Just do it, the old Nike logo said. And so I committed myself to bringing back this blog without quite knowing how to re-enter gracefully, how to fill in the blanks of the past year.
I’m still not sure, but the other day I hit on the diary format, of using moments in a typical day as a jumping off point for associations about different topics. It may be another false start, but it feels right for now. I’d love your feedback.
After this first entry, I worried that I might sound a bit obsessive about Frankie. And then I remembered who my audience is.
4:55am I hear the click of Frankie’s toenails, the shake of his collar, and know he is getting ready to find his way into the bedroom. This morning ritual is comparatively recent. Frankie slept on the bed with me — actually, a mattress on the floor; I got rid of the frame in 2008, after he injured his back — almost from the time I adopted him.
Then one evening, about eight months ago, things changed.
I was used to Frankie’s annoyance at being asked to move from dead center of the bed. He was — and remains in some ways — a rather imperious little pup. At least two pet sitters admitted to me, after the fact, that they had decided to sleep on my living room couch rather than intrude on Frankie’s repose.
I instructed them to just give him a gentle push. After a put-upon snort, I said, Frankie would get up and find a corner of the bed to settle into. Apparently, they found my nine pound dog’s invisible DO NOT DISTURB sign too intimidating to ignore.
But on the night in question, Frankie didn’t respond to my nudge by grudgingly relocating. Instead, he hopped off the mattress and trotted across the hall to my office, where he nestled into his fleecy doughnut-shaped bed.
This threw me for a loop.
I recalled that when dogs are sick they often like to go off on their own. When Frankie didn’t return to the bedroom, I became convinced there was something horribly wrong with him. Too worried to sleep, I kept getting up and going in to check on him. I watched until I was certain that he was breathing, that his sleep rhythms were normal.
I thought the incident might be a fluke, until the same thing happened the following night. This time, I came up with a different strategy: I enfolded Frankie in his doughnut bed, picked him up, carried him across the hall, and placed him in a corner of the mattress. He settled in briefly, then disengaged himself from both beds and walked into the office again.
I brought the doughnut bed to him so he wouldn’t have to sleep on the bare hardwood floor.
In less than a week, I accepted Frankie’s departure at bedtime — and his return to the same mattress the next morning, after I left it for day — as the new normal. In many ways that was okay. Often, I slept better, not worrying about whether I was going to move over and disturb him, or whether turning on the radio when I couldn’t sleep would bother him.
It took me a while, but I finally figured out what my real concern was.
Many of us spend a great deal of time trying to read our dogs’ signals, even beyond the Canine 101 lip licking, paw lifting and gradations of growling. Are they in pain? What obscure sound is making them afraid? How can I fix their world?
This is challenging enough under the best of circumstances, but since last September, when Frankie was diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, I have had to learn a new language. There is some basic vocabulary shared by most dogs with CCD — disorientation, for example — but each one speaks a distinct dialect.
What I feared most about Frankie’s nightly departures was that they signaled the beginning of his withdrawal from me. Not recognizing loved ones is as common a symptom of CCD as it is of Alzheimer’s, the human disease it most closely resembles — and probably the most heartbreaking one.
Happily, that turned out not to be the case with Frankie. At least not so far.
What, then, is his bedtime withdrawal about? I finally came to the conclusion that Frankie had experienced a “get off my lawn” moment, a la Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. At the age of 14, Frankie is a grumpy old guy, and he was declaring that he needed his space.
Come to think of it, Frankie has other things in common with Clint Eastwood: He also spends a lot of time addressing empty chairs.
But that’s a story for another diary entry.
32 thoughts on “The Frankie Diaries, 8/19: Get Off My Lawn”
I loved this because I go through the same thing. After fighting for my spot on the bed, I get offended when one of the dogs decides to sleep elsewhere. Are they sick, I wonder, are they dying? I get obsessive and drag them back to bed. Nope – they just want their space and always come up for a morning snuggle!
Thanks, Miriam. Glad to have it confirmed that I was right about my audience — equally obsessive dog lovers!
These transitions are still hard, even if we can explain them. Some 19 months after Lilly’s brain was forever changed, I’m still making so many adjustments to her “new” life. In some ways, it’s like living with another dog … except in many ways, she is still her old self.
