My Dirty Little Secret

Okay … Confession time.

I do not enjoy walking my dogs. There. I said it. I have admitted this rather nasty truth both to myself and, now, out loud. It’s not pretty. It has long been my private shame, and I feel pretty guilty about it.

It’s not so much that there is shame in doing things one does not enjoy. I would guess that about 90% of the things I do on a daily basis are things I dislike. Laundry, for example. Or cleaning bathrooms. Or grocery shopping. Or cooking dinner. Or cleaning and dusting. I’m a stay-at-home mom. It is an occupation for which I am, apparently, not well-suited. So most of my days are a veritable litany of stuff I don’t like to do … or stuff that doesn’t make me feel fulfilled or good about myself. I still do those things. I’m not sure I do them particularly well, but I try. It’s my job. But, for me, being the at-home parent is just that: a job. And one that doesn’t pay particularly well, at that.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining here. This is not meant as a whine or as a bid for pity. I am not trying to shout out about all the things I do on a daily basis and this is how incredible I am and yadda, yadda, yadda. No. I am simply putting this out there as a background fact: I am a person currently in a job for which they are not qualified and which is, mostly, not that much fun. The one bright spot is that I get to spend oodles of time with my daughter. This was, of course, a lot more fun before she hit her teenage years. But … Eh. I still love her, even if she is surly and does the eye-rolling thing — A LOT. I am convinced that, one day, she will wake up and be a mostly kind, mostly sweet human being again. In the meantime, we play Pokemon Go and Dragonvale together. We will always have that. I think.

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The thing is this: I never thought “walking the dogs” would fall into the litany of things I don’t enjoy doing. The realization that I don’t enjoy this came out of the blue and hit me as quite a shock. I love my dogs. Anyone who knows me knows I love my dogs. Sometimes, I love my dogs more than I love my husband and daughter. The dogs are always happy to see me. They seldom complain. They don’t try to second-guess everything I do. They don’t turn every decision into an inquisition. They think I’m awesome as long as I manage to get their food mostly in their dishes somewhere within the general umbrella of mealtime. Most days, I can manage this so well that I am hitting rock star status. It’s a giddy high.

The dogs are with me all day, every day. My English Springer Spaniel, in particular, is a velcro dog. If I am in my office, trying to write (and mostly failing), he is right there, curled up in his bed or laying on my feet. If I am in the kitchen, he is right there, staring up longingly at the counters. If I am at the table, he is right there, under my chair. If I go to the bathroom and forget to close the door all the way … Well, you get the idea. My rescue girl, although not quite as clingy, is also affectionate and cuddly in her own way. She likes to visit me and check in several times a day. And she loves hugs and gentle pets on her tummy. I love this about both of them. I love knowing they are right there, at my heels and sticking their little noses into everything I’m doing. I also love knowing they are always available for a cuddle or a quick game of fetch-up-the-stairs. Basically, they are lovable, fantastic, great dogs.

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Until we head out to walk. And then, they turn into doggy jerks. Can dogs be jerks? I’m not sure. But, if they can, then my dogs are. Because I have two of them and because my rescue girl doesn’t like to walk on her own, I have a leash splitter so that I can walk them together. I used to have a separate leash for each of them, but it was too much trying to juggle two leashes and bags and picking up poop. Because it’s inevitable: Poop Happens.

For a while, I walked them separately. I would walk three or four miles with my Springer and come home to switch dogs so that my rescue girl could have her turn. She has a lot of anxiety issues, though, and she would end up unhappy after only about a block or two. Three blocks, if I was lucky and she was having a really great day. It felt so uneven, with one dog getting a forty to fifty-minute walk and the other one getting barely ten minutes. And so, I thought the leash splitter was the answer to all my problems. In some ways, it is. I am still trying to get back to my previous activity level after the car accident I was in way back in June. I’m still having back and hip problems from it, which annoys me to no end. I’m ready to be done with all of that and back to my previous activity level.

