The large furry creature was lurking in the dark hallway. I couldn't see it, but I knew it was there. I could hear it breathing. It was 3:07 a.m.
At times it slept; I could hear it snoring. But even then, I couldn't turn my back on it and go back to sleep myself. I could feel it out there: watchful, waiting, alert for any movement I might make. It was between me and the kitchen; between me and the telephone. There was no way I could leave the bedroom and slip past it in the dark without it catching me.
I knew this, because at 1:37 a.m., when I got up to go to the bathroom, I had nearly stepped on it.
On her, rather. Lucy. The chocolate lab of mature years and generous girth who is staying with us this week while her owner is out of town.
This is a new experience for me. I've never lived with a dog in the house before. Lucy is placid, obedient, and impeccably mannered, but even so, it's been an adjustment. She's patient, though, and so far she seems to believe I can be trained.
Parts of the routine of having a dog in the house are relatively easy to adapt to. I've learned that getting up from a chair to go to another room for just a minute means Lucy will heave herself up on her arthritic joints to follow me, so she can flop down onto the floor wherever I am. I've learned that even if you do it as noiselessly as possible, opening a bag of dog food is magical. It instantly makes a tail-wagging dog appear in the kitchen, even if a millisecond ago she was at the other end of the house. I've learned that a walk with a dog is a stop-and-go exercise. Who knew there were so many places to stop and check the P-mail?
There are even some advantages to having a dog in the house. When I mutter to myself over my keyboard, I'm not talking to myself; I'm talking to Lucy. Also, taking her along early in the morning to get the newspaper offers security against mountain lions. Not that Lucy could take on a mountain lion single-pawed, of course. But if her doggy presence wasn't enough to keep one at a distance, at least I could easily outrun her.
Still, I'm not sure I could live with a dog on a full-time basis. I could get used to the routine and the responsibility. What I can't handle is the guilt.
The long sighs she emits from time to time as she lies stretched out on the floor in my office while I'm working and paying no attention to her. Having to pull her away from a particularly entrancing smell so we can actually finish a walk the same day we started it. The long-suffering patience she shows at mealtimes—ours, not hers—when she sits at a polite distance, pretending not to watch every trip our forks make from our plates to our mouths. And especially, the sad, reproachful look we get when we leave the house, shutting her up in the utility room and telling her she has to stay.
Not to mention the vigil she keeps in the hallway at night, sleeping with one eye open, too obedient to come into the bedroom but ready to spring—or at least to lumber—to her feet the second she hears us get up.
I'm doing my best to manage the guilt, though. If Lucy wants to guard the hallway all night, I can't stop her. But I don't need to stay awake watching the watchdog. From now on, I'm sleeping with the door shut.