Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Bookshop Dog's Journal: Part I

Phoebe and I spent another Saturday night together, two great friends doing what we most like to do. It was an evening worth remembering, and we'll have more than memory to rely on; it's been recorded in Phoebe's journal.

After Phoebe's dinner (her main course was her adored French lentils), we trotted off to Carl Schurz Park. We met good friends, both canine and human. We watched two squirrels cavort at the base of a tree. We saw a pigeon pecking at a bagel, kids playing ball, and a cat leading a reluctant woman on a leash. I admired the river and my favorite trees. Phoebe sniffed and explored. Then, to continue our adventures by other means, we hurried home to the books that were waiting for us.

Side by side on the sofa, Phoebe and I assumed our official reading cuddle posture. I read aloud a short story by Saki (dachshunds, I believe, groove on Clovis Sangrail), then "The Abyssinian Jackal" and "The South American Canids" from Maxwell Riddle's entertaining The Wild Dogs in Life and Legend. Phoebe is an attentive listener -- she could give listening lessons -- and her posture and keen gaze suggested that she wanted to hear more. But while I debated what to read next, Phoebe moved, and took our evening back in time.

Still tucked under my arm, she rolled over on her back, stretching until her head was tucked under my chin. She relaxed and quickly fell asleep. She rarely does this, but when she does it recalls our first night together.

On a sheet of foolscap dated Friday, December 16, 2005, the third entry on what became the first page of Phoebe journal states that about 8 p.m., three hours after Phoebe first entered the apartment she soon made her home, she let me lift her up on the sofa (dachshunds of the world, do not jump up and down! wait for human assistance! that's what we're here for!). She nuzzled the cushions and an afghan. She stretched out and began what I still see so vividly, her gradual relaxation after much manic exploration throughout the house. There was a poignant encounter with an old blanket that must have been the one she had long dreamed of, or recalled one from her past; she clutched it between her forepaws, rubbed her muzzle against it, and crooned and crooned. There were visits to the water bowl for three delicate laps (she remains a precise and tidy consumer of beverages) and tentative nibbles until, after two trips to the curb in three hours, she polished off a plate of food.

On the sofa for the first time together on that memorable night, what were our expectations? Phoebe was soon asleep. I began the notes that became her journal, then reached for a book. When she woke, startled and briefly disoriented, I held a hand out to her. She lay her head on my hip and pressed her cheek into my palm. I began to read aloud to her. What did I read? I have no idea, for which I often kick myself. But she seemed to respond to the experiment. An expression of intelligence and inner calm transformed the frantic dog who, hours before, had left the shelter where she had been judged unlikely to be adopted. I remember pausing to reach for my teacup. It was then that, in one swift motion, Phoebe slipped under my arm, rolled over on her back, and stretched until her head was tucked under my chin. She slept.

Waking and sleeping, working and playing, we've been side by side ever since, and writing about it as we go along. Later that first night, Phoebe found the book we had shared. Perhaps I shouldn't read too much into it, but she gave that open volume a good sniff. I like to think she was telling me, "I'm a bookshop dog. What happens next in our story?"


  1. I love that you read to Phoebe, and that you keep a journal for her. I've recently started keeping a notebook for the animals (1 dog, 3 cats) so as not to forget any of the good stuff. Not to mention it was a good excuse to buy a blank book with dogs on the cover...

  2. I loved reading about Phoebe's first night with you. I think She found you to be a kindred spirit and your voice to be her solace confirmed when she slept with her head under your chin, so sweet. It sounds to me like she took to your reading aloud from the start, it calmed her, helped her relax and was letting you know she was where she belonged, with you & books. I believe that often animals, pets are drawn to their people and their people to them.
    I can't wait to hear more about you and the lovely Phoebe.

    ~ Amy