I was having difficulty staying asleep. The room felt hot. I kept tossing and turning. Worrying about my grandson’s upcoming surgery. Worrying about manuscripts I’d emailed to various literary journals, wondering would they eventually result in publication? Finally, I resorted to the one mental exercise I turn to when attempting to initiate slumber, which is to think of a lovely moment and describe it in just one sentence. Then take that one sentence and try to revise it, over and over again. Do that same exercise until my mind lets go and…
Just as I lost consciousness the sound of a yelp brought me back. The dog. The dog was frightened. Out the window I could see tiny flashes of light signaling a still far away storm. As with many dogs, our Labradoodle Chloe is stressed by thunder. She doesn’t understand where the noise is coming from and she pants and paces until it starts to subside.
My husband who’d been soundly sleeping, volunteered to go downstairs. He talked to her in a calm soothing voice, let her outside to relieve herself, and gave her half a pill of Prednisone, which she takes due to a diagnosis of Addison’s disease, one of the drugs to help her regulate her level of cortisol. She returned to her spot on the couch, a place she retreats to when she thinks we’re not looking, curled up and closed her eyes.
In her younger days, Chloe would have come upstairs and slept in our room. But at eleven years old, she is unsteady going down our stairs. She can chase after balls and go up the stairs, but her feet are unstable on the slippery wood. At sixty pounds, she is too unwieldy to carry.
Chloe remained quiet for a few minutes, after my husband returned to bed, and then started barking again. It was my turn.
She was pacing the living room. I moved her thick rectangular dog bed to the foot of the stairs, guarding the front door—her favorite spot. Settled on her dog bed, I sat beside her, leaning against her body covered with thick white fur. And I began to stroke Chloe from her nose across her head and down her neck, again and again. “You’re such a good dog,” I said. “Such a good dog.” Each time I stopped petting her, she butted her head against my hand to start again. It was 3:00 a.m. and I was falling asleep. There wasn’t enough room for me to sleep with Chloe on the dog bed wrapped in my cotton robe, but I began to wonder who was calming who? She was alleviating my anxiety, my reasons for insomnia. This is why dogs can make such good support animals for humans.
Dogs’ hearing is much more sensitive than humans. On average they can hear four to five times better than a person. Two breeds known for excellent hearing are Labrador Retrievers and Poodle. Since Chloe is a hybrid breed, a fifty/ fifty mix of Labrador and Poodle, it’s not surprising that she hears sounds almost a mile away as well high frequencies the human ear is unable to detect. This was evidenced the other week, when Chloe was visibly annoyed by a dimly chirping battery in the middle of the night—a fire alarm signaling a loose connection. While we could pile pillows over our heads to block out the sound until morning, Chloe wanted the problem remedied immediately. We often think about Service Dogs as primarily helping the visually impaired, but they are just as important in helping individuals with hearing loss. Not only can they hear the high-pitched fire alarm to alert humans to leave a smoke-filled building but they can signal to a deaf person when a phone is ringing, or when someone is knocking at the door.
Eventually the storm moved on and I returned to my upstairs bed. We regrouped in the morning, greeted the rising sun, ready to tackle a new day. Thinking about writing prompts, I recently heard a editor being interviewed, (Litro Magazine Flash Fiction Editor Catherine McNamara being interviewed by Becky Tuch), say she receives an excess of stories with dogs in them. Animals are important in our lives, and it doesn’t surprise me they figure in many stories, but in my adult fiction a pet is often an afterthought. So, for an experiment try this.
Was your first pet a dog, a fish, or a guinea pig? Write a scene in which you describe them. What made them endearing to you? Have a conversation with your pet. What do you tell them? Did your relationship with your pet affect your relationship with someone else in your family? Write a scene about it. What did you learn about yourself? Try the same prompt as a work of fiction. What you write might surprise you. Surprise is good. Begin with your strongest sentence and keep writing.
Thank you for reading and thank you for your feedback. If you haven’t already done so, please sign up to subscribe to my blogs on WordPress or on Medium. Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril. And if you’d like to read a story of mine with lots of animals, here’s one set in Africa: “The Perfect Picture.”