At any rate, I now walk both dogs about thirty or forty minutes. It’s much better for my rescue girl, because she actually gets a decent walk. She has no choice, because my springer boy is one of those dogs who must move forward at all costs. He would walk and walk and walk until he, literally, dropped to the ground from exhaustion. He has a huge personality packed into his little, furry body, and he doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. Clearly, I am not very good at training my dogs (something my mother continually mentions while she is visiting my house), because he also doesn’t know the meaning of the word NO. Well, that’s not totally true. He understands NO sometimes. But not when he’s walking. And pulling. And walking. And pulling some more. I had to buy a very sturdy harness for him because he kept choking himself. I was afraid he would damage his throat. He also loves to bark at the people we see on our daily walks. Old people … young people … people on bicycles … people wearing hats (he hates hats with pom-poms on top) … people on motor scooters … little kids … It doesn’t matter. He barks at them. With prejudice.

My rescue girl is sweet and timid and dainty. It doesn’t matter how many times we walk the same exact route, she always has this reaction of doom and gloom. She always thinks she is now the farthest she has ever been from home and that she will never, ever, EVER get to go home again. EVER. And when this realization hits home for her … Well, she Can’t Even. Whenever my springer pauses his forward motion to sniff at stuff or look at stuff or pee on stuff, my rescue girl takes the opportunity to spin around and try to head back home. Forcefully. It becomes a ridiculous, delicate dance between forward motion and backward longing. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere, but I’ve yet to find it. My rescue girl never pulls at the leash as we are walking away from home. She pulls on the way back, which means that I now have about 100 pounds of dog pulling me along at a brisk pace. Negotiating traffic with 100 pounds of unruly dog trying to tug you in two directions at once can really make you question your life decisions.

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Sometimes, I see other people out walking their dogs, too. They always seem to be happy, smiling or texting or talking on their phones. They are having a good time, out in the fresh air with their dogs. They have a sort of smugly content aura about them. Their dogs meander gently along at their sides, sometimes stopping to sniff at a blade of grass or to look at a blowing leaf. But never pulling them along or barking at fellow pedestrians or acting like they will eat the next small child that wanders across their path. (My dogs don’t eat small children, by the way. This is hyperbole. Or a metaphor. Or … something.)

The thing is, I’m so jealous of those other dog-walking people. They all seem to have their proverbial shit together. I mean, maybe their lives are one big mess. But, from the dog walking perspective, they have it going on. I look at them, calmly walking along with their perfectly reasonable dogs, and it makes me realize how completely and utterly ridiculous I must seem: a pudgy, middle-aged woman who is sweating buckets even on the coldest day and is red in the face … my hair flying all over the place … speed-walking behind two dogs who want to go in different directions … all the while cursing under my breath and regretting my life choices. And I think to myself, “Self, clearly, we are doing something wrong.” Clearly.

The Downhill Week

Monday brought a whole host of little annoyances into my life. Too much traffic, a crummy sense of direction, running horribly late for an appointment. A bout of clumsiness that led to several dropped objects throughout the day. Oh, and a clogged toilet. Still, I made it through the day with my sanity mostly intact. It’s just one day, I told myself. Tomorrow will be better.

Tuesday brought dog barf on the floor first thing in the morning. Most of a day wasted waiting around for a repair man. A still-clogged toilet, in spite of my best efforts to make it otherwise. And a needless trip across town to a flute lesson that had, unbeknownst to me, been cancelled that afternoon. I’ve had better days, I told myself. Even so, it’s just one more day. Granted, I felt like I was on a bit of a losing streak for the week. But I reminded myself that it was a very small losing streak. Surely … surely Wednesday would be better. If nothing else, we would be halfway through the week. That’s a good thing, right?

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I had high hopes for Wednesday. Hump day. Halfway through the week. If nothing else, I figured I would be on the downhill slide and one day closer to putting this hellish week behind me. I woke up that morning feeling rather positive. My husband managed to unclog the toilet Tuesday evening after he came home from work. I had big plans to scrub that downstairs bathroom from top to bottom. It felt good, just knowing that room would be nice and clean after all the toilet drama.

