A Dog's Life

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My country of origin was The Land Before Salon Time – an era during which I painted my own nails. Growing up, I wouldn’t have considered paying someone else to do it, although my girlfriends and I sometimes took turns painting each other’s. The morning of my wedding was the first time I ever had a professional manicure, and I didn't have a pedicure until I was 45 years old, mainly because I didn’t want a stranger, who hadn’t had a chance to get to know me yet, to judge me by my heels. The number of spa treatments available continues to grow, far beyond nails. But I’ve yet to experience many of them, mainly because that’s not my love language; I’ll always choose coffee and a murder mystery over a spa day. But apparently, I’m in the minority. Almost everyone I know treats themselves on a regular basis. And some of them pamper their pets in similar ways.

I was stunned the first time I saw my Aunt Odelia’s poodles with painted toenails – bright red. I’d never heard of such. Her dogs were more frou frou than I was, and I was a girlie girl. Now, we’ve got dog-friendly restaurants, day care, hotels, and pet massages. I’m waiting for the day when I see a dog behind the wheel of a “driverless car,” speeding down the freeway on his way to throw back a few cold ones with his buddies at a local fire hydrant.

My friend Bubbles carries her dog everywhere she goes. Okay, not to work, but only because she works in the medical field; there’s some rule about sterile work spaces. But if she had a different job, you can bet that her little dog would be right by her side. Fifi goes on vacation with her. She goes to stores. She goes out to eat. And she doesn’t have to pay her own way. I’m jealous.

“She’s so small, nobody knows she’s in my bag,” Bubbles explained to me.

“What if they see her?” I asked, shocked that her four-legged child helps her pick out clothes and buy groceries.

“Most places don’t have a problem with dogs coming in, as long as they’re in a bag. And I have a stroller for her for outings, now. ”

My mouth dropped open. “You’re crazy. I love you, but you’re crazy.”

Bubbles laughed in response, but I know what she was thinking. Oh her poor dogs. They’re stuck in the house all day, going in and out of the dog door to take care of business instead of using the toilet. They’ve never had a professional hair stylist work on them, and they’ve never been to a restaurant. Or a mall. Or a movie. And every time I see them, they’re naked. That’s right, dear reader. Her dog wears clothes and hair bows.

I could smell an intervention, so I said my goodbyes quickly, then sped away.

I could do better as a pet owner, but I’m not Bubbles; she’s a Capeless Wonder - everything from soap making to dog strolling comes easy for her. And my dogs are high-maintenance. In spite of their humble existence, they’ve got their pride. Pete won’t relieve himself in the grass in our backyard. Bobbie Sue turns up her nose at mozzarella cheese, but prefers sharp cheddar or Muenster.

At least once a year, my vet gives me the you-need-to-brush-your-dogs’-teeth lecture. My childhood dog, Suzy Q, lived to be 18 years old without ever polishing her pearly yellows. If you’ve never tried to brush your dogs’ teeth, you’re missing the thrill of it all. Because my Pet Owner Guilt, which rivals my Mom Guilt, is so strong, I tried. I feared their breath alone would melt the toothbrush, but I gave it my best effort. I bought dog toothbrushes, child toothbrushes, finger brushes, and treated pads, to clean their teeth. I tried semi-diligently, which means for two weeks. But dogs don’t take kindly to human fingers in their mouths, unless it’s their idea. The liver-flavored toothpaste didn’t entice them; perhaps butt-scented toothpaste would be more effective in their cooperating with me.

When we first got our dogs, Flash said he'd be in charge of the tooth brushing. That lasted two weeks, until he grew weary of WWE Doggie Smack-Down every evening. But still, brushing is cheaper than paying $600 dollars per dog to have the vet clean their teeth. Multiplied by two, I could go on a four-day cruise to Anywhere But Here for the same cost. I’ll buy a little bitty Brillo pad, and their teeth will glisten, I thought. Oh relax, dear reader; it was merely a fleeting thought. Don't call PETA on me.

Whatever luxuries are afforded humans, seem to be available to dogs, too. What if canines surpass us? What if whatever is popular with dogs today will be popular with humans tomorrow? Will we soon be meeting each other in Human Parks that are equipped with outhouses? Will there be a huge water dispenser out in the field for us? And as we socialize, run in circles, and jump up and down, will our dogs huddle up and wait for us to finish?

I’m not too worried about our dogs lording over me. Bobbie Sue shakes like a leaf on a tree every time it thunders. She’s up to 225 milligrams of tryptophan, but she needs an IV drip of Lexapro. Pete has insecurity issues; every time Bobbie gets attention, he's got to horn in on that. I’d take them to a Canine Therapist, but, for all I know, the doctor might reward their every whim with, "Good doggie, here's a Milkbone.” Thirty minutes of that, and of course they’d come back to me in the waiting room with their tales wagging. Upon returning home, they’d have the same issues as before, only worse; they’d want to live with Dr. Spoil-Me.

And so, for the last 10 years, our slightly neurotic dogs have lived their middle-class suburb life, oblivious to the world beyond the backyard. Their nails have remained bare, and clothes have been reserved for the occasional silly Christmas picture. A drive to the vet was considered a field trip, albeit terrifying at times, and a measly walk around the block was Utopia.

Until two weeks ago.

We checked into a hotel out of necessity; the Great Home Improvement 2018 had begun, including a complete sanding and leveling of the entire square footage of our humble abode. There was nowhere to rest our sleepy heads. And so, nine consecutive days out of the house began.

