As several of you have mentioned, yes, I've stopped writing for Front and Finish. I enjoyed it tremendously but after 15 years, well, it was a good run. I see on their Web site my final column did not get posted in its entirety, a bit is missing at the end, so here's the whole darn thing.
IF YOU LIE DOWN WITH DOGS . . .
People frequently ask me, “Do your dogs sleep in your bed with you?” The people asking this question are usually not dog people. Dog people would take one look at Jamie and Phoenix and know better.
Outdated dominance and leadership theories aside, my dogs don’t sleep on our bed because they don’t fit. There are nights when our bed, albeit queen sized, does not seem big enough for two humans, let alone adding more creatures whose combined weight tops out at 110 pounds.
That’s not to say they don’t try. Like most dog owning households, we have a set of rather complicated rules governing who is allowed on the bed and under what circumstances. These rules have a certain amount of flexibility built into them. Most of this flexibility comes from the dogs’ interpretation of the rules.
When Jeff and I got married, the initial rule was no dogs on the bed because back then, we had a waterbed. Not a problem, since neither of my shelties showed any indication of wanting to sleep there. In fact, Jess was scared to death of the thing because it moved. (Jess was scared of a lot of things.)
This lasted until our farm was hit by a straightline windstorm in 1998. The devastation was immense. Jess and Connor were alone in the house during the storm. That night when we went to bed (our house was one of the few structures on our farm that escaped being flattened, although it sustained some damage), Connor jumped up onto the bed — rules be damned — curled up and pretended he wasn’t there.
“Your dog is on the bed,” Jeff pointed out. I thought we had bigger things to worry about and told him so. He got up, picked Connor off the bed, put him on floor and by the time Jeff got back into bed, Connor was already back in it, too. Conn slept on the foot of our bed for years and years after that. He was just the right size to shove my cold feet under in the winter. If he objected to this, he never said anything. When we got rid of the waterbed and replaced it with a traditional mattress and frame, the fact that Connor nearly had to pole vault to get onto it didn’t stop him.
When Connor died in 2009, I no longer had a “bed dog.” Jamie thought humans were hot, lumpy and thrashed around too much. He wanted no part of sleeping on the bed and slept happily on the floor.
The only exception was during thunderstorms. Then he would vault onto the bed in a panic, not caring where he landed or if that spot might already be occupied by a tender part of human anatomy. Jamie has been storm phobic his entire life so after 12 years, Jeff and I have both become resigned to having a terrified, 60 pound furry missile launching onto the bed in the middle of the night. Depending on the severity of the storm, being on the bed with us provides some degree of comfort. During mild storms, Jamie will curl up close and go to sleep, relieved to be safe with his people. Apparently the safety factor is much higher if one is sleeping two feet above the floor.
Jamie could have had a career with the National Weather Service. Garden variety thunderstorms in the night are met with mild trembling that frequently resolves itself once he is ensconced on the bed with human hands to touch and provide reassurance. He’ll go to sleep, enduring the hot, lumpy people for the sake of security. Once the storm passes, he’ll jump off like he was doing us the biggest favor in the world by sleeping there.
But if he is really distraught there is a great deal of fussing, shifting, stomping around (again, paying zero attention to where he’s stomping), trembling, panting and general inability to settle. Before long, my weather radio will go off with a severe storm warning that Belgian radar had already predicted.
Jamie sees no point in sleeping anywhere when there’s seriously rough weather and thinks no one else needs to, either. However he’s not content to be wide awake on the floor. He gets lots more reaction and attention from the humans if he’s stomping on them. I’m willing to endure a bit of this behavior for the sake of loving this crazy dog, but when storm induced behavior turns my night’s sleep into a trampoline routine, Jamie goes in a crate — where oddly enough, he settles almost immediately. Probably because he’s exhausted from jumping up and down on my head.
Phoenix is oblivious to storms but sees no point in being the only one who is NOT on the bed when one strikes. Once Jamie leaps up to join us, Phoenix is usually right behind him. Fortunately, Phoenix spins in a tight circle, plops down and won’t move unless bodily evicted – no panicked thrashing.