All of this positivity lasted until around noon, when I discovered we had no water. No. Water. None. Zippo. Zilch. Not even a little, itty-bitty trickle out of the faucets. Of course, I had started both the dishwasher and the washing machine. We had water when I started them. About five minutes later — just enough time for both appliances to get into their first cycles — the water was gone.  Okay, I thought. So Wednesday isn’t going to be my day, either. There’s nothing for it but to put my head down and just get through it. Because, Thursday was just around the bend. Surely, my  little losing streak would end by then.

Today was Thursday. Against my better judgment, I got out of bed and ready for the day. I went to a favorite place for breakfast and browsed in a few stores. I went to Sally’s Beauty Supply and used my coupon. It was nice. I hazard to say I was in a pretty good mood when I pointed my car toward home.

As soon as I arrived home, both of my dogs greeted me at the front door. They were all toothy smiles and wagging tails. This isn’t unusual. They always greet me at the door, and they are always happy to see me. Today, they had something special to show me. They both ran to a spot in the living room, halfway between the recliner and Fae’s crate. And there, I found a half-full jar of peanut butter. This had been a completely full jar of peanut butter just this morning. The label was chewed off. The lid was gone. Obviously, at least one of my dogs (Boy Dog, I suspect) had a really great time while I was away from home today.

I think he regrets his choices. I know it must have seemed like a great idea at the time, but half a jar of peanut butter has a way of coming back to haunt a pup, no matter how cute and fuzzy he might be. Two Gas-X, one Pepcid, and four rounds of barf later, he seems to be feeling quite a bit better. And the vet said I didn’t even need to bring him in. This is good. It’s all good.

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As for me … Tomorrow is Friday. I think I’m just going to stay in bed, hidden safely away under my covers.

Happy Dog

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Wet shoes and
Wrinkled toes …
Crazy hair and
Soggy clothes …
Drippy face and
Runny nose …

Nose to the ground and
Tail in the air …
Exploring here and
There and everywhere …
Through rainy days and
Weather fair …

I will come and
Stay a while …
Follow you and
Not count the miles …
Just be with you and
See you smile.

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I Am Not a Slug-Beast

I intended to write my post last night, so that it would be ready to go first thing this morning. I’ve been trying hard to stick with my newly self-imposed schedule of posting on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. And I particularly wanted to stick to the schedule this week because last week was a bit of a “fail” on my part. Anyhow, I love it when I can get my posts written up a day or so ahead of time so that I can get them up on my blog first thing in the morning. It makes me feel really accomplished for the whole day, even though it’s such a little thing. But hey, bricks are little things, right? And they can build huge buildings if you stack them all together.

But … I thought and thought and thought yesterday … and then, thought some more … and could not come up with anything I wanted to write about for my blog post today. I know — unbelievable! On any given day, there are gazillions of ideas floating around in my brain. Okay, so maybe not “gazillions”, but, you know, at least three or four at a time. Maybe five, if I’m feeling particularly productive or lucky. However, on the day I actually want to sit down and take time to write my post … Yeah. Nothing. Big, fat GOOSE EGG of ideas. Ugh. My brain is so annoying. I swear, if I didn’t need her for stuff like breathing and keeping my heart beating, I would break up with her. She’s a diva and a half.

Anyhow, I thought about it again today and still had nothing. So I am going to write about my exercise struggles. I know, I know: BORING! But it’s all I’ve got. I guess you can direct your complaints to my brain, although I can tell you right now that she will just ignore them.

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I’ve been quite the slug-beast lately with my exercise routine. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been struggling to get in just three days a week of working out. Also, I think I walked my dogs maybe three times in the last two weeks. (Bad dog owner! Bad!) So, I told myself this past weekend that I needed to make some changes. I needed to kick myself in the butt and get moving once again. And, by “moving”, I mean consistently doing some form of exercise for around an hour to hour and a half at least five times a week. Before the post-holiday doldrums, I had been pretty consistent with working out six days a week. I had been hoarding my steps and counting them at the end of every day like a rich man counts his money bags. I felt so good about this, too. I felt accomplished and healthier and just overall great about myself.

What can I say? When I fall off the wagon, I fall HARD.

