Really, for true intimacy, for real bonding, for deep closeness, you have to sleep together, you know?
I am talking here, of course, about dogs. I have always happily sacrificed a good night's sleep (big bed all to myself) for closeness with a dog (dog sprawled out in all directions, me folded in around him). In Duluth, I slept for years on a mattress on the bedroom floor of my little house by the woods. All Toby had to do was walk into the room and curl up next to me. No jumping required.
Boscoe slept on our bed until he was too old to make the leap, and then he slept on the floor at the foot of our bed. Riley has one corner of the bed that he claimed long ago as his own--way down at the end, where Doug's feet should be. (Doug kind of has to jack-knife around him.)
But Rosie--Rosie has her cage. Her den. Her kennel. Call it what you will, it separates us at night. Every night, she's downstairs in the dining room, locked up behind bars, and we are upstairs in the bedroom, fans whirring, Riley sprawled in his corner, pillows everywhere (we like a lot of pillows), books stacked high, little reading lights glowing, everything all cozy and sweet. And Rosie is downstairs in a cage.
You can see where I'm headed.
For a long time after we got her--weeks and months--I would look at her, and think, "I love her. She's endearing. She's sweet. She's fun. But -- do I adore her? Can I not live without her?" And I wasn't sure.
I know it takes time to thoroughly bond; you have to get to know the dog, learn to read his facial expressions (and yes, they do have them) and interpret the various barks and growls, and understand his likes and dislikes, fears and passions. I remember when we first adopted Riley, looking at his impassive little face and wondering how long it would take before I could tell what he was thinking. And I wondered the same thing of Rosie, that night nearly six months ago when we brought her home.
Part of the bonding process is learning to trust, and I am convinced that part of that trust-building comes during sleep. A dog is vulnerable when he's sleeping, and if he curls next to you and lays his head on your knee and snores gently, and you scratch his ears, and maybe you nod off a little yourself (because the sun is shining in your eyes and the book you are reading is dragging, and you didn't sleep well the night before because Riley had migrated from his southwest corner of the bed more toward the middle of the bed, and ...zzzz...), when all this happens you grow closer. He trusts you to let him sleep, to not hurt him, to look out for him. And your heart softens because he is so sweet.
Rosie loves her cage. If she is being a wolveriney whirling dervish, jumping on the couch, on Riley, on the chair, racing up the stairs and back down, skidding across the hall and leaving the rug bunched up at the end, toys everywhere, and you say, "Rosie, go to bed," she will drop whatever is in her mouth (usually) and race to her kennel. She hops inside, turns around, waits.
And you give her a milkbone. And she is happy. And you lock the door. And after the crunch-crunch-crunch, she lies down and takes a nap.
She's there right now, as a matter of fact.
Every night she goes into her kennel around 9:20 p.m. and lies down and sleeps until about 5:15. She has been quite content. But upstairs, we have felt like we are missing something. Her warmth. Her sleek fur cuddled up against us. Watching her little paws move as she chases rabbits in her sleep. Hearing that gentle snore that means she is worn out and content.
So I started bringing her upstairs to say goodnight to Doug and Riley. She jumps on the bed, Riley growls but makes room for her, Doug scratches her ears, and then after about three or four minutes she jumps back down and goes downstairs, and I follow her, say, "Rosie, go to bed," and she does.
But two nights ago, she didn't jump down. She lay down. And then she went to sleep. Right there on the bed, kind of inconveniently in the spot where I normally lie, but it was so sweet that I somehow wormed in around her and eventually I slept too.
Last night, she and Doug were playing tennis ball downstairs when I went to bed. And when I woke up, she was on the bed, smooshed up against him, sleeping soundly.
Will this make me understand her better? Recognize her bark, her facial expressions? No--I already know her bark pretty well, know which one means, "My ball is under the chair and I can't reach it," and which one means, "Watch out, Riley!" and which one means, "I must kill that squirrel!" and which one (the most important one) means, "I must pee now."
The kennel has been invaluable for housebreaking, and for getting her out of our hair when she is wild, and for getting her to nap when she's overly tired, and for confining her when we are eating dinner or are out of the house. I love that kennel and I'm glad that she does too.
But at night--at night, I'm thinking, it's time. Go and be free, little girl. Sleep where you will.
Just like Motel 6, we'll leave a light on for her downstairs, and the door wide open.