Last week, I took on the job of pet sitting for a neighbor's dog, a rescued Lhasa apso mix named Mattie. She is a favorite around our condominium complex for her outgoing personality, sweet karma and natural ability to make friends with just about anybody
Mattie has big brown eyes, long, luxurious eyelashes, a pug nose and a perpetual smile. She likes chewy treats; long languorous walks (taken as often as possible) and squeaky toys, including a small, blue football and a furry hedgehog, both of which she likes to squeeze maniacally when trying to get my attention.
I haven't had a dog around the house since Pippin and Whiskers, both childhood dogs who spent a lot of time romping in our back yard and running with packs of neighborhood children.
Despite vowing from age 6 that I would someday live in a sprawling country house where I would hang out with a menagerie of dogs and horses, as an adult I live in a condo that — by my own design — isn't exactly pet friendly.
Remember the lyrics to House at Pooh Corner? I think that's what happens to a lot of us. We grow up, get busy with life and can't find our way back to the wood.
After years of living alone, I tend to be a bit of a neatnik.
I like things a certain way; I crave order and cleanliness and a big, cozy, fluffy bed that's free of dog hairs and stray toys that squeak. But if you have a dog, I imagine it's hard to be such a perfectionist. After Day 1 of Miss Mattie's visit, I looked around at the beach towels strewn around my tile floors for maximum dog comfort.
There are chewy bones, dog bowls, a toy elephant, tennis balls (along with a trove of other toys). I had just returned from a trip and planned to unpack my suitcases and hang up my clothes, but the sight of a dog begging to go outside and play won over my need to clean up the house.
My neighbor is an incredibly thoughtful person who provided those of us taking care of Mattie with a little travel bag full of her necessities: small bags of food, Milk Bone treats, eye drops, leashes and an envelope containing money and the vet's number should an emergency arise.
I don't have a back yard, which necessitates a couple of dog walks a day, rain or shine. I tend to go outside mostly to exercise, which means I'm usually strolling briskly for a maximum workout or zooming down the trail on my bike.
I soon learned that walking a dog involves patient lingering, a sense of being present in the moment. Long after the business of her walk was done, Mattie resisted going home.
She had ingratiated herself to a cadre of pet owning neighbors, who were thrilled to see her and happy to visit for a while. I also noticed the small universe of other dogs whom she seemed to recognize and like.
After my few days spent with Mattie, I've come to realize the set of responsibilities that comes with having a dog as well as the need to let go a little bit of the things that don't really matter.
Despite all the long dog walks and hours playing with the squeaky football and hedgehog, I got more work done last week and in a shorter amount of time. Mattie's perpetual station at my feet while I wrote kept me focused. I also spent less time cleaning.
Having a dog around the house definitely changed my perspective. I'm not ready yet to go back to the House at Pooh Corner, but I enjoyed my visit back — at least for a few days.
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.