But I told myself there were no more excuses. I told myself over the weekend that it was one last weekend of “fun” and not working out, and then we were going to hit the week on a more positive note and make some great changes. I felt pretty terrific about this. (What can I say? It was a really good mental pep talk.) I just knew I was going to hit the ground running once Monday morning rolled around and my family was back to our normal school day schedule. Heart, body, and brain, I was all in on this plan. It was going to be GREAT!!!

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Yeah. It totally didn’t happen. I think my brain conveniently forgot that she had also signed up for the new and improved “let’s not be a slug-beast” program. Monday morning rolled around, bright and early. The alarm clock went off, like it always does. And my brain said, “Meh. I didn’t sleep well last night. Let’s stay in bed.” And so we did. Not super late, but until around 9 AM, at which point I had to get moving on all the errands I had to do before my kiddo got out of school. My brain pretended to be all upset and sad about the fact that, suddenly, there was no time left for exercise. Honestly, it wasn’t very convincing. Looking back on it now, I can definitely feel the smug condescension that was happening at the time.

Tuesday happened. And my brain said she had a sinus headache. Well, this was true. There’s been a lot of thunderstorm activity lately, and that stuff is hell on the sinuses. And so, my brain and I, once again, stayed in bed until the ripe hour of 9AM. We swore (swore!!) we were going to exercise in the evening. We had it all planned out that we would spend at least 40 minutes running on the Precor. Did this happen? Of course not. Because my brain started watching Miami Vice. And she didn’t want to stop until it was time to go to bed. My brain can be pesky like that.

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Today is Wednesday — WEDNESDAY!!. I went to bed last night with the sinking realization that we were quickly approaching “hump day”, and we had not exercised at all. I already felt like a failure for the week. My brain didn’t seem to care much. She hummed along as usual, blissfully in denial over how we had failed to conquer this week and vault out of our sluggish habits.

But today, I wasn’t taking any crap from my brain. I let her sleep in until 8 AM, and then made her get up, even though she was terribly unhappy about it. I let her surf a forum and watch a nail video on YouTube. After that, she was all, “Oh, I’m hungry. It’s time for breakfast.” But did I give in to this? NO!!

I told my brain that it was put up or shut up time. If we didn’t go for our walk today, we were basically never getting out of our rut. My brain is actually fine with this, but I am not. And so, we headed out for our walk. A bit later than I would have liked … and we weren’t happy about it … but we made it out the door.

Truthfully, it was a pretty terrible walk. I was in a pissy mood pretty much the whole way. Plus, I was starving by the time we got back to my house. Neither my brain nor I had any fun, in spite of the weather being a bit chilly and wet, which is my favorite. By the time we got home, my brain and I had decided we would have to co-exist silently. She’s still not speaking to me. But, underneath it all, I think she feels pretty darn accomplished. I know I do. I haven’t yet told her we have to do the whole thing all over again tomorrow. I’m a bit afraid of what she might do, so I’ll wait until morning to break it to her.

Oh, and the dogs had a good time, too. Really, isn’t that all that matters? Happy dogs … happy life. Or something like that.

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My Dog Fae

My dog Fae is a gentle and timid soul. She tends to view the world with an anxious and worried demeanor. I think she’s expecting the proverbial “other shoe” to drop out of the heavens and onto her head. Or, perhaps, she’s waiting for the universe to come after her. She is afraid of pretty much everything: strangers, my cat, the dark, rain, butterflies, her own farts … Well, you get the general idea.

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Fae’s rather squirrelly outlook on life makes taking a walk a challenging adventure, even at the best of times. It always starts out quite well. At the first mention of a walk, Fae dances around in excitement. She wags her tail and uses little howls of delight to tell me all about the good things in life as I strap her into her harness and leash. She bounds out of the front door, tail held high and a huge smile on her doggie face. A walk! A walk! What could be better than that?!? Nothing, that’s what!

We always have to walk the same route. Even the slightest deviation causes Fae to whine anxiously under her breath and constantly whirl around to look behind us — just in case someone is following her. She is not a dog who wants to discover and sniff new things. Even so, she seems to have a good time, in her own way. Until we reach a certain spot, about ten minutes away from our house. Once we cross into that invisible no-man’s land, Fae sits down on the sidewalk and refuses to budge. She eyes me with nervous, side-long glances, as if to say, “This is the farthest I’ve ever been from home. I’m scared of what the next step might bring. What if the sidewalk ends and I fall off the edge of the world?”

We stop for a moment or two. Sometimes, Fae and I look at each other. Sometimes, Fae studies the grass and the cracks in the sidewalk next to her front paws. And then, I tell her, “It’s okay, Fae. Let’s just take one more step.” It’s enough to get past her invisible barrier, and we finish our walk. Perhaps not as cheerfully as we started out, but we hang in there until the end. And that’s what counts.

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I think I’m a bit like Fae. There are times in my life when I think to myself, “Self, this is the farthest I’ve ever come. And I don’t know what to do now.” There are things I don’t think I can handle. There are things that scare me. There are times when it feels so much easier to sit down on the sidewalk and quit.

But maybe I can learn a lesson from my gentle, strange, and brave dog. I should take a deep breath and take a step forward — just one more step. Because, if I can hang in there until the end, I will have done my best. And that’s what counts.

Dogs and Face Time

I always wanted a genius dog. You know, a dog like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin. Or maybe even Petey, from the Little Rascals. A dog that was easy to train, eager to please, and smarter than most people. After all, Lassie was the only one who ever knew where Little Timmy was and what he was doing.

As I grew up and wised up and stopped believing in fairy tales, I came to realize that dogs like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin only exist in the movies and television shows. And even then, it takes more than one dog to play them, as if just one critter could never possibly encompass all the amazingness expected of these larger-than-life characters.

And so, I was more than happy to content myself with the real-life canine companions of my youth and adulthood. They might not be geniuses, but they were warm and snuggly. They welcomed me home at the end of the day with an open, easy grin and a wagging tail. And that counts for quite nearly everything in life.

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My current fuzz balls are sweet and lovely. They are snuggly, funny, and goofy. They make me laugh each and every day. They meet me at the door, always thrilled to see me — even if I’ve only been gone for a few minutes.

This summer, my daughter and I went to Texas to visit my parents. My husband stayed  home with the dogs. Every day, he called me and then, at the end of the call, he let me Face Time with the pups. I don’t think it will come as any great surprise when I tell you this: Dogs don’t “get” Face Time. Oh, they loved hearing my voice. And they both looked at the phone and then licked it. And, immediately after, ran to the door, waiting with their tails wagging gently to see if I was going to come in from wherever-it-is that I happened to be. That’s what doors are for, after all. They are for coming in. I can’t assail this logic. Normally, it would be fool proof.

Geniuses? No, probably not. Just bright, happy, waggly pups. If I need a pick-me-up cuddle on the sofa, they are there for me, no problem. If I fall into a well … I’m probably on my own. They might peer over the edge at me in concern. They might even toss a ball or a favorite toy down on my head. I think they would even go so far as to hang around a bit, waiting on me to figure out how to climb my way out of the problem into which I had fallen. But, eventually, there would be a squirrel. Or a bird. Or a cat. It doesn’t mean they don’t love me. It just means that only so many things can fit into a dog’s head at one time.

And that’s OK by me. They make my life better in a hundred dozen little ways each and every day.  After all, it’s not all that likely I’ll ever fall down a well. Now, if I could teach them to vacuum … that really would be something.

A Wednesday Confession: Dog Magic

I think my Springer Spaniel’s crate is magical. He is a dog of many obsessions and extra-long hair, and, as such, he tends to get muddy. Especially when it rains, and my yard becomes a giant mud pit. Wet, squishy mud on a long-haired dog is not fun. It gets everywhere, particularly when said dog comes inside and immediately shakes to rid himself of whatever icky stuff might be clinging to his fur.

Today, my yard is muddy and gross. And I made the mistake of leaving my dogs outside for just a little too long. “Too long” isn’t a certain thing. It varies from moment to moment. Let’s just say that, in my house, I perpetually live on the verge of “too long”, and leave it at that. Anyhow, since my fuzz-brains were unsupervised for longer than two minutes, they decided to enjoy the chilly air by running around and yapping their joy into the sky.

