My dog isn't territorial. Or this is what I thought, anyway, when I fogged up the name on my virtual Dog Sitting shingle, burnished it with my shirtsleeve and hung it up in an online pet care site. Think 'Uber for pet sitters,' and you'll have the idea.
She barely registers a response when I walk through the door, let alone a stranger. She stays wherever she is – be it couch or bed or a sunny spot on the floor – unless there's something in it for her. Cookies, let's say, or a walk.
But she will greet other dogs playfully, roughhouse a bit if they are willing, and show them the sights: The couches, the beds; the sunny spots on the floors.
And honestly, the idea of having a second dog that we get paid to take care of – and who morphs from a Shih Tzu into a Jack Russell terrier and then into a giant Labrador retriever from one week to the next – is pretty cool.
Except that I've noticed my dog skulking about, watching me through lowered head and raised eyes, ready at the slightest bit of affection paid to a visiting pal to barrel in between the interloper and me, and reassert her place in the hierarchy: Top Dog.
There has been some snarling, some protecting of the very same cats that she, herself, would have otherwise chased into closets, and some separate corner moments.
Arguments happen. Growling and raised hackles circling. When tempers flair we all go for a walk. Walks are a great equalizer. There is no home territory on a walk. No toy that is hers and hers alone. There is only the outdoors. And there are squirrels. The only struggle is mine as my charges stretch as far forward as the end of a leash will allow. Tangles-be-damned.
Tire them out. It's a strategy that can work pretty well for animals of all species, even the human ones. Tucker them out, and they won't have the energy to fight. They might even forget they aren't life-long friends.
Although there's something about that idea gives me pause.
As I watched my daughter snuggle up on the couch – a buffer between our pooch and her visiting friend -- it occurred to me through squinted eye and magical thinking that we'd been here before. A wisp of a girl sandwiched between the affections of a dark pointed fawn-colored dog with floppy ears, and a lanky, pony-sized black Labrador mutt.
I was thinking about our old dogs, Maggie and Maddy. The dogs my husband and had before we married, and who had greeted the advent of our first child with a mix of confusion and wonder, and, finally, joy. The dogs that mark our lives with their indelible ink of their canine simplicity; a combination we tend to think of as loyalty and devotion.
I dusted off my camera and took a picture.
My daughter's head tipped back, and her mouth wide-open in laughter. Her hand was kneading one dog's ear while the other dog shifted position. The moment before I snapped the picture our visitor was seated squarely on my daughter. A human pillow.
It wasn't new territory; it was more than familiar.
It may have even been karma.