THIS SIDE UP

You can always use some company

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 8/20/20

Ollie is looking for answers, but how do you answer when you don't know the question? The first indication that our rescue dog is having trouble with this pandemic came at 2:30 a.m. It was soon after the governor's stay-at-home order of mid-March.

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THIS SIDE UP

You can always use some company

Posted

Ollie is looking for answers, but how do you answer when you don’t know the question?

The first indication that our rescue dog is having trouble with this pandemic came at 2:30 a.m. It was soon after the governor’s stay-at-home order of mid-March. Honestly, little had changed in my routine. The news media was one of those “essential businesses,” although there are those who would question that. I was up at my usual time before 6. Breakfast of toast – Ollie gets a corner crust – and coffee while checking out the newspapers didn’t change. I was still out the door by 8:15 and, depending on whether it was a deadline day, home by 6 p.m. Carol kept to her schedule, too. She walked Ollie in the morning and evening. In between he got to go on one of his “romps,” as we call his patrol of the yard wearing his invisible fence collar plus a cowbell. The bell is the best way of knowing where he is since even the loudest of calls or whistles can’t penetrate his all consuming sniffing – he’s a spotted coonhound to the core.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner times – yes, I know we’re probably feeding him too frequently – hasn’t changed nor has the menu. COVID or not, nothing had changed.

But then coming out of a sleepy haze, I had this feeling I was being watched. Carol was asleep. I rolled over dismissing the feeling, but sleep failed to return.

The room was dark. The digital clock glowed and the yellow light on the cordless phone blinked. It was charging.

The feeling persisted. Then there was the soft padding of feet.

It had to be Ollie. I sat up and stared into the dark. The outline of his white muzzle came into focus. He was standing at the end of the bed facing me, just looking.

Customarily he sleeps in his crate downstairs, so something had him up. It wasn’t a coon, skunk or other nocturnal visitor, for he would have been howling and supercharged to be let out. The next obvious deduction was that he needed to pee, although I’d make sure he’d had that chance before going to bed.

Well, maybe he needed to go out again. I got out of bed and he followed me downstairs and out to his pen. He didn’t do his business, but stood at the gate looking at me. What was I to do? After five minutes, I looped the leash on his collar, deciding a walk might get him to pee. Nothing. He didn’t want to walk. He just stared at me.

Those episodes have become more frequent. The nighttime ones are the most unsettling, as at that time you’d prefer to be asleep and you’re left to wonder what is he trying to tell you and what can you do to help.

Ollie has never been a cozy dog. He’ll sleep on the bed as long as you’re not in it. He’s not one to climb on the couch to sit with you, and for a greeting you’ll get a wag and maybe a nuzzle, but no licks. He’s always been independent, a loner. So, is this business of standing and staring a new form of connection or communication?

I’ve tried shaking him out of this “mood” and it works some of the time.

“Get your pullie,” I’ll say in an excited voice. His demeanor will change, and if I help him find one of the chewed sections of rope he loves, a game of tugging with some falsetto growling is on. Carol will break with the schedule, take him for a walk or announce “dinner,” a word he knows. He never refuses an early dinner.

But these are not what you want to do at 3 in the morning. He’ll tolerate some scratching behind the ears and a hug – an effort to reassure him that everything is all right.

More often than not, I’ll escort him downstairs to the kitchen and his crate. He’ll go in and then turn around and come back out to follow me back upstairs to stand and stare. I’ve taken to closing him in the crate and he settles down and sleeps.

Maybe that’s the answer he craves – a safe, familiar place with no options, where we make the decisions.

Could this be a manifestation of the uncertainty and anxiety brought on by these times? Or could it be that Ollie is displaying his concern for us? It’s another question without an answer. Yet having company, albeit at a time when you’d prefer being asleep, can be nice.

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