I’ve always assumed that I would spontaneously combust if anything ever happened to Beckett, but yesterday was proof.
First of all, Beckett is absolutely fine, which is why I am coherent and upright and writing this, rather than curled in the fetal position under my dining room table sucking my thumb and officially checking out of life.
Yesterday after work, when I walked into my house thinking he as anything but fine, my stomach sank, my hands shook, and my body didn’t know whether to hyperventilate or stop breathing altogether, so I think I did a little of each. I thought Beckett was dead.
Just so we’re all on the same page here: Beckett does not have free reign of my house when I’m not there, a decision he helped me make after he chewed through my walls, pull up and ate my carpet (and all the foam underneath), and snacked on my books, my clothing, and every electrical cord he could find (whether or not it was plugged into an outlet).
As with everything dog related, there are several schools of thought on how to handle a destructive pooch who acts up while home alone, but the two main (and, of course, opposing) theories are:
1) You need to confine him because too much freedom makes him anxious, and:
2) You need to give him more freedom, because too much confinement leads to boredom.
Since I often project my own feelings onto Beckett (come on, don’t act like you don’t do the very same thing), my first response to his undesirable behavior was, counterintuitive as it seemed, to give him more freedom. So after he climbed the bookcase in my writing room and pulled my month-old Master’s diploma off the top shelf so he could eat his way through the lovely embossed cover, I expanded his grazing territory, thinking he’d be less bored, feel less restricted, and respond like I would under similar circumstances: with gratitude and better behavior.
But here’s an unarguable truth: Beckett is a dog. And, though he may disagree, I’m not. My fear of confinement is a human response based on a lifetime of both real and imagined experiences, memories of being physically stuck somewhere and anxiety about not being able to escape from somewhere. On the other hand, I believe that Beckett’s thought process, when it comes to having his physical movement and whereabouts restricted, goes something like this:
As soon as I can reach that thing over there, I plan to eat it or die trying.
Needless to say, expanding Beckett’s world when I wasn’t home was not a good idea. It may work for some (and thank the god of well-behaved dogs for smiling on you if such a tactic works for you), but for Beckett, it simply meant he had more space to cover. Giving him more of my house was basically introducing him to an all-you-can-eat buffet after previously limiting him to the dollar menu: He had plenty to eat before, but now he had the world at his furry little paw tips, and zero ability (or desire? I go back and forth on this one) to self-regulate.
So, hard as it was for me, I closed his world a little. To him, I’m sure it seemed like I cut his universe in half. Still, he has the upstairs landing in my house, as well as my upstairs bathroom. I leave his large crate open so he can go in and out of it as he wishes, and he has a mountain of toys—hard and soft, big and little, squeaky and silent, tasty and non-tasty—and a huge bowl of fresh water. I figure this is a good enough sized space for a 26-pound Schnoodle, and I always turn on the bathroom heat to keep him warm, the bathroom radio to keep him company, and the bathroom fan to provide enough white noise to block out any other noises that may spook or excite or provoke him to act out.
Because, let’s face it: I can’t move my walls or my carpet, and he has proven that, in a pinch, both of those serve as entertaining chew toys and tasty foodstuffs.
Things have been going well since this latest adjustment. Before I go to work in the morning, we do our final morning “potty walk,” and when we come inside, he shoots upstairs and waits for his cookie—the cookie I give him to assuage my guilt over leaving and to prove, once again, that I insist on projecting my feelings onto him. I doubt he is thinking “If you loved me, you wouldn’t abandon me like this.” My guess is, his brain is on this channel: “cookie time”.
While he’s munching away, I say “Going to work,” and off I go, doing my best to strike a balance between not lingering but not sneaking out, either. I want him to trust me, to trust that when I say “Going to work” I will always come back, but I also don’t want to prolong the leaving process because I feel like that makes it harder for him. Which probably means it really only makes it harder for me.
When I walk in the door after work, our evening reunions are as predictable as are our morning routines. He is standing on his little hind legs at the top of the stairs, his front paws up on the gate I use to keep him up there, whining and barking to let me know he sees me, and to make sure I see (and hear) him.
