 in the morning I was in the midst of a ferocious battle with some kind of blobby, blackish maybe-alien thing that apparenty wanted to kill me or eat me, not necessarily in that order. Waking up had abruptly ended the fight.
I was half awake and fully annoyed. I could’ve kicked that thing’s ass. As soon as I located its ass.
I wake up a lot at night. A great sleeper? No. A great candidate for a sleep apnea study? Oh, yeah. Poster boy material.
In any case, at this early-morning moment I’m not doing anything but staring down the alarm clock. It hasn’t blinked yet.
The bedroom is dark. The room is at full occupancy. Three dogs, at least two cats. Oh yeah, and two people. Almost forgot. It’s dark and semi-quiet. The at-least two cats are curled up somewhere on my wife. They know better than to take up residence on me. If I’m awake I’ll push them over to her. If I’m asleep I’ll probably thrash them over there. Two of the dogs – the bulldogs – are fervently playing a heavy-breathing, lightly-snoring duet. Their usual virtuoso performance.
The third is awake. It’s Zoe, my bull mastiff. I know this because I can hear the sharp, constant beating of her tail on the floor. Even without looking I know she’s sitting at the end of the bed, on my side and staring at me. Happily beating the crap out of the floor and every now and then whacking a good, solid clang out of the baseboard next to her. If I turned my head I’d see her – just a big blobby, blackish thing, slightly darker than the dark.
She was asleep and on the other side of the room not 30 seconds ago. How the hell does she always know when I wake up?
No sense in wasting time trying to figure it out. I’m awake, she’s awake, why don’t we call the whole sleeping thing off. We get up. Walk down the hall to the kitchen. She’s leading the way and I’m stumbling and bumbling behind. That alien blob was a better fighter than I imagined, I guess.
I hit the lights in the kitchen and there she is, in the same spot she always is at these moments. Standing and facing the sliding glass doors, then looking back at me with big brown eyes that say, “open-says-a-me.”
The door is opened and she goes out. Doesn’t matter what it’s doing out there – raining, snowing, fiery-meteor shower – she goes. Waters half the lawn and then comes back. I let her in, she goes by me and straight to a corner in the kitchen counter. Where the “family-size” bag of Pup-Peroni treats sits. Standing and facing the bag, then looking back at me with big brown eyes that say, “open-says-a-me.”
“How do I know you actually did something?”
Thump-thump-thump. She knows I was watching.
“You do know that I don’t have to give you one of these things?”
Thump-thump-thump. She knows I’m bluffing.
Treat paid, I walk out of the kitchen, turn the lights off and say, as always, “c’mon girl, it’s still bedtime.”
It works sometimes … actually hardly ever. I’m halfway down the hall but she’s not behind me. I sigh, turn around and go back. Turn on the lights.
There she is, in the same spot she always is at these moments. Standing and facing the sliding glass doors, then looking back at me with big brown eyes that say, “open-says-a-me.”
Round two. She fertilizes half the lawn, I let her in and she goes … well, by now you know where she goes. And what she’s doing.
“How in God’s name do you pull off doing one and NOT the other? How did you learn how to compartmentilize doing that?”
Thump-thump-thump. She’s not talking.
Now, there was one night when I didn’t get up. Not that I didn’t wake up, but the night when Zoe thumped that tail so loudly it woke my wife.
I laid there, very still, as if sleeping. I know Zoe wasn’t buying it, but my wife did. They went down the hall. I heard the door open, then close, then open, then close. I heard the bag rustle. And then “What, you need to go out again?”
The door opened, then closed, then opened, then closed. I saw the lights go out, heard my wife’s footsteps coming down the hall and then …
The footsteps went away, the light went back on, followed by some muffled words I couldn’t quite make out. Sounded a little angry, though. Lights out again, louder footsteps and as she got back into bed, I feigned coming to.
“What was that?” I mumbled.
“Why’d she bark?”
“I let her out, two times in a row.”
“She barked because you let her out twice?”
“No, she barked when I was coming back to bed after the second time. I went back and she was sitting there, waiting for another treat.”
“Really? Strange. You give it to her?”
“She’s not barking now, is she?”
