A little less than four years ago, around the same time our youngest child was toilet-trained and sleeping (mostly) through the night, my husband and I took a bold step and decided to add to our family. Almost everyone told us we were crazy to do it, but we were determined. There was something missing from our lives—we just knew it.
So we got a dog.
Not just any dog, either. We adopted a Polish Lowland Sheepdog, a rare breed that is known for its intelligence, loyalty, vigilance, and extreme distrust of strangers. In Ellie’s case, that distrust soon manifested itself as the habit of perching herself on the sill of our living room’s bay window, the perfect vantage point from which to observe suspicious activity in the neighborhood.
The difficulty is that, in Ellie’s eyes, suspicious behavior includes the following activities:
- pushing a stroller
- riding a bike
- looking at our house (even in passing)
- wearing a hat
- wearing sunglasses
- carrying a parcel
- walking another dog (double points)
In short, Ellie barks at anyone who walks past our house. Those who are so bold as to approach our house—the letter carrier, door-to-door salespeople, the meter reader—are treated to a round of frenzied barking with the dial turned to 11.
We’ve tried everything to deter her. We’ve moved the furniture. We’ve blocked the window. We’ve misted her with water from a spray bottle. We’ve tried a no-bark collar that she didn’t even notice. We’ve tried walking her more. We’ve tried walking her less.
It was only when I set up a home office (upstairs at the back of our house, and well away from any distractions) that things got better. Ellie insists on being in the same room as me, day and night, and when I’m in my office the only intruders she can see are squirrels. Although she detests squirrels and will happily chase them up a tree if they wander into her back yard, she doesn’t perceive them as a threat. No threat means no barking.
So how do I prevent her from barking all day? Simply by sitting at my desk and writing. As soon as the kids are off to school, Ellie and I head upstairs and get settled in at our desk and basket respectively. She looks out the window. I write. And when it’s time for a break, she gets up, sets her chin on my knee, and stares at me relentlessly until I close my laptop.
Sometimes I only have time to take her for a short walk around the block; sometimes we go on long, aimless rambles that let me think and stretch and rub the cobwebs from my brain. Then we head home and get back to work.
In the interests of fairness, I should add that we also have a cat. Sam is a wonderful animal—possibly the nicest cat I’ve ever known. He’s friendly and affectionate and apart from leaving fluffy tumbleweeds everywhere (he has very long fur), he never gives us any trouble. But Sam is absolutely useless when it comes to helping me with my work.
I know this from bitter experience. A few times each winter, I succumb to some random bug my kids bring home from school. I try to write every day, so if I’m feeling really sick I start the day by saying to myself, “I’ll bring my computer to bed with me. That and a cup of tea and a heating pad and I’ll be set.”
This, of course, is Sam’s signal to join me on the bed. “You don’t need a heating pad when you have me,” he seems to be saying. “I’ll cuddle up close and soon you’ll feel much better.”
Can you see where this is going? Before long I’ve set aside my laptop, the cat is draped across my legs, three or four hours have gone by, and the dog is sitting next to the bed, whining softly, desperate for her walk.
Sam, naturally, is unrepentant. “Hold on—you mean you weren’t planning on taking a nap? Isn’t that how everyone spends their morning?” All I can do is drag myself out of bed, take Ellie on her walk—and then, when we’re back home, sit down at my desk and get back to work.
For better or for worse, dogs never take a day off. They’re always excited about the new day—about the things they’ll see and the places they’ll go. And that excitement is contagious, even if I never go any farther than my desk. With Ellie, I have the best writing partner around.
Column by Jennifer Robson, who first learned about the Great War from
her father, acclaimed historian Stuart Robson, and later served as an official
guide at the Canadian National War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France. A former
editor, she holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from the
University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and
young children. SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE (William Morrorw, Dec. 31,
2013) is her first novel — find it on Amazon or Indie Bound. Connect
with Jennifer on Twitter.
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