While attending my senior year at Cornell University I acquired a 12 week old Dachshund puppy. For the first several weeks that I had the puppy I was house sitting for a retired couple who was off in a remote area of Canada on a bird watching trip. To protect their house and establish good housebreaking habits, I kept the puppy, Eric, in a bathroom on the second floor near the bedroom that I slept in. The puppy's pathetic whimpering and my nagging conscience prevented me from sleeping well for several nights in a row. Today's excerpt from Finding My Way to Moose River Farm is about how this tiny creature took advantage of my sleep deprived state and set a new precedence for bedtime.
On school days I had to keep him in the bathroom for the hours that I went to class. I never had to leave him longer than three or four hours at a time, but I felt terribly guilty about the total number of hours that I was leaving him in the bathroom. Finally, Eric took care of the matter himself.
Five or six nights later, while I was preparing for bed, brushing my teeth and washing my face in Eric’s bathroom, I left the door open so that he could have just a few more minutes to run up and down the hallway. I was only half aware of him as he entered and exited the bathroom repeatedly. When I eventually tuned into what Eric had been busy doing while I was preoccupied, tears welled up in my eyes.
My puppy had made several trips back and forth from the bathroom to the bedroom. With each trip he had carried and deposited one of his toys by the bed. On the final trip he had dragged his yellow blanket to the room as well. He was clearly communicating that too much of his time was spent waiting for freedom from the bathroom prison. Sadly, I carried all of his hard work back to the bathroom and assembled it for the night.
The image of his confused expression when I turned off the light and closed the door burned in my mind as I pulled the covers up to my chin and prepared for the whimpering routine to begin. As I lay there waiting for the inevitable, I wondered why I felt that my puppy had to stay in the bathroom all night. What exactly was I accomplishing by forcing him to wait in that lonely room? It was bad enough and unavoidable to leave him in there during the day. Wasn’t I throwing away valuable hours of our life together?
When the whimpering began a short time later, I did not grit my teeth and repeat my affirmations of strength until he quieted down. This time I climbed out of bed and hurried down the hall to the bathroom. Without saying a word, I opened the door and tip-toed across the cold floor. After I scooped him up in my arms I carried him down the hall to the bedroom and placed him on the bed. Then I crawled back under the sheets and settled on my side. Eric curled up behind my knees on top of the blanket. I glanced at his silhouette against the moonlight that sneaked in the window. His little head rotated like a periscope as he absorbed the view in his new location.
Just as I was about to drift off to sleep Eric raised himself up on all four feet, then slowly moved toward my head that was peeking out at the top of the blanket. With his nose he pushed his way under the sheets and turned around so that his head was just below my chin. Next, he pressed his toasty warm body up tight against my chest before lying down. My arms instinctively wrapped around him and my heart filled with love for this little being who had only viewed the world from the inside of a cage and dark bathroom.
At last it became clear to me why I had a dog. For the rest of his life he slept under the covers up close to me. The warmth that radiated from his body always gave me great comfort and a good night’s sleep.
My college roommate, Eric.