A Dog, At Last

        “Bring out Sophie.” the woman at the front desk calls into the crackly walkie-talkie. While I wait, I read the bulletin board ads for dog walkers and browse the basket of homemade dog cookies. The attendant carries her in. The dog wriggling frantically, eyes wide, tongue out straining to reach me. On an earlier visit, the girl let her walk in to the reception and watched in horror as the tiny dog vaulted over the three foot gate to get to me.

“Has she been good today?” I ask hopefully, a pained crease forming on my forehead.

“Oh yes, no trouble at all.” She lies, unconvincingly.

The truth is she growls at the staff, avoids the other dogs and won’t eat or drink anything they give her.

Sometimes, I watch her on the doggie daycare webcam. She walks around the outside of the packs of dogs. She’s cautious, observant and stand-offish. Never in the middle of things, she sits off to one side, never quite relaxed, rarely playful. She tolerates the attention of other dogs, not outright antagonistic, nor submissive. She weighs up each encounter, showing due deference to the larger, powerful dogs and standing her ground with those of her size and stature. Often, she finds herself in the middle of things by accident. A huddle forms with her at the center and she stands squarely, one leg in each corner, assesses her options and when able to do so, slips away through the forest of hairy legs to resume her observance quietly from the edges.

It isn’t as if she doesn’t get along with other dogs. At the dog park, she zooms around, darting left and right, running in huge figure-of-eights with any dog that’s there. The way she runs full-tilt makes me laugh out loud. Her long, spindly legs furiously pounding the dirt, her ears streaming back, flapping like tiny wings. She loves to run.

Growing up, we always had at least one dog. Sandy, Max, Herbert, George, Sam, Peter and Ben. Always males. A succession of long-suffering Labradors with a few highly strung Jack Russells and one short-lived Scottish Terrier. Short-lived not because he died but because he had quirks. He had only been with us a week when he walked into the living room and dropped his empty food dish at my mother’s feet. When she didn’t respond, he bit her toe hard enough to draw blood. In February last year, after I bought my house, I finally found a dog of my own.

Sophie is the name she came with and I added a second. Now she is Sophie Margot. The t is silent. I thought it added a touch of ‘je ne sais quoi’. Her full name is spoken only when extra emphasis is required.

Sophie Margot hates the rain and does not like to swim. She loves a day trip in the car and a lie down in a morning sunbeam. She’s grumpy when she’s hungry, she doesn’t suffer fools. She noses her toys under the kitchen cupboards and hides bones around the back of the washing machine. She gets bored when left alone and gets fresh if you interrupt her nap time. She won’t eat the same food every day, but she’ll roll over, high five or pirouette for treats.

She is my dog. She would remain at my side day and night, if she could. It has been this way since the first day we met. Despite warnings from the rescue organization that she could be nervous and skittish with new people, she ran straight into my house and pooped on the floor, a clear signal of her ownership of the space. As I busied myself making coffee for the ladies who brought her and they apologized profusely for her ‘accident’, the dog sniffed and wandered around the living room, poking her nose into the folds of the sofa cushions, under armchairs, deeply inhaling the scent of new carpet and the overpowering aroma that indicated there were cats present but, hidden. Coffee served, the humans sat at the dining room table to complete the paperwork. There were a few forms for me to sign, papers and vaccination records to be handed over and of course a check to be written. An exchange of money for dog. During all this, she sat on the living room carpet and took it all in. As we talked, she got up, walked over and without hesitation jumped into my lap. Sitting up tall as if this was her rightful place, she seamlessly transitioned to her new role of faithful companion, much to the surprise of us all.

Bedtime is my favorite time of day. Sophie follows me into the bathroom while I brush my teeth, sitting on the mat in front of the toilet. The tile floor is too cold on her bare bottom, she prefers her creature comforts. Before I’m done, she gets up and leaves. When I walk into the bedroom, she’s there on the rug, sitting patiently. I lift her up onto the bed and take off her collar, her cue for a long, vigorous scratch. As I get under the covers, I hold them open and pat the space next to me. She leaps over and gets in, pushing her way under the duvet and collapsing with the same, satisfied sigh that I make at the end of a long day. I’ll read a chapter while she chews on her feet. When I turn out the light she’s curled up in her own spot and she stays there till morning.

Her excitement at being allowed to come with me builds as I gather my belongings for the day. Keys, bag, lunch, phone and finally her leash. She can barely contain herself, leaping up my legs and pulling me along impatiently as we head out the door. I juggle to open the car and she jumps straight in and over to the passenger seat. Her seat. She has a fleece cushion and seatbelt but prefers to travel with her front paws on the console between the seats, her head at my eye level, face turned frontward toward the road so that she can truly fulfill her duties as co-pilot.

Arrival at the day care is full of mixed emotions. Sophie bounds out of the car, squeaking and squealing and drags me over to the rocks by the entrance where the scent of other dogs is strongest. She sniffs urgently and I have to pull her away. At the door, realization sinks in that this is that place where I leave her and disappear. She goes through the first door but turns and I have to almost drag her through the second. I can feel her panic, she starts to whine and her eyes widen. I scoop her up and quickly hand her over, her little body stiff and shaking. They take her away quickly and put her in the outdoor pen with the other small dogs. As I leave, I feel the weight of my betrayal. She thought she was going to spend the day with me and instead I’m leaving her here with people she doesn’t know and dogs she doesn’t like.

Arriving in the office, I launch the webcam. At first, it’s fuzzy, I can’t see her. When it clears, I scan the fence line, sifting through the circling, sniffing, jumping dogs. Then I see her. She’s sitting alone on the broken, three-legged plastic bed staring straight at me. She looks away as a large yellow Labrador ambles over and sniffs at her rear. Wearily, she stands up and walks away, tail at half mast, neither scared, nor excited just waiting until she sees me again.

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