Monday, November 13, 2017


It was day three - early morning.   Outside, a low fog draped across the bay closing in on the barking otters.  The ferry glided from the dock and disappeared into the mist.   In the orchard an elegant doe and her two spotted fawns munched apples from the trees.     Inside, the coffeepot grumbled through its perk cycle while the ancient furnace sputtered and groaned warmth up to the chilly kitchen.  The toaster sprung.  I poked the crisp bagel out and slathered it with cream cheese.  It was his favorite treat.  The popping toaster and squeaking cheese container would always bring him running, but not today.  I opened a yogurt container (another of his favorites) and shook the cookie jar.  He did not come.  It was day three.  Except to drink some water and make hasty trips to the yard to relieve ballooning innards, Sunny, my cocker spaniel companion of ten years, had kept his round body wedged in the small space behind the blue, overstuffed rocking chair.  His beige, freckled face and black nose stayed tightly pushed into the seam of the wall at the far end of the living room.  The ribbons of silky hair on his long ears rippled down to the floor, blending with the tan carpet.  His stubby tail wagged when his name was mentioned, but the rest of him remained firm.  Just two weeks before, during his yearly checkup, the veterinarian said, “This is the happiest dog I know,” but Sunny wasn’t happy any more.  It was Wednesday - the start of day three - and Sunny was still in the corner. 

The plea had come on Sunday.  A good friend in Seattle was divorcing.  She would barely be able to manage her kids.  I was the only one she trusted.  Would I PLEASE take her dog?   Giving little thought to the consequences of the adoption, early Monday morning I headed to the city.   Fudge pop eyes twinkled through a snowy coat.  Pointed, pink-lined ears stood at attention.  A curious black nose sniffed my hand.  Fifteen pounds of sweet smelling white fur plopped into my lap.  A slow, wet tongue on my cheek sealed the transaction.   “His name is Brodie, he’s a West Highland terrier almost a year old, and I just can’t thank you enough,” said my friend through hugs and tears.

       "Ooh, how cute.”  
      “Is it a boy or girl?” 
      “What’s its name?” 
      “Can we pet him?”
The ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island was overflowing with kids - curious, bouncy, exuberant kids - on my lap, on my toes, on the floor with the dog.  Brodie rolled over for belly pats.  “Another happy pup,” I sighed with relief.  The hour-long ride home from Bainbridge was perfect.  Brodie curled in the front seat of the Jeep and slept.  I stroked him periodically, relishing the movement of easy breathing.  But in the days to come I would consider the possibility that my “friend” had slipped Brodie a sedative before our introduction in Seattle. 

Once home, he tore into the house.  He raced through the kitchen, up the stairs, into each of the bedrooms, back downstairs for a dash through my office, and two loops around the living room.  Back in the kitchen, he took a hearty drink from the water bowl and ran the course again.   He whirled in a circle, chasing his tail.  He leapt onto the couch and onto the floor.  He skidded back to the kitchen and came to a crashing halt against Sunny, who wobbled and staggered out of peaceful sleep.   Brodie sniffed wildly from Sunny’s wet nose to frozen tail.  He nipped, jumped on and off Sunny’s shivering body, and ran back and forth, challenging the stupefied cocker to chase.  He yapped and snorted in Sunny’s face and pawed at his trembling jowls.  Except for a puzzled glance at me, the commotion immobilized my mellow old dog.   After a slow recovery from paralysis, Sunny lumbered through the living room.  He heaved his old body into position.  The fireplace andirons rattled and clanked.  Whining morosely, he settled in behind the rocker.  And now, on day three, Sunny remained in the corner.       

The transition had been no less traumatic for Brodie.   Twice he tumbled into the bathtub while trying to escape the wrath of my spitting cat.  Fleeing the loud whir of the vacuum, he had gotten locked in a closet and relieved his fright by peeing on my new walking shoes.  Out in the yard the grazing deer (never experienced in the city) sent him into a frenzy of hysterical running and earsplitting barking that shook the neighborhood.  And several times a day Brodie had gone to the far corner of the living room to yelp his high-pitched Westie chatter at Sunny’s stationary rump.   Now, on the morning of day three I, too, was frazzled and folded into the couch pillows for a good cry.  I decided my bawling would kick off an extended period of remorse and feeling sorry for myself. 

Two warm, sloppy tongues began lapping my cheeks.  Brodie nested on top of my head, peering down into my face.  His tail vibrated against the lamp on the side table.  Sunny planted himself beside me and nudged my body, first with one paw and then the other.  I looked into two wise and mysterious faces.  They knew I was heading for some serious wallowing.   I knew they weren’t going to allow it.  So, with the beasts orchestrating the enlightenment of the “higher” animal, I scrubbed the agenda of self-pity and followed their lead.  Going to the dogs, I began critter observation.                          

Over the course of the next few days I ditched the angst and, voila, we became a positive, functioning pack. Sunny, who loved food more than anything, was given first licks from the yogurt container and the first piece of bagel.  Little Brodie waited his turn.  Brodie, who loved play more than anything, got first pick of any new chew toys.   Brodie’s day required at least one mad dash from room to room and thundering across the porch in fearless pursuit of the cat.  During these activities, Sunny retired to the safety of the couch and I played an Enya CD.   Sunny’s needs included ear stroking from all visitors, and naps in sunbeams.  To accommodate, Brody moved in behind Sunny for petting, and slept in the thinnest portions of sunlight.  Out on the beach Brodie displayed the most exuberance.  Scampering free, chasing gulls he’d disappear into clouds of sand, but always ran mightily back to Sunny and me when his distance became too great.  His return would be rewarded by a hearty Sunny howl and a sigh from me over how well they had adapted.   The precarious beginnings of their relationship behind them, the dogs rallied, sassy and happy.  I was in awe of their hasty return to balance under the duress of change.  And while I had mustered the maturity to enjoy and appreciate life with two very different dogs without prolonged pouting, I was still laden with years of conditioning in the human tangle of “why me” indulgences.   With lingering self-doubt, I pondered if perhaps I needed three days in the corner.  

This story was included as relaxation therapy in a chapter in Maximum Fitness-Minimum Risk.  "Successful management of chronic illness involves change.  Today's relaxation session is about change."  

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