This week I did one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done. I left Cleo at home with a babysitter while John and I went to New Orleans for five days.
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Training books, our vet, friends and friends of friends have told us over and over, “You need to let your dog get used to being alone so that she can feel confident and happy even when you’re away.” Forgive me, but that is a joke. Cleo had no problem being alone and seemed to thrive with the babysitter. It was John and I who didn’t do so well. Alright, truth be told, John was fine once we left the house. I, on the other hand, worried for the first twenty-four hours until I could text the sitter for reassurance that everything was fine. Of course, Cleo was doing great. I missed her every day of the trip.
It’s hard to imagine a more serendipitous run up to our vacation. Shortly after we booked our flight, I saw our neighbor watering her front yard. Knowing that Terri has a wide range of contacts, I ran across the street to ask her if she was acquainted with any good dog sitters in town. Terri has been known to say, in her usual forceful manner, “A house is not a home without a dog.” Benton, her portly old gentleman of a four-legged companion, is deaf as a post and his heart is probably the size and tensile strength of a tissue paper basketball, but their deep love for each other is palpable. He wobbles around after her as she does her yard work and keeps a watchful, if rheumy, eye on the goings-on in the street. I think Terri was even more excited than we when Cleo came to live with us. “I knew you couldn’t live without a dog,” she exclaimed triumphantly the day we introduced her to our little girl.
Not only did Terri know someone, but she herself had hired that someone to stay with Benton during the three weeks that Terri would be in Italy with friends, the middle week of which was the time we would be in New Orleans. Would Cleo like to come stay with Benton and Jane during the days we were out of town? An email to Jane confirmed that she was willing to take on both charges, and so the day she arrived we made our introductions. Immediately, my stress level went from Red Alert to a cautious Yellow. She was capable, confident, and no nonsense, and, most important of all, thought Cleo was adorable. “We are going to have the best time,” she assured us all. “We will be fine.” I believed it. Cleo certainly did. She flung herself at Jane’s knees as if she were greeting a long lost relative. The plan was made: Twelve hours of the day Cleo would hang with Jane and Benton; the other twelve hours she would be in the care of my step-son.
And so, Cleo being a big girl of one year, two weeks old, we launched. Neither John nor I had ever been to New Orleans before, but we have two wonderful friends who lived there for nearly a year and who just loved it. They provided us with lists and maps detailing must-see places, dependably delicious restaurants, and, most important of all, the absolute best music venues. For the most part, we followed their recommendations, though we did stray a little bit. One afternoon we took the ferry across the Mississippi to Algiers and strolled through the town to a coffee shop. A light breeze stirred the magnolia trees that lined the quiet streets, making the nearly eighty degree day feel fresh and gentle. Mockingbirds sang out at the tops of their lungs, and I couldn’t help but reflect on the line from the novel I’m teaching this year for the fourteenth time: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Everywhere we went in Algiers, we saw dogs. Dogs lolling around on porches, dogs walking in the square, dogs sitting quietly by as their people sipped coffee and ate plum pie. Maybe when you’re missing your own four-legged, the presence of others is more noticeable.
New Orleans itself is clearly a remarkably dog friendly city. The evening we arrived, Sunday, we made our way uptown to a bar-slash-music-joint that our friends had taken care to warn us was “pretty divey.” There was no music when we got there sometime around 7 PM—we learned shortly that even on Sunday nights, the music doesn’t get going till 10:30 at the earliest—but there were several patrons bellied up to the bar. What I first noticed were the three dogs sacked out on the floor by the line of bar stools, each with a leash leading up to the drink-free hand of its owner. I’m happy to say that by the time the music got going, the dogs had gone home. This bar was in no way unique. It was common to see dogs in the bars, in stores, walking in and out of hotels, and of course on the streets and in the parks. There is something to be said for a town that has risen to this level of dog friendliness. It also helps to explain the tragic numbers of dogs who died as a result of Hurricane Katrina, either during the storm or from the effects of disease in its aftermath; it seems like every family washed out by the flood had at least one dog.
Though I kept looking, I didn’t see a single Bedlington on our trip. Every time we went through a residential district, I had my eyes peeled. I was hoping to bring back some stories for Cleo. And truth be told, I was hoping to meet another Bedlington and its person to have the chance to say, “Oh, yes! We have a Bedlington at home,” and to compare notes. We did meet another four-legged, but of the distinctly cooler and less fuzzy variety.
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