“Huh,” I grumbled as I rolled over. “You sure spoil that dog.”
I like big dogs. Grew up with them, always have owned at least one. Or two. Or … well sometimes quite a few of them. Thanks to the kind-hearted desires of my animal-devoted wife, and my desire to live a life without conflict, my per-capita dog-to-dollar ratio has averaged about 4 to 1 over the past 20-something years. That means four big dogs per every dollar I have in my wallet.
The dollar category would be somewhat higher, but some of my big dogs ate the dollar. And the wallet.
I have nothing against little dogs. Little dogs are nice. They’re kind of adorable, actually.
It just that little dogs are not practical for someone like me. Especially when I stumble out of bed in the middle of the night and really believe that I have some kind of sixteenth sense that allows me to see in the dark, even when it’s dark and I can’t see.
It’s much more practical for me to walk into a big dog and bounce off, than step on a little dog and not bounce off. The big dogs learn to know it’s just me and get annoyed, look up and roll over. If they were little dogs, however, they’d be … well, most probably wouldn’t be around long enough to get annoyed.
Don’t get me wrong – big dogs aren’t perfect. They have their drawbacks, not a lot of them but the few that they have are, of course, big.
Take teething. All dogs do it – new big teeth come in, gums get sore, and chewing on things helps them relieve it. Anybody who’s raised a puppy usually loses a shoe, or a furniture leg to a chewing little pup.
That is, unless you have a big dog puppy.
Meet Molly. Molly was the first Newfoundland we owned and raised. Newfoundlands actually are wonderful, big black bears that someone decided really were dogs. And the Newfies were just too lovable and gentle to disagree with them.
She came to us because she was being thrown out of the house of her first owner. A friend was installing new carpeting throughout the owner’s house when the woman walked by with Molly, then 6 months old, heading for the door. She was taking her to the Humane Society to be put up for adoption. You see, Molly was the reason for the new carpeting.
Long story short, the friend asked the owner to wait and called his girlfriend who happened to be a co-worker of mine. The girlfriend came to me, knowing I loved big dogs. Fifteen minutes later, I was walking Molly out to my car to take her home. At six months, she nearly filled the back seat of my VW Rabbit.
A decision my wife and I never regretted. Not only because we both loved big dogs, but we’d owned enough of them to know how to live with them. Most importantly, to never, ever underestimate what a big dog can do. You can’t blame them – they do the same things that all dogs do. Just in a big way.
You’ll recall that little teething issue Molly had when she moved in. How could we forget.
One day I came home to find the kitchen floor covered with snow. Around six inches thick, from wall to wall.
Only problem – it wasn’t November, it was July. And it wasn’t snow, it was fluffy white stuffing. The kind of stuffing they put inside the six padded chairs of a kitchen dining set. All six, stripped of their covers and their stuffing. All over the place. And sitting in the middle of it all was one big, black, happy, giant puppy.
I had no words. In moments like this a big dog owner is reminded to not put too much importance on material things, no matter what they are. Or how big they are. You learn that they don’t last, especially with a big dog in the house.
I sat down on one of my new, rather uncomfortable metal-frame chairs.
“OK Molly, so what are we going to tell your mother when she gets home?”
I could tell by her wagging tail Molly was thinking. Really hard. So was I. It worked.
“Right, a tornado, good idea. Big one, blew in through the window, tore up the chairs, threw this all around and went out through that window there. Brilliant. Molly, this could work.”
I could tell by Molly’s wagging tail she really liked the idea. So did I. It didn’t work, but it was worth a shot.
Can’t remember what we came up with to explain how all the window sills were chewed off on another day, though. Hit-and-run beaver infestation, I think.
Molly lived to the ripe old age of 11, far beyond the normal lifespan of most Newfoundlands. Had two knee operations and one hip replaced (big dogs have big health issues), and destroyed or ate a whole lot of things, including some more furniture. I’m pretty sure she loved every minute of it. I know we did.
Despite the material losses, we still have big dogs. Always will. Two bulldogs (short but stout) and one bull mastiff (big and stout) now. Some day, we’ll no doubt have more. And some day, some day … we’ll have those chewed-up moldings around all of our doors replaced.
Just as soon as the big teeth come in.