Yes, there are definitely many similarities in our situations, though yours happened suddenly which is more shocking. I worry about when I won’t be able to find the old Frankie in there somewhere and hope it’s later rather than sooner.
I would give anything for my dogs to get off the bed. Girlfriend sleeps with me and sometimes her butt is on my pillow. Sometimes she’s flush against my back and I cannot turn over or move the 63 pound brick. Then around 6 am Jett jumps on the bed and plops his 65 pounds on my feet and after a few minutes I cannot feel them.
I think you are lucky. My next dogs will not be allowed on the bed.
Ha — if you had small dogs and/or lived in a cold climate you might feel differently! As for your next dogs not being allowed on the bed — I’ll believe it when I see it!
funny, dogs have their own quirks… my cici went thru a stage a few months ago where she was not sleeping with me and not cuddling either and I thought, what the heck… maybe she no longer needs me. now, she is cuddling and sleeping with me, even with her damn cone on… which winds up on my head or legs… she suffocates me and refuses to move over and I have to sleep where I can. then she snuggles in so close on top of me. oh well, depending upon how they are feeling is how they respond, sometimes near sometimes far.
I remember you mentioned that on Facebook! You’re an example of “be careful what you wish for” 😉
I spend a lot of time trying to understand what my dogs need, and worrying that I might not be meeting them. So I completely understand your concerns.
More proof that I have found an audience for obsessive posts like this! Thanks very much for coming by.
Any behavioral changes cause worry simply because change is… disconcerting. As Emmett has gotten older, he’s stopped cuddling almost entirely. He jumps down from the bed when I get in at night. He moves from the sofa to a dog bed on the floor when another dog jumps up. At first I was upset and, okay, hurt. But, having observed his behavior for a while now, I sort of think that he just likes to get his bones and joints in a certain alignment to maximize comfort, and sharing space with another person or dog messes with that. He’s choosing comfort over cuddling!
No matter how much we think we know about dog behavior, we can’t help but take our pets’ actions personally, can we? I didn’t mention how rejected I felt, but that was definitely part of my reaction to Frankie’s nightly defection.
Maybe that should be part of the pitch for older dog adoption: Won’t hog your bed or sofa!
I had forgotten what it was like to have to share the bed with a 40 lbs bed hog until I got Zora in January. Now I’m pinned down by at least two cats and a dog every night. But if they were suddenly to change that I routine, I would become concerned too.
Funny! So who gets the best spot: The dog or the cats? I suspect the cats, even though Zora outweighs them…
Empty chair! Great one! I just sprayed my coffee across Gus’s eyebrows!
I was terribly concerned, then hurt, when Archie staked out the office as his bedroom after all our happy years together (wow, that looks even nuttier in print!). Did I see reproach in his deep brown eyes? Rejection? A call from the other side? Nah, ultimately, as he had his moments of great affection, of great presence, and as he survived several more years, I concluded that times evolved and he just needed more peace in his ancient years. Ironic, isn’t it, that we think of dogs as creatures of such entrenched habits, but it’s we who have problems when the routine changes.
When Gus first came to live with me he was compliant, if not overjoyed, about sleeping on the floor next to my bed. I insisted on this because a couple of friends had warned me that I’d never get another human into it if I had the hairy beast laying claim to most of the mattress acreage. And after all, I’d been dogless for several months and before that, had CCD Archie, whose sleeping arrangements had increasingly excluded me. But after a week of that, I couldn’t adjust to having a dog lying next to the bed imitating a bearskin rug (yeah, I didn’t feel too good about stepping on him in the middle of the night, either). I calculated historical time spent with human in bed versus with dog in bed, and relented. Now I’m hurt that he invariably moves to the end of the bed a few minutes after I jump in, rather than spooning. [I guess I’m responding to Karyn here–you’ll keep next dogs out until….]
Good point about how we think dogs need their routines — that’s what we always read, isn’t it? — when, in fact, we are the ones who expect them to remain the same over time.
