In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.
The sun was barely up that Christmas morning, so most of the light in the living room came from the twinkling strands on the tree. I’d gotten up early to plug it in and bring a little extra magic into the house before my daughter walked down the stairs to open her gifts.
Gifts had been tucked around the base of the tree, under the bottom row of branches, for about a month. Rufus, our senior Boxer mix we’d adopted twelve years prior hadn’t so much as sniffed at them.
That morning was different, though, because he watched as my onesie-clad daughter ripped the paper off her presents, tossed it aside, and marveled at what she found.
Next, it was my husband’s turn. He unwrapped his gifts (more carefully than our daughter had). Then my turn. Then it was time for Rufus’s gift. We were thrilled to give it to him.
It was a brand new, luxurious, extra-large bed where he could lounge and rest his old, aching joints. He’d been such a wonderful boy for all these years, eager to please, loyal, protective but friendly… He deserved a nice bed upgrade.
We’d taken our time picking that bed out as a family. The colors needed to match the living room décor because that was the room it’d be in. Plaid was nice and masculine while also classy and sophisticated, and Rufus was quite the dapper gentleman. From the first week we had him, he’d trotted through the house with a Nylabone hanging from the side of his mouth like a pipe. If he’d been a human, he’d have spent most of his time in his study, surrounded by leather, books, and gleaming mahogany.
So we bought the bed that was the perfect match for the living room, his age, and his personality. We didn’t wrap it up in Christmas paper like the other gifts; we just brought it downstairs and lay it in front of him, expecting him to check it out for a few seconds and then curl up, settle in, and almost immediately start snoring.
Rufus had other plans. He was one of the family and everyone else had ripped the outside layers of their gifts away to reveal the true prizes underneath. He started to check it out the way we expected him to, but the lying on it part never happened.
All of us humans ended up distracted in one way or another — either by making breakfast or opening a toy — and within minutes, Rufus had torn the “wrapping paper” off his gift while no one was watching. Stuffing was strewn all over the carpet and puffed up from the middle of the bed. None of us were sure how it had happened so fast, but there was Rufus, looking undeniably confused and surprised, as if he just knew he’d followed the rules and done what everyone else did, but things didn’t turn out just the way they were supposed to. We all saw the “Oh, no, I messed up…” realization wash over him. He was ashamed of himself and probably more than a little sad about not having a chance to fall asleep on something so cozy.
In hindsight, it would’ve made perfect sense for us to wrap the bed in shimmering Christmas paper just like all the other gifts. Rufus was smart and a part of the family. He’d finally figured out the art of unwrapping presents on Christmas morning, and we hadn’t given him paper to tear through. Oops.
(And yes, we bought him another bed.)
— Crystal Schwanke —