Personal, Stories Told

Checking my barometer

A large barometer used to hang on the wall in my grandparents’ palatial retirement estate. Grandpa tried to explain to me how it told him when storms were coming, important when you lived in the country in a day before 24-hour TV weather channels, but it went over my young head. But after I grew up my dog helped me understand.

About ten years ago, my wife brought home a dog she found shivering in some bushes behind the Shell station around the corner. We already had two dogs and three cats, but because her heart knows no bottom for an animal in need, Gracie joined the menagerie.

One of my travel companions

Gracie showed signs of having been abused. We figured her abuser had been a man because she warmed right up to my wife but cringed if I as much as shifted in my easy chair and ran, tail tucked, when I stood up. As my wife and Sugar, our Rottweiler, helped her find her place in our home, her security increased, and she came to be considerably less skittish around me.

Gracie

I got our dogs after the divorce, and Gracie had trouble making the transition. I had to leave her home alone all day while I worked, and she took to destroying things in my house while I was gone. When I was at my wits’ end, the vet said it was separation anxiety and prescribed a doggie antidepressant, which helped. But I could see she needed a lot of structure so she could know all was well. I started taking the dogs on daily walks, made more time to play with them in the yard, and implemented solid and consistent discipline. It was, and remains, a lot of work, but Gracie responded well and became fully my dog in the process.

Gracie’s security had just returned when Sugar died. I worried that Gracie would falter without her constant companion, but soon she stopped looking around the house for Sugar and instead just seemed thrilled to have me all to herself. But six weeks later Gracie just fell apart. She started destroying things in the house again when I was gone; when I was home, she followed me everywhere, whining and crying.

At first I thought that perhaps it sunk in that Sugar wasn’t coming home, but then I connected some dots. I’m a busy dude, often busier than I like to be. Not only was I mourning Sugar after she died, but I was super busy for several weeks afterward. I had let up on Gracie’s walks, stopped playing with her in the yard, and had relaxed the discipline. A couple weeks later, my own usual stress symptoms emerged: I was tired all the time, my shoulders and neck were stiff and sore, and I was becoming irritable. I could see that I hadn’t been getting to bed on time, I hadn’t been eating well, and I hadn’t been setting aside any quiet time.

I realized that I have a barometer, and her name is Gracie. She’s a very sensitive instrument who knows that I’m off my game well before I do. If I’m taking good care of her, then I’m taking good care of me, and we’re both happy. But every time she whines and cries when I come home and becomes jumpy, I always find that both of us need more attention. As soon as I give it to us, she rebounds, and I keep stress from piling up on me.

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6 thoughts on “Checking my barometer

  1. A dog is a great friend, as Gracie shows. Your friends will tell you when you seem stressed or down in the dumps — or, alternatively, they’ll tear up your house to get your attention. :-)

    I think that the biggest thing about dogs is that they need you. Cats don’t care one way or the other. Dogs, on the other hand, need a lot of affection and give it back. That’s why I’ll always be a dog person.

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  2. Lone Primate says:

    Now that’s a sharp piece of deduction. I don’t think that would have occurred to me… or a lot of other people. I adopted a cat 8 years ago and for several months, she had this rather annoying habit of peeing on my bed in the middle of the night. Still not sure why; she’d do it and take off. It was meant to be a provocation… but why? What had her past life been like? My boss told me he’d just pack her off back to the shelter. But her coming home was my idea, not hers, so I stuck it out. She settled down. But I never got over that idea some people have that pets are disposable, like gloves that don’t fit or something, rather than beings like ourselves with complicated emotional lives that they simply cannot put into words for us. So it’s all the more amazing you were able to put your finger on it. That’s really being tuned in.

    And Scott? You’re wrong. You’re DEAD wrong. Cats are every bit as affectionate and capable of one-to-one relationships as dogs. If you are affectionate with them, they quickly come to depend on it and reflect it; all three of the cats I’ve had as an adult have been like that. They don’t express it in all the same ways as dogs, but why would they? They’re cats. We’re humans; we don’t even express our feelings the same way dogs do. Dogs are great and if my circumstances were different, I’d have one too. But I have cats, and I don’t feel short-changed. It’s just different. Cats who love you will follow you from room to room, sit close to you for hours, try to “bribe” you into not leaving the house, call to you from other rooms… It’s clearly outside your experience, but I assure you, it’s real. Please never testify against it before the world just because you haven’t been fortunate enough to have it in your life.

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  3. Spot on, LP! Our cat is everything you described. I can snap my fingers from the far end of the house & she’ll come running for a scratch on the head. She’s on the floor next to me right now, rubbing up against anything she can find and I’m sure within the next few seconds she’ll put her two front paws up on my leg for a scratch. Plus, there’s an upside of having a cat for us roadies, unlike dogs. Dogs are not self sufficient and you have to do something with them when taking a trip. In a way, it’s like having kids. Whether it’s the inconvenience of finding a motel that accepts pets or having to stop to let them do their biz, cats don’t need that kind of obligation. All you do is fill up the food bin, put out 10 gallons of water, give them a fresh litter box & tell them to watch over the house for the next week. ;-)

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  4. Pat, it certainly is easier to travel when you have cats. One reason I keep my little red station wagon is because Gracie fits just fine in the way-back when I take a road trip.

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