The single bark that has wakened me at 3 am five mornings in the last week sounded again this morning. I never hesitate when I hear it and roll from bed, feel around in the dark for my sweater and pull it over my head just before heading down the stairs, feeling my way against the wall as I go. I say nothing as I open the door of Wanda’s crate and hear her snuffling behind me as I head out to the chilly patio so she can take care of her business. The night is quiet. Stars glimmer in their places in a clear sky. Even in winter, I can hear crickets in the distance. I will admit I enjoy this aspect of a routine I want to keep from going any farther. Getting up this early is not something I want to look forward to on a regular basis.
Wanda turned one yesterday, and it has been a mostly happy five months of getting to know her. She’s a cheerful little dog and outside of her needing to be with me, near me, next to me every waking moment of the day, she’s very content. There’s been a battle of wills, lately. She’s fussy about what she eats and we’ve tried a few types of food, but she holds out until she has to finally empty her bowl, often late at night just before we’re ready to turn in. So one of us waits up with her, like a parent would with a child who can’t sleep, until she asks to be let out.
Now that I’ve been taken hostage by this new routine, the other seems grand in comparison. At this point, I’ve decided that picking up her dish by 6 pm has been a complete failure (the theory being that she either eats, or has to wait until the morning) and so it is back to the drawing board of letting the often full bowl of kibble sit there, just as it is at this very moment — untouched since I placed it there early this morning. I will sheepishly confess that for the past two mornings, I’ve shredded some albacore over the kibble to encourage her to eat early in the day and be done with it, but she’s an expert at finding even the most minute piece of tuna and leaving the kibble to sit. I swear she taunts me, and so I taunt her in return, holding back on the cherry tomatoes she loves, the chunks of fresh apple, and an occasional ice cube to chew on. She has to eat the kibble. Or else.
She’s curled up behind me right now, sleeping, not quite snoring — the second nap she’s had today and it’s just past noon. After she woke me this morning, I insisted she get back in her crate and went back to bed until she woke me again just before 7 am. I questioned this, thinking all she really wanted was to be on the sofa, wrapped in the blanket I keep there for chilly evenings. I waited long enough to hear her warble, or chortle — it’s not a sound I’ve heard any other dog make — and donned my sweater again, opened her crate then went to the back door once more. I tricked her this time, bringing the door just to after she went through it and waited quietly behind the blinds out of sight until she paced off in the dim light. I could hear her out there, snuffling around and looking for the perfect spot, surprised that she really did have business to take care of.
Once inside, she waited just at the sofa after I’d taken my usual corner and had begun to tap around on the iPad. I knew she wanted me to invite her up as I always do, but I didn’t. Eventually, she walked away into the kitchen and back, stopping to heave a sigh just at my feet. Giving in, I patted the sofa next to me and she jumped up waiting for the blanket she’s accustomed to before settling back to sleep, leaning heavily against my leg.
Often, I believe that this is why she barks at me in the night. Of course she has to go outside, and I’m thankful she barks to let me know, but what she really enjoys is snuggling on the sofa. On mornings when she barks much later — 5 am, for example — I will take my pillow downstairs and we’ll stay on the sofa together after her trip outside. We’ll doze until the light coming through the blinds is bright enough to suggest it’s time to start the day. Or better said — time for me to start my day. Wanda usually stays on the sofa, wadded in the blanket and lost in doggy dreamland until just before noon. You might be thinking that perhaps her crate is not warm, or comfortable, and I will tell you that if my mother had presented me with Wanda’s crate as a child, I would have chosen to sleep in it instead of my bed. It’s pretty cushy.
I’m a parent. I know from experience that children can be conditioned by routine. I worked until 1 am when my oldest son was a baby, so he went to bed late, and slept late. It has crossed my mind that Wanda loves the evening when my husband is home and we’re in the kitchen, talking about the day, and then ready to settle in to watch a show or two we’ve recorded. She has been with me all day, so is more interested in my husband, and after all these months, still working hard to dominate him since I’m such a failure at tending her every whim. She want to play ball, to climb on him, to drink from his hot tea cup. She jumps from the sofa to the floor, pushing a slobbery rubber bone at one of us to tug on. She has stored her energy up during the day for this time, to be a part of who we are, together with us each night.
It’s difficult when we want to go out, to leave her there alone with only Lizzie to taunt her through the fence that stretches across the midsection of our house. It often feels like we’re leaving a child unattended instead of a dog. I’m embarrassed to say I leave the TV on for her at times, knowing she’ll watch it. I’ve caught her before, her big head moving to the action on the screen, mesmerized.
Sometimes when Wanda and I are up early, sitting in the dark together, I play videos for her on the iPad. I find one of the many others have made of their bulldogs and turn the sound up enough for her to hear their snorting and snuffling, to see them playing together in a yard, or riding a skateboard, or jumping on a trampoline. She understands and watches, occasionally sniffing around the back of the iPad to see whether she might find one of the dogs there. It makes me wonder if she misses the dogs she spent the first seven months of her life with and whether she thinks being with a middle-aged woman who sits at a computer much of the day is a bad joke.
I do what I can both for myself and for her, to get up and go outside. To throw the ball, to find where she’s allowed it to roll and can’t retrieve it herself — sometimes as many as ten times in as many minutes. To brush her, talk to her, sing inane ditties to her, scratch just behind her ears, tolerate her obsession with the broom when I’m trying to sweep, toss cherry tomatoes into the air so she can claim at least one trick, and generally dote on her all day long.
I think she’s happy. But she is not going to win the kibble war. And I am not going to make admiring stars at 3 am something I look forward to.
Note: I first wrote this in February thinking I’d let it sit a day or two before revisiting it and it’s now May. I’ll excuse myself since I have been diligent in working on my book regardless of whether that can explain all the other lapses in time I’ve had writing here. But I have won the kibble war after much trial and messy error and finally found the key to Wanda’s happiness each morning: Greek yogurt & Brewer’s yeast. She enjoys that for breakfast, her jaw working, tongue fighting the saliva that seems to immediately appear when I mention “yogurt” each morning. Her plain, dry kibble sits there most of the day until she decides she’s hungry and she sleeps through the night every night in her cushy crate.
Score one for me.