This Side of the Pond – Sept. 20

By Sarah Pridgeon

Every so often, I get a certain look in my eye and turn to my husband with a question ready to fall from my lips. Immediately recognizing the danger, he cuts me off to gently explain that our house is very small and we can’t fit any more dogs into it, even if they’re handbag-sized. No, not even one.
While there will always be a little part of me that questions this opinion, I have to admit that the point has been well proven over the last week. When my dear parents-in-law headed out on vacation, we were left in charge of all their animals as well as our own.
For seven days, in an apartment where fast walking is not to be recommended, we housed two humans, five dogs and one irritable cat. And while we had created a menagerie that fulfilled my every four-legged dream, it did get somewhat cramped.
Take the sleeping situation, for example. Five dogs who are all used to choosing their spots along with two humans who couldn’t maintain their legs in a vertical position all night long even if they wanted to (though we did try) and a cat who, let’s face it, owns the whole house and feels we should all move out of her way as and when she deems it appropriate.
And then there was the sitting situation. The big boxer, Molly, quickly worked out that the living room armchairs were her favorite place – but only one of them. The other is a rocking chair, which she didn’t know until she’d already landed awkwardly and had to be rescued by my strong-armed husband.
With only three dog beds available, it was inevitable there would be arguments. This precipitated a week-long game of musical chairs with dislodged participants sharing their opinions at volume.
Not to worry, it’s not as though there weren’t other seating options, right? Our two dogs are perfectly comfortable sleeping on the bed when I’m in the chair next to it, which left all three beds for the visitors. Consequently, I spent quite a lot of time in that chair.
Except the visitors were instantly curious about what they assumed to be an oversized dog bed (and, to be fair, temporarily was). Lucy, the Scottish terrier, has legs too short to get up and explore, but she has figured out how to ask for a leg-up.
And so, all week, as I relaxed in my recliner, I would every so often hear a tiny whine from behind me. I wouldn’t have minded, except I found myself on a loop.
From the angle I was sitting at, I couldn’t reach down to lift her. Unfortunately, my two pups are optimistic souls and believe that any movement from my chair could mean I am heading for the treat box. A single leg motion and they both tear off the mattress towards the kitchen, just in case.
Naturally, Lucy would follow, which meant there was no point in me having moved in the first place. Having figured out treats were not forthcoming, Midget and Maggie would slink back to the bed and curl up…and I’d hear a little whine from behind me.
Then of course you have the bathroom habits, different for every pup. Sending them outside was an amusing sight because the boxer would often lead, followed by the rest of them in descending order of size. The canine parade would trot across the grass looking like “March of Progress” or, more properly in this case, the Ascent of Dog.
But they didn’t all need to go potty at the same time, and some take longer than others. One particular miscreant, Bella, likes to spend an hour sniffing around the yard before she makes a decision about her needs, but this was not something we were aware of.
We figured it out when she voiced her displeasure by pooping repeatedly by the back door. On the welcome mat. Point taken, puppy.
All in all, I’m pleased to report that our own dogs handled the infiltration pretty well. Maggie, who is by now the elder statesman of the group but also not very authoritative, is still sulking because she feels she ought to be in charge. She growls and nips and barks at the other dogs, but nobody pays the slightest attention.
Midget, for whom this was the first extended visit from other dogs, went through a brief period of abject despair, believing she had been replaced and could no longer expect regular belly rubs. I didn’t know a dog could express relief, but somehow she managed every time she was called for a cuddle.
Fortunately, the one part of the day that tended to go without a hitch was mealtime. I have never met a dog more excited by kibble than Midget, every single day.
As soon as the cupboard door opens, her entire body goes rigid, her ears go up and she’s shaking with anticipation, ready to bark at you as loudly as she can until her food has been placed in the bowl. I relate to her, to be honest; it’s how I feel about cake.
It was apparently an infectious reaction, which worked in our favor. No matter how many times the dogs had squabbled over prime seating or who should play with a toy, we knew that evening would bring a moment of happiness as all of them fell briefly silent to inhale their dinner.
I learned my lesson over the last week: the house really isn’t big enough for more dogs. But when you get home from work in the evening and can’t get through the front door for all the wagging tails, it’s hard not to wish that it was.