Whenever someone rhapsodizes about their Lab, their Australian Shepherd, their Shih Tzu, I always smile and make encouraging remarks. It’s so important that people love their puppy dogs. But I know the truth: Bedlington Terriers are the best dogs there are, and Cleo is the cream of the crop.
Of course, I recognize that people have different needs in dogs and that what charms me about Bedlingtons might irritate someone else. Granted, the irritated person couldn’t possibly be in their right mind, but nevertheless. Even our trainer, who was recently celebrated as the AKC’s pick for both trainer of the year and breeder of the year, leaned down to Cleo during class the other evening and whispered, “I would take you home in a heartbeat!” Anyway, it’s pointless even to try to explain the perfections of one’s pet because whoever hears you will just smile and make encouraging remarks, but will never understand that your dog really is the height of perfection.
For the last few nights, Cleo has had to be on her own while John played at one venue or another and I performed a staged reading of a play at a local theater. Cleo is pretty relaxed about being left alone. Though she always gazes at us in disbelief as we walk out the door without her, it’s clear that when she hears the car drive away, she makes a nest out of the blanket on the chaise in the living room, then curls up and naps until we get home. As we walk back through the door, she lifts her sleep-rumpled face and checks that it’s us, then rolls over onto her back and exposes her tummy for a good rub. That done, she scrambles to her feet and wraps her arms around my neck, giving my face a good once-over with a wet tongue.
Last night, Saint Patrick’s Day (Saint Patrick’s Night?), John’s gig went much longer than mine. His band played till midnight, then the packing up and the drive home put it close to 1 AM by the time he called me to report in on the success of the evening. During the three hours that Cleo and I had been home alone together—other than a couple trips outside, once to relieve herself and once to patrol for intruding wildlife—she had followed me from one room to another, plunking herself down somewhere comfortable while I did whatever it was I was engaged in. When John called, we were in the middle of an active game of indoor fetch. The rules for this game are that Cleo and I sit on the chaise and when I throw a toy, she launches herself after it (remaining airborne for several feet), grabs it, then scrambles back to the chaise to tag me with it and a cold, wet nose.
She had just flung herself after a particularly good toss when my cell phone rang. I have a distinct ring tone just for John. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized that Cleo has learned to recognize that ring tone—the introduction to “Here Comes the Sun.” But as soon as it started, she whirled around and looked at me. As I picked up my phone, she hopped back onto the chaise beside me, curled up and stared at the door. Behaviorists say that dogs don’t have much sense of time, but Cleo knows that sometime after that song plays, Daddy comes through the door. Though the venue where John was playing was just down the hill on Cannery Row, it took him several minutes to get home. While she waited, Cleo put her head down and closed her eyes. When I knew he was close, I said to her, “Daddy’s almost home.” Up she sat, staring at the door once more. As we heard him pull into the driveway, Cleo pranced over to the door, tail wagging gently, ready to let her daddy know that he’d been missed.
It seems odd to say, but Cleo’s level of intellectual engagement with us is a source of constant wonder. She surprises us daily. And I have to smile when I think of the changes in my sweetheart. From the man who never wanted to have another dog to the playmate who races around the house at top speed, leaping over furniture in a wild game of keepaway. From the loving husband who resignedly told me, “Honey, I understand if you want to get a puppy” to the adoring puppy-daddy whom Cleo presses herself against for an extra snuggle every morning.
Sure, I think Cleo is the Angel of Perfection, but I know that the folks talking to me about their Lab, their Aussie, their Shih Tzu think that their little darling is, too. And that makes life pretty sweet.