By Beth Quinn
With the arrival of grandchildren, one tumbling into life after another now, the dogs in our family have had to trade in their erstwhile peaceful existence for one fraught with excitement and some danger.
None of the children actually mean to cause a dog harm, with the possible exception of 2-year-old Devon, whom I recently caught standing face to face with Tom, our yellow Lab. She had his lips gripped firmly in her little hands, and she was twisting them backwards, causing Tom to have a most peculiar and unnatural smile on his face.
Tom rolled his eyes toward me in a mute plea for help. He dared not move a muscle lest she tighten her lip grip. I saved him from the enfant terrible, and he will forever love me for my intervention – and for the time-out Devon had to serve in hopes that she will reform.
(She claimed she was “thorry” and they kissed and made up, but I suspect she will have to serve a few more time-outs before she fully embraces the notion that she’s never allowed to hurt a dog.)
That Tom, he’s a good dog. All the Labs in our extended family are – Tom and Huckleberry, Gus and Little Mac. Not one of them would harm a child no matter what body part that child poked or prodded or twisted. Soon after the lip-gripping incident, I watched the care Tom took with Devon when she climbed onto his back to play horsey. Tom slowly lowered himself to the floor, then gently rolled over onto his side to unseat her.
She had to serve time for that infraction, too. No riding the dogs, I told her. Again, she was “thorry” although she stuck out her lower lip to pout for the duration of her sentence this time. I sensed she thought my rules were “thupid.”
But the dogs also manage to inflict punishments of their own, though I’m certain they don’t mean to. Huck’s tail, after all, is just the height of a toddler’s eyes, and there’s no managing the thing once it’s revved up to full wag speed. Devon has developed a defensive blink when she’s in the same room with a dog. Her older cousin Sam did, too, during his own toddlerhood.
Now Sam has twin baby brothers, and the wagging Lab tails have created a problem of a different sort. The babies were premature, weighing in at 1 pound and change, each barely bigger than an ear of corn. They had to finish cooking at the hospital, and when they were finally sent home a couple of months ago, they arrived with oxygen tanks and monitors and tubes and wires.
My son’s house looks like a nearby hospital exploded and rained durable medical supplies into their living room.
The Labs went into nanny mode when the babies got home. There isn’t a Lab on this earth who doesn’t get involved when a baby is in the house. Sit down with a twin and a bottle, and there’s Gus on the couch next to you, resting his chin on your shoulder to supervise the meal. I’m sure Gus would remind me to burp a baby if I forgot to.
And Little Mac. Well, the very prospect of a lickable baby in the house – two lickable babies! – brings out the whirling dervish in him and sets his tail wagging faster than you can see it moving. It practically hums.
Therein lies the problem, of course, when there are wires all over the place connecting two babies to oxygen and monitors. After Little Mac has been through the room, it’s not uncommon to discover a wire just dangling there, just hanging from a twin, unmoored from an oxygen tank by the swipe of a dog tail.
Oh my, we say when someone discovers an unattached wire. Who’s not getting oxygen? Is there a twin turning blue in here?
Fortunately, neither Austin nor Bryce has ever turned blue and, really, they don’t seem to need the oxygen all that much. Still, Little Mac gets a time-out of his own whenever this happens, banished to the yard to wear out his exuberance by chasing a squirrel or two.
And while a Lab never pouts while serving his time, I’m certain that, on some level, he’s “thorry” too.
Beth can be reached at email@example.com.