A Pause to Enjoy the Dog Days of Summer

It's the first day of summer vacation, so I expected him to sleep late, but this is ridiculous. He's sprawled over the bed like a sailor sleeping off a two-day bender, and he hasn't flinched. In fact, when I checked on him, he was so still I had to watch carefully to see if he was breathing.

His exhaustion shouldn't surprise me. Last night he roamed the neighborhood until darkness finally descended over the yard. I suppose it was disorienting to hear the sounds of children playing as night fell, and he just couldn't bring himself to call it quits and come inside.

Already, his reliable routine is upended, with people coming and going at all hours of the day. The regular rhythm of the school year has been replaced with slamming doors, strangers in the driveway and telephones that ring incessantly.

Summertime may be the season for lazy, hazy days, but so far, all the activity and noise of having four children around the house is confusing my dog.

Scotty is a 30-pound “Daisy dog,” a canine cocktail that used to be known as a mutt. We got him on the advice of our pediatrician because he's hypo-allergenic — his heritage as part bichon frise, part shih tzu and part poodle eliminate the health and housekeeping hassles of having a dog that sheds. These fluffy, likable pups usually grow to about 12- or 14-pounds, but we wanted a larger version that could withstand the affection of four boisterous youngsters.

Dogs are pack animals, of course, and Scotty clearly loves belonging to the Hicks family pack. He rightly has identified me as the alpha human in the house, being as I'm the one who returns from the hunt with those big green bags of dog chow. For this reason, no matter how many people are home, I am the center of our dog's universe.

From the day we got Scotty, more than five years ago, he has followed me from room to room to remain within six feet of my loving, if not benign, supervision. Quite honestly, it's annoying — made all the more so by the fact that several members of the family long to be the object of his devotion, and they accuse me of ingratitude. Easy for them to say; I'm the one who nearly trips over the beast several times a day.

Still, Scotty and I have an understanding. I make sure that his needs are met, his coat is groomed and his legal status is maintained; he lets me know when the UPS delivery truck arrives.

We're creatures of habit. We enjoy a daily pattern that includes time for housework, desk work, errands, cooking and carpooling (my list) and sleeping (his list). In unspoken familiarity, we follow our weekday pattern with precision from the first of September, when the school bell rings in the “new year,” through early June, when report cards signal the completion of another academic cycle.

For roughly nine months, we enjoy the peace and productivity that comes only in a quiet house, but now that summer vacation has begun, we're both a little out of sorts.

The difference between Scotty and me is that he can continue to accomplish the thing on his “to do” list, while I face a daily challenge to complete my tasks.

I'll make countless trips to the local pool with a cooler of sandwiches and a file of work, but Scotty will nap by the front door.

The laundry will pile up in heaps next to the washer because of frequent apparel changes throughout every summer day, but Scotty will retire to his favorite spot under the divan.

I'll clean the kitchen seven times before noon while simultaneously calling doctors and dentists to schedule summer checkups; Scotty will escape to the chair in the den and flip himself over in a posture that says, “Wake me only if you promise to scratch me.”

The only real difference in Scotty's life is the increased opportunity to bolt out of the house via one of many doors left open by careless children. When this happens, he'll trot jauntily down the center of our street, looking left and right for the person who facilitated his freedom, hoping for a quick game of chase.

He's a great dog, really. I sometimes complain about him, but in truth, he's the pet I always dreamed of having as a young girl, when my parents refused to get a dog for me on the grounds I had five siblings and therefore plenty of playmates.

When my husband was growing up, his family always had dogs — hunting dogs, in fact. Jim envisioned a similar animal for our children, a gallant, regal canine with skills and a name like Champ or Rex or Prince.

Instead, we got a dog whose formal moniker is Butterscotch, a name he doesn't recognize as his own. He has few skills, he won't come when he's called, but at least he doesn't make any of us sneeze.

He's the perfect pet for the Hicks pack, and now that it's summer, my children are all enjoying the extra dog days.

Then again, when summer's over, my dog days will just be returning. Woof.

(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 18 years and mother of four children from third grade to junior year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at www.marybethhicks.com. This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)

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