We are currently traveling, and tonight, while my husband was out picking up dinner for the family, I took the dog out to stretch his legs and empty his bladder. As we walked out of the hotel from a side door, there was a rather big, burly man who must have come from a different hallway and exited seconds before. He looked at me, then looked at Wulfric and said, “That’s a . . . That’s a big dog.” Wulfric stared him down.
“Yeah,” I said, “he’s good sized.”
The burly guy continued on his way, and I continued on mine, and I felt perfectly safe.
As we got to the hotel’s designated dog lawn, there was another man, sitting in the back of his SUV, liftgate up, smoking a cigarette. I smiled at him and said, “Hi” with a little more friendliness than I normally would, because I felt perfectly safe. The man looked back at me and said nothing, and I continued on my way. Wulfric turned for a few seconds and silently stared the man down, and I felt safe.
I spent the next quarter of an hour or so walking and playing tug-of-war with my squishy-faced, horse’s arse of a dog on a lawn next to a hotel parking lot in a strange town at twilight by myself, and I felt safe.
This feeling of safety interests me because it made me realize just how unsafe I normally feel when I am outside of a locked home or hotel room by myself. I don’t need therapy to figure out why I normally feel that way. I know why I normally feel that way. I just didn’t realize how much I normally feel that way until tonight, when I didn’t. It was an incredible feeling to be able to be alone, if we don’t count the dog, and feel perfectly safe.
This dog drives me nuts. He injures me with his exuberance on a regular basis, counter surfs when there is no food in sight (or smell), and eats walls if left alone for more than a few minutes. But this dog? He loves his family. He watches over my kids. He stares down strange men in parking lots (and at my front door, for that matter). He stays close to his people. He doesn’t let anyone near us without a lot of coaxing and coaching, and, while I have generally been annoyed by this level of churlishness, tonight I realized he makes me feel safer than any dog I’ve ever had, and I realized how much I love feeling that safe.
There’s nothing like starting your day at o’dark early by opening the garage door, getting in your car, and, as you start to fumble with your phone to take a peek at your favorite weather app, hear your teenage daughter say, “Ummm . . . why is there a taxi in our driveway?”
Because it was o’dark early, and because I, once again, had awoken with a migraine brewing, what I heard was, “Ummm . . . why is there . . . uhhh . . . Taxi in our driveway?”
“Taxi is in our driveway???” I thought, as pictures of goofy, happy Irish Setter running excitedly back and forth behind my car, hoping I would get out to greet him, flashed in my mind. “But he died over 30 years ago. This makes no sense. No sense at all.” Then I saw the headlights of the car parked directly behind me, blocking my way out of the garage.
Sure. A taxi in the driveway makes much more sense than Taxi in the driveway. When I was 14 years old, and Taxi, the most ridiculous dog ever to run the face of the earth, died, I prayed for quite some time that God would give me a sign that he was okay and truly was in a better place. In church, we talk all the time about what happens to people after they die, but nobody really mentions dogs. They also don’t talk about cats, and we had a cat who died when I was 10. I was sure he was going to hell. He used to pick fights with neighborhood dogs and lie under trees with nesting mamma birds just to ruffle their feathers. He would sit in the hallway of our home and dare our Irish Setters, who were terrified of him, to pass. He bit me once, but only once, and we got along really well all of the rest of the time. He would eat catnip my mother had planted and lie, completely stoned, in the front yard. My ten-year-old self was so afraid he was going to hell.
I never thought Taxi, the ridiculous dog whom we loved ridiculously, was going to hell, and by 14 I figured that cat wasn’t, either, but I also wasn’t sure dogs could go to heaven. So I would pray that God would let me know he was okay. Specifically, I would pray that I could look out and see him, his spirit, running one last time. That never happened, of course. I never saw him that one last time, but when my fourteen-year-old daughter muttered in a mystified tone about a taxi in our driveway at o’dark early on another migraine addled morning, I was suddenly 14 again, and I thought, for the briefest portion of a second, that Taxi was running happy circles behind my car in the dark and the rain. How much happier would those circles be once he found out we have horses he could run with?
But, yes, a taxi in the driveway made much more sense than Taxi in the driveway. Except? I hadn’t called for one. Currently, we have more cars than drivers, so why would I? Though the fact that we even have a taxi service or two in this country town isn’t new to me, I still find it mystifying, which just added to my shock that one of their cars was sitting behind me, headlights shining into my blocked car.
Without getting out of my car, I closed the garage door.
Probably a normal person (is there such a thing anymore) would have walked out in the dark and the rain to ask the taxi driver why he was here and explain to him that nobody at this location needed a taxi, but I, once upon a time, lived in a high-crime-rate city for a little too long, and my current house sits a bit far back from the road, and it was dark. If having lived through crime isn’t enough to justify my overly-cautious behavior, then we’ll chalk it up to the horror movies I watched as a teenager. I’m not a virgin at this point, so my chances of being stabbed by a homicidal cab driver are way higher than they were back then. Whatever.
I went in the house, figuring the cab driver would eventually come to the door, which would cause a whole lot of dog barking (Wulfric, much like the first dog we ever had, has a wonderfully large bark that belies his current actual size), and I would holler through the unopened door that he was at the wrong house. After waiting for what seemed suspiciously too long, I watched the taxi go slowly down my driveway, then down the street, down the hill, and out of sight.
Crisis averted. Nobody was stabbed by a bored, homicidal, country cab driver. No boys were awoken by doorbell ringing and dog barking. No ghostly Irish Setters were running happy circles on my rain-soaked driveway, though that wouldn’t have been a crisis, really. The adrenaline rush seemed to speed up and heighten the effects of the caffeinated Tylenol I took for the migraine, which was helpful, because I got back in the car and life went on.
That’s Spuds. Having all these animals drives me crazy a lot of the time, but they, especially the dogs, are good for his soul. They love him, and, I think, I hope, he loves them. Like, actually loves them.
With the German Shepherd getting so old, I find myself wondering how Spuds will handle The End. One dog, a rabbit, and a smattering of guinea pigs (wait . . . “smattering” sounds a little too close to “splattering” . . . the guinea pigs didn’t splatter their way to the other side, I promise) . . . where was I? Oh yeah, several animals have passed on since Spuds joined the family, and he was rather, disappointingly, dispassionate about each death.
It’s not that I want my children to be terribly, horribly sad; but sadness at the passing of a pet indicates an emotional bond had been formed, and I want him to have emotional bonds, even if, for now, it is only to the dogs; because being bonded to a dog enough to be sad when it dies is a start. It’s a measure of progress. It’s a rather morbid measure, I know, but it’s a measure nonetheless. There are no rules or scales for this kind of thing, I’m afraid. I’m not sure how much longer we have with good old Rude the Dog, but, yes, I hope my son is at least a little bit sad when the time comes, and I hope he continues to find joy in the unconditional adoration he receives from Wulfric.