Around 3 a.m. this past Sunday morning, I was awakened from a sound sleep by a furry face burrowing into my neck, accompanied by the unmistakable smell of dog breath. As I struggled to open both my eyes, I saw our family canine, Zach, wagging his tail while yipping softly. I immediately recognized Zach's behavior as his way of letting me know that if I didn't jump out of bed in the next 30 seconds, he fully intended to slink off to some hidden corner of the house and quietly make a substantial deposit, which would go unnoticed until some time later when the morning quiet of the home would be shattered by someone screaming, "What is that god-awful smell?"
Struggling to rise off the bed and then stumbling out of the bedroom in the darkness, I made my way to the sliding glass door leading to the outside patio area. Opening the slider, I stood aside in order to allow Zach unimpeded access to the outside world where he could go about his business, which I would have to clean up later that morning.
The outside air temperature, only 17 degrees with a 15 mph northwest wind and a wind chill of three degrees, stopped Zach dead in his tracks just short of stepping through the door. Sitting down, Zach gave me a look, which could only mean, "If you think I am going out there so you can close the door behind me, leaving me out in the cold while you go back to sleep, you have another thing coming!"
That left the both of us standing just inside the open door, staring at each other with the cold air pouring into a rapidly cooling house. Now Zach has been with our family as a rescue from a kill shelter for more than 12 years, and as far as he and I are concerned, we both know who the alpha male is. I reached across and turned on the outside patio light and with finger pointing outside to the deck, sternly ordered the dog to "Go!" Zach remained seated while glowering at me with a face that clearly said, "Do you really think I am that stupid?"
Okay, truth be told, Cesar Millan I'm not, and the only dog whispering I managed was a sigh of silent surrender. Clad only in my Hanes briefs and a Day-Glo orange Rockaway Times t-shirt, I stepped out into the cold, muttering under my breath, "C'mon, let's get this over with!" I had to walk to the far end of the deck as Zach would not allow me to get between him and the door, while he slowly walked about in circles sniffing the deck boards to determine which spot would be perfect for his early morning constitutional. At one point, while I thought he was preoccupied, I attempted to slowly sidle along the deck fence back towards the sliding glass door and warmth, only to have Zach immediately trot the same way, letting me know in no uncertain terms that there was no way I was going to be allowed to leave him outside alone and forgotten.
With a decision being made, Zach finally set about his business, causing me to rhythmically punch the air while shouting, "It's about damn time!" Paying me absolutely no mind, Zach finished up and trotted back inside the house without so much as a thank you glance my way as he disappeared through the kitchen. As for me, now stiff from the cold, I shuffled back in the house, closing the sliding glass door behind me and headed towards the bedroom with visions of a warm bed and blankets dancing in my head, whereupon three of our four cats who had been watching this whole incident with some amusement from their warm perches on the kitchen table, decided to make the most of the situation and started yelling (yes, they yell!) for their breakfast.
As much as I wanted to blow them off, I suddenly realized they are all indoor cats possessed with remarkably good litter pan habits, so I decided to accommodate them all prior to climbing back into bed. Some 15 minutes later, I quietly crept back into the bedroom so as not to disturb my beloved Grace (She who must be obeyed) only to find my side of the bed completely covered by a geriatric 70-pound mutt blissfully asleep on his back, front paws up in the air and snoring loudly.
I finally gave up all hope of returning to bed, but prior to leaving the bedroom, I wanted to impress on Zach who's the alpha male in this pack. I leaned over the damn dog and whispered in his ear, "Later today you and I are going to watch ‘Cujo.’ I want you to pay particular attention to the end of the movie and how Dee Wallace deals with a big old dog that finally pissed her off!” I'm quite sure Cesar Millan would have been proud of me, but somewhere in the back of mind I could almost hear Zach thinking to himself, "You ain't no Dee Wallace!" To make matters worse, later that morning, I received a call from a neighbor across the street inquiring if everything was alright. "I was up early this morning and I saw you in your underwear disco dancing, badly I might add, on your second floor deck with your dog."
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