Of course, Cowboy was elated. He was so excited after his first swim, he stayed awake until 4 a.m. on the first night. After working for four weeks straight to clean out the house, pack boxes to go into storage, and donate 45 bags of Frivolous Junk, I was ready for some much needed R & R. I envisioned taking naps, watching as many murder mysteries as humanly possible on cable TV, and taking leisurely swims every day. Of course, I knew I’d have to take the dogs outside to take care of their business. No big deal.

But the best laid plans of the weary and delusional often go awry. On Day 1, The Amazing Contractor called, and needed my approval on something at the house. Paranoia kicked in, as I worried about leaving Pete and Bobbie in the hotel room alone. My life goal became making sure there were no doggie doodles left anywhere on the carpet. Without a doggie door with built-in stairs, I was their only transportation to the great outdoors during the day.

After taking them out for their morning potty break, I thought I’d do a trial run on leaving them in the room alone. Guilt set in as I locked them in and made my way down to the lobby. After a quick trip to the house and back, I returned to hear them scratching on the door. I can only assume they did that the entire time I was gone. I sighed with relief to see the door was not damaged, but knew I needed a Plan B.

The next day when I needed to go by the house, I thought I’d leave the dogs in their crate. It was full of blankets, their beds, and I gave them the tenth treat they’d had in less than 48 hours. Pet Owner Guilt was at an all-time high.

I returned to howling, heard halfway down the hall to the elevator.

“Shhhh!” I instructed, as they went crazy at seeing me after waiting an eternity, i.e., 40 minutes. “I don’t want to get us thrown out of here.”

They didn’t care; they can sleep anywhere.

By Day 3, I realized the inevitable. They would go everywhere with me. Suddenly, I was Bubbles, minus the trendy wardrobe, both hers and Fifi’s, and the bag. I would’ve needed a double-seated Doggy Bag, and I wasn’t willing to work that hard lugging them around. Without a bag, and because I’m sane, I couldn’t take them into public places; planning errands was strategic. But on trips to the house, getting drive-through food, putting gas in the car, and picking up anything that didn’t require leaving them in the car, they were with me.

Every day, in addition to riding around town with me, they were walked five to seven times. Around the entire perimeter of the hotel, through an empty lot, and to the hotel’s designated dog park. Five to seven times. Flash started taking them out first thing in the morning and last thing at night, to prevent my contracting malaria from the Mosquito Plague of the Century; those suckers always flock around me.

Soon, all it took was a certain look from Bobbie Sue to let us know we’d better get her downstairs quickly. She took full advantage of the situation. When I started to go down to the laundry room, I got the look. If I needed to go to the car for something, there she was, batting her long eyelashes. By Day 5, she and Pete no longer hesitated walking into the scary box with the sliding door that could crush them – the elevator. By Day 6, Bobbie Sue was pushing the elevator buttons, lounging around in a bathrobe, and ordering room service. I caught Pete doing the backstroke in the pool, sipping on a margarita. My dogs were changing before my eyes, and they loved all the extra attention from hotel staff members every time they trotted down the halls and through the lobby.

“They’re doing great,” Flash commented. “Maybe they’ll get used to this, and we can start taking them with us when we travel.”

It was music to our dogs’ ears; they jumped up and hugged Flash, then gave each other a high-five.

Finally, on Day 9, it was time to pack up and go home. As I made four trips to the car with a loaded down rolling luggage rack, the dogs looked at me curiously. Where is she taking all of our stuff? I heard them wonder. And why does she keep leaving without us?

“I have to pack the van, and then I’ll be back for you,” I answered. “We’re going home today.”

They wagged their tails off as we said our goodbyes to the hotel staff, our new friends. We’d miss them, and I hoped they’d miss us. As we drove home, Pete and Bobbie were elated. They walked into the house, then ran around inspecting the place, as did I. The Clean Up and Move-In Festival began immediately, and my diligent work was met with nothing short of despondency from Bobbie Sue and Pete.

“You’re home. What’s wrong? I thought you were glad to have your turf back.”

Still, they stared.

I recognized that look – it was the please-take-us-outside look.

“You have your doggie door here. You can go out anytime.”

They didn’t move. They didn’t breathe. They didn’t blink.

“Seriously? We’ve been home for 11 minutes, and you want me to stop what I’m doing and take you out, while you have a perfectly good door to use?”

I knew if I caved, they’d expect me to resume taking them out five to seven times per day. And we’d be settled into the house sometime next spring.

“Sorry, guys. Maybe we’ll go into the front yard tomorrow.”

With eyes looking at the floor and tails hanging low, they returned to the lonely, boring, hum-drum couch. My guilt was overshadowed by my to-do list; I didn’t have time to attend to their pouting.

Early the next morning, as I resumed my work, I waited for a nice young woman to come pick up my trash from my front door. Nobody came. I waited for fresh towels to be delivered. Again, my Housekeeping Angel was a no-show. When I walked into the kitchen for breakfast, nothing was waiting for me. There was no smiling face to greet me, and no coffee made. I had to get my own water, and I went hungry due to being too tired to cook. At that rate, I’d be skin and bones by the end of the month.

As I glanced at the dogs on the couch, I felt their pain. In the same way they’d hoped their adventurous life would continue when we moved back home, I’d hoped the hotel staff loved us enough to continue the amenities a few miles away. I missed both the simplicity and indulgences of living in a hotel.

“Let’s go,” I called to my pups. “It’s time for a walk.”

Bobbie Sue and Pete were thrilled as the three of us walked down the street - two of us feeling better about their lifestyles, and only one of us remaining disillusioned.