Even dogs need to shop - FamilyEducation

Even dogs need to shop

April 30,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Yesterday T. and I took the dog shopping. Because, of course, even dogs need shopping therapy. T. was thrilled about the idea of taking Willa into an actual store, especially a pet store, one of her favorite places to go. She loves to watch the birds flutter up and down on their perches, and she dreams of one day owning her very own fuzzy dwarf hamster and one of those extensive plastic habitrail things that turn an ordinary hamster cage into a multi-level theme park.

So we loaded up the dog and my excited girl and headed out to PetSmart, the doggy equivalent of a Super Target. We were shopping for a dog bed. Willa has one already, downstairs in the corner of our kitchen, where she sleeps during the day. She used to sleep there at night, as well. When we first moved to this house a year and a half ago, we used to keep her closed up in the kitchen, and the cat had the run of the house at night. She would dash around on silent paws, and always--every morning--jump onto my nightstand and demand her breakfast--loudly. A couple months ago we started leaving the kitchen doors open, but Willa still stayed downstairs. Perhaps she didn't realize she had her freedom, perhaps she just knew her place. Something happened, though, when our cat died, something we hadn't factored in at all. Our dog seems to be actually grieving over Izzy's absence in the house. She is decidedly and unmistakeably lonely, and at a loss for what to do with the sudden departure of one of her "pack" members. I realized this suddenly when, a week after our cat died, I decided to sweep out the closet floor where we used to keep the litter box. Willa watched me, her tail at half-mast, crooked down to the floor. Her expression was unmistakeable: one of loss and confusion.

"Do you think Willa misses Izzy?" I asked T., who was helping me clean out the closet.

T. regarded the dog thoughtfully. "Her do!" She shouted suddenly, finger in the air to emphasize this revelation. "Her miss her friend!"

But what do you DO for a dog who is in mourning? We've been lavishing extra attention on her, and I've been taking her on extra-long walks. Lately, she's taken to following us around upstairs at night, when we get the kids ready for bed. She's even been sleeping on the upstairs hallway runner--something she never did before. One morning this week, when I nearly tripped over her prostrate body in the hallway, it came to me in a flash: the poor dog needed a new bed; one upstairs, in the corner, where she could curl up and sleep, instead of restlessly settling and re-settling herself on the hallway rug. Even though we've always been pretty strict about where the dog sleeps, we just can't bring ourselves to boot her back downstairs to her spot in the kitchen. And, I have to admit, we need and want her close by, to fill a little the hole left by our beloved cat's death.

We had a great time at PetSmart, T. and I. She picked out the hamster she wants some day--a little brown fuzzy fellow with sharp black beady eyes. She asked to look at the cats available for adoption and I hung back--both because cats make me sad these days, and because I didn't want Willa to scare them--while she chattered about them. And we picked out a fluffy round blue bed for Willa after, at T.'s insistence, test-driving several of them (dog beds are fun for kids, too, it seems). This morning, when I woke up and headed downstairs, there was Willa, curled up in her beanbag bed, and there was a peace about her, I think--and a peace about our house, too.