We just understood each other, that dog and I. She was the offspring of a majestic boxer father and a beautiful and glossy black Labrador mother. We called her Lady. Not very inspired, I know. The only brown pup in the litter, she looked more like her dad and her tail was cropped, bringing out more of the boxer in her. It was love at first sight.
She was my buddy. Our nightly TV position was me stretched out on the floor, feet against the bricks of the fireplace hearth, head on the pillow Grandma gave me (and which, decades later, I still have), and Lady’s back to mine, her head on the edge of the pillow. Whenever there was a commercial break and I made a mad dash for the bathroom (there were a lot fewer commercials in those days and no DVR, so you had to hurry), I would come back to find Lady’s whole body hugging the pillow, and it would take much pushing and growling (me, not her) to get her to move.
She took her pillow stealing to a new level at night. Dad would bid her goodnight at her folded up blanket of a bed at his end of the hallway. Some nights, she would creep down to me at the opposite end and ask to share my twin bed. I never said no. Other nights she waited until I’d already gone to sleep. Those are the nights I would wake up slowly thinking, “Why does my face hurt?” In the way of sleepy, slow understanding, I would gradually realize something very hard and cold was pressing painfully against my face. That would be the wall. And something just as unyielding was pushing against my back. That would be my dog who had gradually edged up against me as I slept until she had me moved all the way over so that she could take over the pillow.
We were wrestling buddies as well. If I walked into the living room in a particular gray sweatshirt, it was my signal to her, and she would jump up, assume the nose-down, rump up, ready stance, and the fight was on. It took years for those scars to fade. I actually won sometimes, but I swear it’s because she let me.
I was a lonely kid in those days. I spent a lot of time home and by myself. Once when the loneliness was coupled with a moving scene on a TV show, it all caught up with me, and I lay down on the couch, sobbing into the seat cushion. I felt movement and looked over. Lady was sitting beside me, her big brown body just…there. No licks, no pawing feet, just available.
She didn’t seem to mind the clinging hug and didn’t move until I let go.