Did I mention my yard is a mud pit?

Yeah … Both dogs came inside liberally coated with mud. I managed to clean it off of Fae, who has shorter hair, but also seems to believe I am, somehow, going to murder her with the towel. This was not pretty. Or fun. Then, I turned my attention to Shiner. I was dismayed to find the mud wasn’t coming out of the long hair on his legs, so I shut him into his crate to keep him off of the furniture while I went in search of a solution.

I came back about fifteen minutes later, dog wipes in hand and my heart hardened for battle. But when I opened the crate, out pranced a happy, smiley, dog without a bit of mud on him.

a smiley, happy springer named Shiner. Love him!!

And so, there is only one explanation: Shiner’s crate is magical. There is some sort of magical vortex lurking within its dark depths. It is a place where the fabric of reality has worn thin, and unexpected things can happen. The types of unexpected things that tend to brighten a girl’s day — like finding a mysteriously clean dog in the place of a formerly ratty one. I have begun to wonder if the magic of the crate would work for other problems in my life. For example, what if I managed to crawl inside? Would I stuff myself in there — an overly chubby woman in the throes of her middle adulthood — and emerge a slimmer, younger version of myself? The thought has a certain golden-tinged appeal, and I almost want to give it a try.

But then, I picture myself stuck inside a dog crate … trying to explain to my husband just how this all happened. Yep — I think the magic just died.

Going to the Dogs

This Christmas (and every other day of the year!), it seems my house is “going to the dogs”, as folks are fond of saying. I think this expression is supposed to indicate something bad, like, perhaps, one’s house is run-down or not very clean or not orderly or not calm and quiet.

Hmmm … Now that I think about it, my house is most of those things. I don’t believe it falls into the category of “run-down”, but it’s definitely chaotic, noisy, and more than a little bit messy. I believe I have confessed, many times before, that I am not the world’s best housekeeper. This continues to be true, although I have not lost hope that there is a neat-freak type of person hiding somewhere deep down inside my soul. At the most unexpected moment, she might pop up and take control. It hasn’t happened yet, but, hey — nothing’s impossible.

Fae, in front of the Christmas Tree. Dec, 2013Still, I never could think of the phrase “going to the dogs” as a bad thing. I’m a dog person at heart. So, each time I heard this phrase (usually accompanied with a disapproving shake of the head and spoken in the same half-whispered tone reserved for the most horrendously shocking family secrets) as a child, I couldn’t figure out what the terrible, big deal was. My mind conjured up images of open fields where dogs frolicked and played. Or big houses with wrap-around porches, where they lazed in the shade of the small table that held a glass of lemonade or iced tea. Or, maybe, twisting and turning forest paths where dogs ran and ran and ran, chasing their own shadows and having the best kind of fun. It just never seemed like a bad thing. To me, any place that was full of dogs had to be a pretty darn good place in which to be.

I still feel that way, even as an adult. If I had my way, we would have a big, old pack of dogs. Dozens and dozens of them. Of course, our house isn’t nearly big enough to accommodate this … and I’m not an animal hoarder. Even if something feels like a great or fun idea in the abstract, I am able to recognize that the reality wouldn’t be so wonderful. Plus, my husband would divorce me. I am sure of this.

Shiner under the Christmas Tree. December 2013But, even with just two of the critters, my house has gone to the dogs. Happily so. I don’t have open fields or the big house of my dreams, complete with wrap-around porch. My dogs frolic up and down the stairs. They wrestle with each other on the landings and in front of the TV, snarling and growling and wagging their tails. They greet me with joyful barks when I return home — even if I’ve only been gone for five or ten minutes. They camp out under the table, happily snagging any bits of food that might fall within tongue’s reach and keeping my floor clean at the same time. They are noisy and rowdy and rambunctious and crazy and ever so much fun.

And you know what? I was right, even as a kid. A place full of dogs is a pretty darn good place in which to be.