Phoenix did enjoy a brief stint of being allowed to sleep at the foot of the bed, although it was not sanctioned by either me or Jeff. Once he grew up enough not to eat the house and was allowed loose-in-the-house-at-night privileges, his main goal in life became sleeping on the bed. He was a dog on a mission. I don’t know how many times I woke up to find him perched on the cedar chest at the foot of the bed, one paw already on the quilt and one paw raised in anticipation of sneaking on the rest of the way. No doubt he thought if he crept up slowly and silently enough, he could curl up undetected and spend the night. I’m ashamed (or amazed!) to say this occasionally worked. The dog has definite feline tendencies and can move with considerable stealth for something that weighs 50 pounds and usually careens around the house like he’s been shot from a cannon.
Anyway, I spent a lot of time chucking Phoenix (usually verbally, occasionally physically) off the bed. He finally decided it was a battle not worth fighting and made a happy nest on the floor next to my side of the bed.
Once we had established that the bed was not an extension of his own personal lounging space, I would invite Phoenix to come up and cuddle while Jeff and I read or watched TV. The rule was “When the lights and/or the TV go off, the dog goes off, too.” This worked well and usually the very act of reaching for the remote control resulted in a polite exit.
That fall, when Jeff began working late hours during the harvest, I amended the “Dogs off the bed when the lights go out” rule. If I went to bed before Jeff, Phoenix could snuggle and sleep on the bed until Jeff came in, then he had to get off.
Well, that’s what I thought the rule was. Phoenix interpreted it more like “Finders keepers, I have a warm spot and I’m not leaving and you can’t make me.” He never growled at Jeff when he came in or showed any sign of resource (bed) guarding. He suddenly developed total deafness, put his head down, closed his eyes and wouldn’t move.
Jeff was usually too tired to argue with him so Phoenix thought he’d won that battle. The bed was warm and soft and the human didn’t seem to object to him being there, at least not enough to do anything about it. It was a classic example of “If you allow it, you train it.”
Then I started waking up in the middle of the night to find both husband and dog wedged onto the same side of the bed. Phoenix looked happy. Jeff, not so much. Not for the first time in my life, I realized here was another problem not of my own creating that I was going to have to solve. Phoenix simply could not be allowed to sleep on the bed full-time. He took up too much room.
Ever notice how dogs expand in every direction when they get on the bed? Phoenix was a blanket hog. He was so heavy if he rolled onto your feet, he cut off circulation. He was given to having chasing dreams (cats, I suspect) which always seemed to come to a violent conclusion. It’s cute to watch your dog dreaming when he’s laying on the floor. It’s not so cute to wake up to find him sound asleep, growling and thrashing and baring his teeth six inches from your ankle.
It took a lot of insistent reinforcing to convince Phoenix that his own bed was where he needed to sleep. I’m still not sure he really buys that but he’s gracious enough to play by our rules now.
This is my last column for Front and Finish. I’m sad. I’ve written for 15 years, since 1996. It’s been a wonderful experience but time and circumstances have a way of changing life’s priorities.
My job (which I’m happy to still have) has changed tremendously in the last year and while I’m writing more than ever for the paper, other responsibilities have been added as well and the down time that allowed me to craft these columns in spare moments has virtually disappeared. Time for writing at home? In my dreams. Household demands, helping with our farming operation, training Phoenix for his UDX career, teaching classes and the inevitable family demands have a way of occupying every available second. Funny how time can become such an elusive and precious commodity. I knew it was time to bow out when I found myself facing column deadlines with a sense of desperation, not enjoyment.
Unfortunately, my access to the digital version of Front and Finish is also severely limited. With dial-up Internet at home, loading the pages progresses at an agonizingly slow pace. After spending 8 hours or more a day working on a computer, I’m not eager to sit in front of one again for any length of time when I get home. I understand the economic pressures that led to launching the digital version of F&F but I very much miss the hard copy edition that fit in purse and training bag. I find myself in the awkward position of writing for a publication I no longer have access to reading.
Sigh. I will miss you all. I will miss Bob Jr.’s support and Teresa and Thomi’s silly comments back and forth when I e-mail columns.
Thank you for reading. As always, I invite you to share my world at http://exercisefinished.blogspot.com.