Yeah, sharing a bed with humans as well as other dogs has its own set of issues… in days past, when Frankie was more of a Velcro dog (or a fierce protector; I’m not sure which), I would have to keep the door closed if I didn’t want Frankie to join me and my companion in bed and make his presence known. It seems to me that Gus offers the best of both worlds: a nice presence at your feet who doesn’t hog the entire mattress.
Sorry about the eyebrows, Gus…
Oh Edie, how I identify, from lowering the bed closer to the floor for my previous dog, to sleeping on an air mattress next to her when she was ailing with kidney failure, to my heart breaking a little when Sadie decided, after several concerted tries on my part to convince her that sleeping next to me was the best place to be all night, that having the entire couch to herself was much more satisfying. I’m so glad Mr. Frankie still recognizes you and has just decided that for now he needs his space to sleep at night. Who knows, maybe he’ll change his mind again and return to your bed.
I must say I feel a lot better knowing that I’m not the only one who takes my dog’s behavior so personally — and who rearranges my life for my dog to such an obsessive degree! I’m afraid poor little Frankie doesn’t have much mind left to change — he’s really quite out of it, though he does know me — but maybe his instincts will lead him back to my bed.
By the way, these last two portraits of Frankie are divine!
Thank you! It’s tough to take a good picture of Frankie these days, but I managed to snap a good one with his head up in the Fairmont.
A hospice dog, Weim/Lab mix, stopped digging in the yard. Peanut dug deeply and prolifically but now I and my volunteers note her resting away from the pack, in a corner either on a pad or on the bare floor. She has mammary tumors, and I see more popping up :(. For her and me, this change is not good though more comfortable for her and better for my yard. I’d rather she still dig holes….
I remember a previous Lab, Sammie. She endured spinal arthritis longer than she should have. Unlike the Drama Queen Beagles, the Labs and Lab mixes I’ve known are quite stoic – so I’m watching Peanut carefully.
Tough times, Edie. Good assessment on your part. Frankie, you have your space!
Yeah, I know what you mean about suddenly getting nostalgic for bad behavior when it signals good health! Poor Peanut — I hope she’s just tired, not in pain!
Frankie always got pretty much what he wanted but sometimes he had to work for it. Much less so these days…
This is a beautiful story. And the perfect format for telling it. Made me laugh and feel less alone as a dog owner. You definitely know your audience.
What a nice thing to say, Wendy. Thank you so much.
I know how hard this is, we all know. Tashi just started leaving the room, reappearing at 6 am or so…I don’t like it, but of course it’s his choice. He still seems to have his wits about him and he just now got playful with me and that was a joy! Love the “get off my lawn” moment Bwahaha — I can see it in my head! Love the post =)
Thanks, Mary; I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was fun to compare Frankie and Clint Eastwood…
Great that Tashi is still in his right mind and playful. I was going to say it’s thoughtful that Tashi gives you an extra hour of sleep beyond Frankie’s 5am entry but if I recall your sleeping habits, you’ve just settled into bed about then!
Why yes! What a memory you have 🙂 I still do that on occasion but now it’s for clients — surprisingly need to get to sleep at 1 or 2 a.m. so I managed to trash the pseudo insomnia weird sleeping patterns. I think Tashi was especially glad!
I’ll bet he was!
Ha! Seeing Frankie as grumpy Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino has just got imprinted in my brain. If there is one dog with enough attitude that can get away with carrying Clint one-liners in style, it is Frankie.
So true! I’ve been making sure to keep him away from firearms. You never know.
I’ve had similar experiences with Bella going off on her own now that she’s older. I’ve been trying to puzzle it out myself – with her, I do think she hasn’t been feeling like herself for quite a while. She’s still hanging in there, but I know she’s not 100% given her kidney issues. However, some days I’m pretty sure she’s just having a grumpy old lady moment too.
I’m glad to hear that Frankie’s current change is more grumpy old man moment and less CCD-related. That photo of him in his bed is insanely adorable.
Oh, I’m sorry to hear about Bella’s kidney issues. It’s a bitch getting older (sorry — you inspire puns!).
Of course, since I posted that, Frankie has perversely decided to stay in my bed on occasion — once for the entire night. I’d swear he was reading my blog, if I didn’t know he can’t reach my computer.