My mother-in-law was the one who bought her the costume, but we (my husband and I) were the ones who put it on her. This happened seven years ago. Our dog, Kibbi—who hates shirts, coats, any apparel put on her—gave us a look that said, how could you. When we started laughing and couldn’t stop, she literally backed away from us, which only made us laugh harder, but we took off the costume and until this year, we never made her put it on again.
Not that we haven’t made her wear other things since then: a ThunderShirt when she is terrified, a blue winter jacket when it’s cold outside, a grey fleece jacket when it’s chilly but not freezing, Mutt Muffs when the thunderstorms are rolling in, and, one time, a pink graduation hat when she and I passed her therapy dog test together—she as the pooch, I as her handler (although lordy knows there are still times when it feels like the other way around).
We make her wear her red therapy dog scarf when we she is officially on duty. She tolerates it because she likes interacting with people and getting attention. But as she ages, she is becoming more sensitive, if you can call a dog “sensitive.” Recently I took her to a Senior Expo—a fair for senior citizens—held at a local hotel. The event space was lined with booths and absolutely packed with people milling about. Kibbi got overwhelmed immediately by the crowds and loud noise everywhere. She started shaking and never stopped, and she kept tugging her leash toward an exit every time we passed an open door. Finally, after a few laps and meet-n-greets, I took her home and let her rest. She sprawled out on her mat for the rest of the day, exhausted and recovering.
After all, this relationship is give and take, a daily juggle of her needs versus mine.
Last week, I decided to take her back to that same hotel for a seminar we were hosting (my husband and I have a funeral home) on grief related to trauma. Not only had Kibbi been alone too many hours, but I thought it might be nice for people to interact with a therapy dog, especially when discussing such a challenging subject. But would she smell the hotel and remember the expo? Would she begin to tremble again? Would she want to pull toward the exits?
The answer to all these was, to my relief, no. She trotted quite happily beside me into the hotel and stayed by my side—no tugging to escape—when I walked up and down the halls or went into the seminar room. During the snack break, in which we had offered attendees pretzels, nuts, and cookies, Kibbi stood there sweetly as people greeted her, and she sat when commanded. Then came a moment when I was deep in conversation, a moment when my attention was on the person with whom I was speaking. Kibbi, leashed of course, did not stray more than a couple of feet away. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two seminar attendees, both women, crouch down to pet Kibbi.
I should pause here and just say I love having a nearly 10-year-old dog. Dogs this age are generally mellow and relaxed, and on that particular afternoon, I was feeling grateful for Kibbi’s sweetness, patience, affability and good behavior. I didn’t think twice about not watching to see what she was doing. A minute later, my conversation ended, and I turned to the two attendees.
“How are you?” I said to them, or something like that.
“She licked my cookie,” one of them said.
“She did what?”
“I had it too close to her,” she said, explaining that the cookie was in her hand when she crouched down. “She licked it.”
I reached my hand out and said, “I’ll take that. I’m so sorry.” The woman handed me the cookie. “Please feel free to get a new one,” I said.
And no, I did not then give Kibbi the cookie she licked, nor did I punish her. In truth, I had not commanded that Kibbi leave the cookie alone, so it was my fault as much as hers. I did offer thanks to the dog spirits of the world that Kibbi hadn’t eaten the woman’s cookie.
Give and take, I remind myself every day. Her needs versus my needs, and sometimes no one’s needs, but if nothing else, almost always a good laugh.
Shuly Cawood is a writer and the author of three books, including the memoir, The Going and Goodbye, and the forthcoming short story collection, A Small Thing to Want.