As soon as I yell “Hi!” he drops his front paws and does his usual spin-around-whine-and-bark-and-tail-wag-and-jump-and-repeat maneuver until I can get my shoes off and make my way up to him. And by the time I lift the latch on his gate, he becomes a rodeo bull shooting out of its pen, bucking and spinning and burying his head into the floor, my legs, his blankets, anything he can use to spend some of his energy and express some of his excitement. I’m pretty sure this is the best moment of every day, and I often feel bad for people who don’t come home to this kind of reception.
The thing is, last night, for the first time in the two and a half years since I’ve had Beckett, I didn’t come home to this kind of reception; when I opened my front door, there was no sound. No whining. No barking. Nothing. So I yelled. “Beckett!”
So I yelled louder as I threw my bags down on the floor and bounded up my stairs two at a time, already starting to cry. He was not at his gate. My house was the deadliest kind of silent. I was terrified to turn the corner and look into his bed. I was pretty sure I couldn’t handle whatever was waiting for me.
It’s amazing how many things go through your mind in the time it takes to climb thirteen stairs really, really fast. He ate more carpet and choked on a staple, I thought. Or the staple punctured something internally and he bled to death. He had a heart attack or died of liver failure because of all the medications I had him on when he was a sickly puppy.
“I can’t do this,” I mumbled.
But I did it anyway. I turned the corner, and all I saw was…an empty bed. An empty crate. No Beckett. I searched my relatively small bathroom—the only other room he could have been in. He wasn’t in the tub. Or the closet. Or behind the toilet.
“Shit! Break in! Somebody broke in…” was all I could say as I continued to yell Beckett’s name, fully expecting (apparently) that he would drop from some nonexistent place in the ceiling, or perhaps rise up out of one of the many holes under my previously smooth carpet. Of course, none of that happened.
Instead, as I made my way back toward the staircase so I could run back down and grab my phone, I threw open the door to my writing room, more to give myself more space than anything. I was feeling the very confinement that I often worried Beckett would feel up there, and I simply wanted more light, more air. More space.
As I opened the door, I got more than I expected. Cause there, on the other side, was my little boy. I have no idea how he got in there—I always triple check my upstairs doors, and not only had he somehow made his way into the room, he must have pushed against the door hard enough to close it all the way. Yet there he was, looking at me as if to say: “Why all the drama?”
He hadn’t barked, whined, jumped, nothing to let me know where he was. And, most unbelievable of all, he hadn’t eaten a single thing. I’m pretty sure he was stunned to be in there at all, and knew, at least on some level (though maybe I’m projecting again) that getting in there was one thing, but destroying stuff would be so incredibly bad that there wouldn’t be a Time Out long enough to compensate.
So he had simply hung out in there, it seems. I have no idea for how long, and I am still dying to know how he got in—perhaps I hadn’t latched the door before I left, and perhaps his little Schnoodle body is heavy enough to latch the door tightly from the other side. Whatever the case, he remains a mystery to me. And, very thankfully, he remains. He is his healthy, spunky, crazy little self, and I’m pretty sure he knows that he earned some extra play time and cuddle time just by being alive last night. Truth be told, he could have eaten every single thing in that writing room, and he still would have had a king’s dinner and the world’s longest walk last night.
I know that someday, hopefully many, many years from now, I will no longer come home to that little black face and those big brown eyes and that sweet tiny body doing its “Yay! You’re home and I love you!” dance of unconditional love. And though I will never be ready for that—sometimes even convince myself that I won’t be able to handle it—yesterday gave me a taste of life without Beckett (mainly because my thoughts and fears took me there as I imagined worst case scenarios).
But yesterday also reminded me to really cherish even the smallest moments—the licks and the ball tosses, the vet visits and the groomings, the trips to the pet store for cookies and the walks on our favorite trails, our nightly couch time when all that exists are the two of us sharing a blanket at the end of a long day. Because in the end, the moments are all we have. If we’re lucky, they are the kind of moments that give our lives the kind of value we never could have imagined or planned for, and that we can’t imagine ever having lived without.
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Assistant Editor: Judith Andersson / Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Author’s own