I’m writing right now, as I often do, under a pile of Boston terriers. I have a desk in my room but during the extreme isolation of covid when everything I did was online, I converted my bed into a “besk” where I could pile up pillows, spread out all of my stuff, and be more comfortable.
Though constant hermiting is no longer mandatory, and I teach five classes in person, my dogs remain in favor of this other arrangement. And I find myself so spoiled by a husband who brings me coffee, layers of covers so warm and cozy, and the ambience of snoring dogs so conducive to writing, that on days I am off I may never return to my desk, even if in some future scenario I happen to find it under the piles of miscellany it has accumulated.
In addition to the Boston terriers, I have a golden retriever spread out like a rug beside my besk. They growl at him if he tries to get on the bed and sometimes he lets them be the bosses; not always. When he gets enough he goes savage like in “Zootopia” when an otherwise well-behaved animal loses its mind and turns violent. We try to avoid those times.
I also have a black Lab who John Whiteside says is the only dog I have that’s worth a dime. You can find her curled on the couch at any time of day. If she sees a human she wags her tail and it thumps loudly against the cushions. Like many Labs, the only thing that awakens passion in her is food. Even this most docile, sanguine creature has been known to fight for her right to leftover sausage gravy.
One fateful day this summer I attended a sit-in with other teachers in Little Rock at the Arkansas Legislative Council meeting in which members of the Legislature voted to answer our request for raises by punishing our local school districts. They did this by snatching covid relief money already allocated and approved for covid-related projects in those districts and re-assigning it for one-time teacher bonuses.
They did this to spite school boards and administrators, local control they claim to champion but really despise, and of course to try to squelch a movement of teachers who have finally decided to keep them accountable for their actions when it comes to the degradation of public schools–actions like the one the ALC chose that particular day: using none of the $1.6-billion surplus to raise teacher pay, instead awarding it to the wealthiest Arkansans through tax cuts. In the middle of a statewide teacher shortage.
Just typing that makes my heart beat fast. So you can imagine the state I was in when I left the ALC meeting. I did my breathing thing to tamp down the bubbles of rage fizzing fast to the surface, and drove to Brummett’s. Yes, that Brummett. I am allowed to call him Brummett or even Johnny Ray because I am his favorite if only self-appointed apprentice. He is my favorite crochety columnist.
I had braved Clarksville’s Peach Picking Paradise in the rain the day before to obtain some of his and my favorite white peaches and a few other varieties for his saintly wife Shalah. I thought they weren’t home so I left the peaches on the porch and scrambled halfway to my car before I heard him bellowing, “Hey! Come back here!”
I sat down in their exquisite living room and drank water Shalah gave me in a vintage glass. Their regal beagle Sophie sauntered over to lick my legs. Roscoe, the other beagle, jumped into my lap for a cuddle. Brummett was horrified, which I found hilarious. “Roscoe! Get down!” He looked at me hopelessly. “He’s going to ruin your dress!”
I did have on a nice dress but in that moment I could not have cared less if it survived Roscoe. Because in the way of all good dogs, Roscoe is a rescue dog. And he was doing his best to rescue me. As I petted him I could literally feel my heart rate slow, my shoulders relax, my spirit beginning to rest.
Brummett finally gave up fussing, and while we sat and talked about peaches and furniture and neighbors, goodness returned to the world. Hope floated back into the air. Friendship, joy, laughter, love–all that matters most–superseded the ugly of the morning. And by the time the beagles and Brummetts were through with me, I was fortified to go back out into the world. Restored.
If you are like most humans, you have moments of anxiety and sadness. If you are a person who belongs to a dog, being comforted in those times is likely a familiar experience. Even the Bible records how dogs helped people in ancient times, keeping them company and soothing their sores.
If you don’t have this kind of help on a rough day, well, bless your heart. Maybe it is time to find a rescue dog–or two–and let them rescue you.
Column originally published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette