Presence, in all of its manifestations.

Today, my husband and I went on our usual morning walk without the dog. It was so much easier.

When I sat down on the floor to put on my shoes, I didn’t have to time my reaching to tie my laces with her running circles around me—and over me. Nor did I have to endure a face wash—she does drink from the toilet—or concussive barking just inches from my ears.

I didn’t have to check for cheeky squirrels, sly UPS men, suspiciously serene Seventh-Day Adventists or earnest Boy Scouts who must surely have a ball hidden somewhere on their person before leaving the house.

I didn’t have to tell her to drop the horse turd—that one, too—and I didn’t have to call her back as she drifted aimlessly—randomly, coincidentally, who me?—towards the neighbors’ yard, the one with the chickens.

I didn’t have to tell her don’t bite my hands when we got to the logging road where she likes to open up and charge—top speed—ahead, back and then ahead again, always three passes, always shooting by within a hair’s breadth of us, and always, on the last pass, jumping up to nip at the hand that feeds you! I say to her as she looks at me with that whites-of-the-eye, mad-dog grin and hurtles on by.

We didn’t have to endure long-suffering sighs when we rinsed her feet off in a bucket before letting her back inside—feet, I will add, that needed rinsing because she willingly—joyfully—waded into a fetid swamp filled with water that was just as wet—shocking, I know—as the water in the bucket.

And I didn’t have to dodge around her while I got breakfast as she, with unerring precision, managed to place herself in exactly in the next spot where I needed to go.

It’s so much easier doing these things without her. And, as I am sure you know, it is wholly pointless. I just want her home. The vet will call later today—good news, bad news—and then we’ll know. I say that breezily, but I know you are not fooled.

My dog—all dogs, it seems to me—embody presence. They just want us around, and we just want them—please—to be there, too.

And as I struggle today to focus on a writing project that I routinely describe as biting me on the butt, I will remember that I didn’t ask for easy. I asked for presence. It is enough. It is always enough.

Dog Science

Science has discovered—or confirmed, I’m not sure—either way, someone actually studied this stuff in some sort of formal way—that dogs are jealous. No joke. Science has also concluded that dogs understand the meaning and tone of our words.

I know about this because, while I am too lazy to do so, my husband Ray reads The New Scientist Magazine, among others, and he reports to me the interesting stuff. So I feel like I have a pretty good deal going on.

This morning, on our daily walk in the woods with our dog, I was laughing about how she has to stick her nose into every snowy footprint: deer, rabbits, something smaller. It really is a bonanza for her.

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“But it makes sense,” I said to Ray.

We all know that dogs “see” with their noses, but I have discovered something else, and I wonder aloud if it applies to other animals as well—if that’s why footprints are of special interest.

I don’t know about your dog, but our dog has a warm, puppy smell—even though she is now eight years old—that she exudes when she is happy. I have done extensive, rigorous scientific research (a.k.a.: cuddling on the couch) and I have tracked down the source of this smell, which, I will add, is a strong cuddle-inducer.

It comes from her paws. Yup. The bottom of her feet.

She has other smells that come from other parts of her body.

Turkey shit? That’s from the shoulders. She drops one and then rolls around onto the other, back and forth, until she has completed her toilette.

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She can also, apparently, turn on WMD-level dog breath at will. When she wants attention, she will sit in front of me, staring and panting. “I’m busy,” I say, but she keeps panting, replacing the airspace around me with I-don’t-even-know-what. Until, “Omigod,” I say, flapping my hand, and up I get and she immediately shuts off the viral dog breath and goes boinging out of the room to the door.

On trips, when she is tired of sitting in the back of the car to monitor motorcycle traffic, she also applies the panting dog-breath method to force a stop or, at the least, some awkward, reach-around-behind-the-seat tummy scratches.

This morning, as Ray and I slithered down the hill toward the creek—there are a few inches of snow over ice—we decided that perhaps that is the next topic for science to investigate: do all dogs, in fact, have a warm, puppy smell, and if so, where does it come from? What about other animals?

“Or,” Ray says, as our dog yanks a stick out of the snow and charges full speed back up the hill, “they could find out whether dogs like new snow.”

 

 

Lessons from Dogs: Disappointment and Faith

I spend a lot of my time in my chair at my desk, and my dog spends a lot of time watching me in my chair at my desk. And every time I get up, she leaps up, ready—more than ready.

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“Sorry, pup,” I say. “Just getting a glass of water.”

Or, “Sorry, little D, just getting a snack.”

Or, “Sorry, sweet girl, just going to the bathroom.”

That one is always cause for barking, turning circles and then—oops, sitting at attention, her whole body vibrating with excitement and good-dog-ness, because she knows that if I were to go out on a W-A-L-K, I would pee first and then I would ask her to sit—good-dog—and stay before I opened the door.

But most of the time it is: “Sorry, goofball, just peeing.”

And sometimes it is worse: “Sorry, little one, time for your heartworm pill—or time to clip your nails, or, or, or.”

And I go back to my desk and she goes back to lying at my feet—she’s there now, dozing and twitching.

There’s another email in my inbox—a response from a journal where I have submitted an essay or from a writer’s residency where I have submitted an application or from an agent to whom I have sent a query letter—and I wait a moment before I open it, because there’s still room for hope: are we going to walk together?

I huff a sigh out—another rejection—and my dog looks up, her own dream interrupted.

Sorry, dear writer, they say, not this time, not this place, not this piece.

I mark “no” on my little spreadsheet where I keep a record of my submissions and make a note of where to send to next.

And then I say, “C’mon, Katonah. Let’s go for a walk.”

Because she always says “yes,” and she will wait, with utter faith and love, until I say “yes,” too.