The rain wakes me up at 3 am. In the dark, I fumble for my pajama pants and slippers, and I tiptoe downstairs. I look for the dogs on their beds but I don’t see their shapes: they relocated to the sofa, butt to butt, curled up, their faces squished against the pillows.
In the dim light that I venture to switch, in a deep slumber, they can’t even hear me. I cuddle next to them, listening to their rhythmic breathing, inhaling their sweet scent. I rest my head against Ottie’s (mmm, his breath is less than stellar) and I feel his muscles tense in a dream, maybe he is replaying the long walk in the enchanted forest a few hours earlier, paws deep in mud, stream crossing and unfamiliar scents.
I could be lulled back to sleep right here, warmed by their furs.
Like every pet owner the world over, when I look at my dogs I don’t see animals. I see family members, half-way between four-legged creatures and fully fledged humans. And I don’t think it’s a classic case of anthropomorphization. When Ottie and Portia kill birds, chase after deer and coyotes, smell other dogs’ butts or – horror – eat other animals’ feces, I don’t feel they have much in common with me. I don’t fool myself into thinking they are capable of laughter, for instance, but I do know they experience feelings similar to ours: happiness, gratitude, contentment, anger, vindictiveness are only a few I see displayed on a daily basis.
They look for my reassurance when they are sick; their internal clocks alert them to different times of the day and different activities associated with those times; they are instantly more drawn to and more trusting of the people I love more; they aim to please but they have a mind of their own. And different personalities.
Portia is more independent, cunning and slightly mysterious with what she does with her alone time. Ottie is more fierce and dependent, and still the alpha male who will not put up with any bullshit.
Like any family member, they have their roles, their duties and expectations. We all work around each other’s habits. Unlike family members, their dissent is never hurtful, although dissent is clearly expressed.
I can’t think of a life without animals. What years of having dogs, birds and fish under my roof have taught me, what they have taught every pet owner the world over, is that animals have a consciousness and a depth of understanding that science is only now waking up to and confirming through rigorous experiments.
Animal owners are welcoming this validation but we didn’t really need it. We knew all along.
Ottie wakes up from his dream, startled, like I would, and lifts his head to look at me, then at Portia: it’s still dark, it’s raining outside, I am stretched against him. Everything is the way it should be. He relaxes and goes back to dreaming.