Learning to sleep dogless, after 25-ish years
Heidi died on May 2nd. It’s been a little more than a month. I miss my dog in the way dog lovers understand the most. She was a Velcro dog, a loudmouth, a cuddler and a butter thief. Life without her has not been the same. Ruby gives me long stares from the chair where she lays in the morning. Heidi used to lay there. Lillian took up the cause of foot-warming under the table. Frankie has been trying in her super-adorable-stare-you-in-the-face-Frankie-way to convince me that it is her turn to sleep on the bed. Frankie was there when Heidi died. I try not to anthropomorphize my dogs, but she knew what was happening. Frankie also knows she was the first dog I reached for afterward, to feel a beating heart.
Heidi kind-of snuck her way onto my bed. I’d vowed Anna Mae would be my last canine bed buddy. Despite the rest of the dog show world being stuck on the idea I’m 17, I’m most definitely not 17. Sleep comes at more of a premium the older you get. All you Baby-Boomers who are groaning about how I’m still a “kid”, quiet yourselves. 40-something is not 20-something and you should be the first to say you-betcha. I work full time, have dogs full time, have a boyfriend, friends, family and general kerfluffery going on in my life. This requires sleep to maintain good humor and energy. I can’t get by on 4 hours sleep like I could 20 years ago.
Anna Mae was small and kept to her side of the bed. We agreed to let Heidi sleep with us when she wrapped herself around a tree in the backyard. It was Memorial Day weekend, 2007, and I had to take Heidi to the emergency vet. I told the vet the dog had broken ribs. He thought it wasn’t possible.
I was right. Heidi was in a lot of pain and I lifted her onto the bed for six weeks while those ribs healed. I’ve had a rib injury. It hurts. The problem was after her ribs healed, Heidi refused to go back to sleeping with the rest of the dogs at night. Now I had two dogs on the bed, for a little while.
In 2010, Anna Mae passed away in bed next to Heidi and I. I’ll never forget how upset Heidi was when she figured out what was going on. In an effort to help ease Heidi’s bed time anxiety, Hazel gladly took Anna’s place on the bed. Life took a few other turns against a good night of rest. Homer had to go out in the middle of the night for the last 18 months if his life, puppies whelped in the middle of the night and other puppies had to be house trained. Thankfully I’m not an insomniac, but all that waking up takes a toll.
Hazel took a downturn in February of 2013 and had a peaceful departure at the veterinarian. Heidi was then on the bed by herself, kicking me in the back, cuddling up to my butt and flomping, groaning and farting her way through the night. I told her she’d break the mold. She was going to be the last one on the bed. I try not to meet death with unhealthy apprehension, because we deal with it more than normal pet owners do. A dogs’ mantra is live for today, and I attempt to do that, for their sake. I know I’ll outlive most, if not all of my dogs. The end is always there, acknowledging it is freeing in a sense. It also makes the act of saying good-bye more thoughtful and reflective (please note, this doesn’t translate into easier…).
I have stuck to this dogless-bed model in the last month. I now sleep without interruption, in the center of my bed. It’s colder now though, so I had to put another blanket at the foot. I’ve also learned that I need to rotate the mattress a little more. I haven’t slept on the left side of the bed, like, ever, so I wouldn’t have known. After nearly two years of getting up at 2:30 a.m., almost on the dot, for all kinds of dog-related business, I now sleep through the night until 5:30 a.m., or whenever Lillian decides it’s time to get up. The dogs get to come up on the bed in the morning and keep me company while I’m dozing for a little while. This is nice cuddle and visit time.
I can imagine this is what it might be like to have kids who start sleeping through the night. I’ve heard moms compare their notes, and gasp with delight when their tike slept 6 whole hours without waking up! I can only one-up them in a few ways, namely, my “kids” can get a bath with the garden hose and I don’t have to pay for braces or a college education.
People have their own way of doing things regarding canine sleeping arrangements. From an obedience perspective, allowing your dog to sleep with you affirms them as a member of the pack. For some dogs, though, it makes them feel like equals with their human master. I warn my puppy people that sleeping with your new puppy sets them up for this expectation for the rest of their life. 20 lbs of new puppy is a lot different than 70 lbs of adult dog. It also blurs the lines between dog and master. Some dogs’ temperaments aren’t prone to feeling entitled, others are. I can’t judge one way or another, but if you’re losing sleep, having marital problems, your dog is having behavioral problems, or are relegated to the left 15% of the bed, you might want to reconsider the situation.
Meanwhile, sweet dreams!