Thursday, October 1, 2009
My black labrador retriever, Zeus, does not set a very good example for a retired person like me. I estimate that he sleeps 22.5 hours per day. Other than his morning and evening meal and a little play time with me fetching, he is asleep or resting on some surface in the house. Let me enumerate his options for places to sleep: a dog bed in our bedroom and one in my den, our bed, another bed upstairs, the living room couch, living room chair, two different bean bag chairs, three different chairs on the deck, several pieces of furniture in the basement, and any floor surface whatsoever, carpeted or not. It makes me wonder as an evolutionary biologist what the ancestors of domestic dogs were selected to do--hunt, eat, and sleep, I suppose, and copulate once a year with a member of the opposite sex. What else matters?
This dog would rather sleep with one of us, or both of us, than just about anything else in his world. At about 10pm every night, if I haven't gone to bed yet, Zeus starts to get antsy, he whimpers, and he paws my leg. I used to think he needed to go outside when he behaved this way, but when I said "do you want to go to bed?", he ran down the hallway and jumped in our bed. The damn dog tells me when we have to go to sleep. In addition, he gets fairly excited when I say "you wanna treat?", but he gets even more responsive (and even runs to the house from the woods) if I say "you wanna take a nappie in the beddie?". (Why do we talk to animals like that. I always hate when adults talk to babies with baby talk, so I refused to do it. I always talk to babies like they are a freshman at Cornell. Sometimes I had to talk to freshman at Cornell like they were babies. I suppose each human matures at a different rate.)
The routine goes like this. I turn in at night first with Zeus on our bed. Later, Robin comes to bed and Zeus knows he has to get off the bed and sleep on the floor, which he does dutifully. It is just not comfortable with two adults and a 70-pound dog sleeping together. About 5am, he jumps back on the bed and gets all cuddly by doing the low crawl from the foot of the bed to the head of the bed, until his head is wedged between Management's and mine. This is how he awakens me affectionately. I think Management is also awake, but she fakes being asleep so I will take care of the dog. He wants to go outside and be fed, so I do that every morning at this ungodly hour. Immediately after being fed, he returns to bed to sleep with my wife. At that point I am wide awake, so I stay up. Zeus has managed to get fed AND to get the bed back. I'm left to drink coffee in the dark, alone. If dogs wrote scientific papers for canine biological journals, Zeus could pen his results as "Pavlov's dog trains Freud's human in six months".
In Greek mythology, Zeus was the king of the gods, ruler of the universe, the God of Mt. Olympus, and the ruler of sky and thunder. But today, Zeus is the ruler of DrTom's bed and the eater of DrTom's food. He can run as fast as the wind, and snore as loudly as a buzzsaw. He can jump onto a 3-foot platform in a single bound, and he likes to eat pears that fall on the ground. He protects our gardens from deer, and loves a good bonfire, and his favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. He will never father any offspring, and I doubt that epic poems will be written about him. And as our vet says about him, "he is a nice lab, just a little goofy." He will be remembered for many reasons, but foremost among these, he will be remembered as the King of Sleep.