Monday, November 10, 2008

Sleep, the Benefit of a Non-Guard Dog

Years ago there was a commercial that ran all the time on TV. If you watched syndicated television during summer vacation, the commercial was sure to have run at least 5 times between an episode of Happy Days and an episode of Laverne and Shirley. In the commercial, we see that an elderly man or woman has fallen to the ground. We are not made privy to how and when they fell, but in any case, they have fallen and can't get up. We know this for sure because they tell us so, "Help! I've fallen, and I can't get up!" Luckily the elder is saved when they hit a button on a device they have in their pocket or around their neck. Upon hearing their distress, a dispatcher sends help over. This device was always very interesting to my brother and me, and we often discussed if we might ask our parents to buy it for us. We considered the great benefits of having such a device and often pretended to fall to the ground to demonstrate to each other just how useful it would be to have on-call help should this really happen to us.

Some time later, I watched a TV special about life-saving pets -- pets that could call 9-1-1 when their masters have had a stroke or that could prepare a cold compress for a bumped head. Having a life-saving pet seemed even better than having a device that could call for help. After all, pets can provide much better companionship than a piece of metal and wires strategically put together. This belief sustained itself for a long time and fueled my desire to have a dog.

When I began spending more and more time with Alan's dog Bilbo, I realized that it might be harder than I thought to have/meet the sort of dog that could save one's life. Bilbo is not very good at being a guard dog as he is not very alert or ferocious. Most days, he spends his time lollygagging on the sofa or in the grass outside. Although he has a very impressive-sounding bark, he rarely shows it off, deciding that it is too much effort. His basset hound heritage is responsible for his long ears that are prone to infection and his dwarf-like limbs prone to arthritis.

This past weekend, Alan and I house sat for a friend who was busy getting married. Mostly we were there to keep Bailey, her dog, company. We were told that Bailey thinks she is a person and is very protective. We took this seriously, so when she barked at the glass door, we felt safer knowing she was scaring away any squirrels hanging around. When she barked at the front door, I made sure it was locked, in case she was trying to tell me something important. What a difference it was to be around such an attentive canine! This pleased me knowing if there was something to be worried about, our life-saving friend Bailey would let us know. I thought of Bilbo and of how he would never let us know if we were about to be ambushed, and I was even more impressed with Bailey.

The first night, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Bailey enjoyed sleeping at the foot of the bed -- a superb foot warmer, what an added benefit! The night started out well, and it wasn't until the very middle of the night, around 3 or 4 in the morning, that Bailey started to flip out, leaping off the bed, barking and growling, as if the entire house were surrounded by men dressed in black with ski masks pulled over their faces. This happened each night and each night we awoke with a start, scared out of our wits that Bailey knew something we didn't. When we checked, no tanks, missiles or scary robbers were to be found around the house.

In the dark, as I tried hopelessly to will myself back to sleep, I wished Bailey and I could communicate. I would tell her that I owe Bilbo an apology for misjudging the beauty in his silence and his unheroic ways, and that I've changed my mind. I'd rather have a dog like Bilbo, or no dog at all, that would let me go peacefully in my sleep than one that warned me about it beforehand.

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