Forty Winks…Please!

“You’re beginning to dislike me, aren’t you? Well, dislike me. It doesn’t make any difference to me now.”
― W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge

I am not a dog lover.

There. I said it. Let the judging begin.

It’s not that I actively hate dogs. I do like them. Sort of. My kids—adults now with kids of their own—will tell you they never had a pet dog because their father has allergies and asthma. Which he does. But the truth is, I never wanted a dog. (Sorry, kids. Now you know.)

Like breakable ornaments on a china shop shelf, dogs are lovely to look at and delightful to hold, but they are best admired from afar. I never wanted a dog because I knew owning one would be just another chore on my already too long list of chores. Every mother knows that, despite promises from her kids insisting they will take care of it, the dog will inevitably become her responsibility or it will be mom’s responsibility to nag the kids about doggie care until eventually it’s just easier to do it herself.

No thank you.

Oddly, despite my disdain of dogs, I am now the caretaker of one. Not the owner. I refuse to claim that title and constantly am reminding people at the pet store, the dog park, or the vet’s that the dog belongs to my 83 year old mother. The dog came along with her when she moved in two years ago.

Oh, I can see that Muttly—as my husband and I call her—is a great comfort and steady companion to my mother, especially as her Alzheimer’s progresses. My mother’s constant refrain is, “Where’s the dog?” She asks as soon as she wakes in the morning.

“Where’s the dog?”

She asks it when the dog barks at the back door. 

“Where’s the dog?”

When the bathroom door closes and the dog is no longer visible.

“Where’s the dog?”

Even when the dog is lying at her feet.

“Where’s the dog?”

That she loves and adores her dog, I have no doubt. (Of all my siblings, I am most jealous of the dog. Mom does love her best.)

But for me, a dog—any dog really, but this one in particular—is a chore, not a pleasure. Smelly breath, stinky fur, clogged anal glands, infected ears. Plastic bags of warm feces. De-skunk solutions. Trips to the vet, the dog groomer, the pet store. Special dog food. Medicine. Nail trimming. Emergencies.

Once at Pawlooza—a festival for dogs that we attended back when I was attempting, without success, to convert to being a dog lover—an animal communicator declared Mom and her dog were totally in sync. Both cheery, but easily anxious. They both love cookies, but have unpredictable regularity. Both with heart murmurs.

Now, unlike my mother, the dog is exhibiting signs of Sundowner Syndrome, often associated with doggie dementia. Starting around two in the morning, she begins pacing the floor. Click, click, click. Her nails tap on the linoleum. Back and forth in the hallway outside our bedroom door. My husband, his hearing aids on the nightstand, is blissfully unaware. My mother might occasionally shout, “Lie down” from her room but, for the most part, sleeps through it all. I ignore the dog’s clicking, but Muttly eventually scratches angrily at my bedroom door. Or she launches herself like a catapult with a loud thud, even more disturbing than the scratching.

Her pacing, clicking, and scratching continue—she is not appeased by companionship, going out to pee, or moonlight strolls—until sunrise when I resignedly plop breakfast in her bowl. She gobbles her food, then goes to bed for a deep, relaxing sleep. Like a mother with a newborn, friends tell me, “Sleep when she sleeps.” But it is impossible to sleep at random hours when you have a second child and my day of elder care is just beginning. As we go about the day’s routine, my cursing is muffled by the dog’s loud snoring.

So, I tell you again: I’m not a dog lover.

But don’t judge me. Or do. I’m too tired to care.