In the fragile darkness of morning, birds chirp outside our bedroom window, heralding the start of another day. I hear my husband snort, scratch, then hit a couple of buttons on his bedside clock to ward off the inevitable alarm bells.
My sports swatch emits a beep, but I slap my wrist to make it stop and curl onto my side, snuggling into my pillow. Just 10 more minutes.
From under the foot of our bed comes an elongated yawn, beginning deep and low, and finishing with a high-pitched squeal and a few jaw-smacking clucks. It’s Dinghy, our aging labradoodle, whose 110-pound body clock is now considerately working in tandem with ours.
A bit of a late bloomer, Dinghy took his sweet time maturing, despite the fact that everyone told us that “dogs take two years to settle down.” We picked him out of a litter of fat pups on a farm in rural North Carolina in 2006, and named him Dinghy — an homage to our life as a Navy family. Although a bit naughty — stealing socks, sampling toilet water and turning the backyard into Swiss cheese — Dinghy became our constant companion, comforting and entertaining us through deployments and PCSes.
Now, in his eighth year, Dinghy is technically as old as my husband and me, and we’re all showing our age. Like us, Dinghy no longer faces each day with unbridled enthusiasm and spontaneity, but instead, thrives on routine. As we drag our weary bones out of bed and to the bathroom to wash and brush, Dinghy begins each day with his own morning self-cleaning ritual.
He comically turns himself into a pretzel in order to scratch inside his ears with his long awkward hind feet. Inevitably, he misses the first few times, haphazardly wapping his neck and the back of his head, until he finally finds that sweet spot under his floppy ear. Without looking, we know he’s found it when we hear him grumble deeply as if to say, “Oh yeah, that’s the ticket.”
Once done scratching, he cleans his paws in preparation for what is arguably one of the cutest things you’ll ever see. Alternating each enormous front foot, Dinghy wipes his own face over and over, then with paws daintily crossed, he licks them one last time.
Despite this elaborate cleaning ritual, Dinghy faces each day looking like a dirty bathroom rug, with shaggy legs and a perpetually dripping, foul-smelling beard.
Once downstairs, we pour coffee as Dinghy slurps water from his nearby dish, waiting for the subtle signals that we’re ready to take him on a walk: putting on our shoes, filling a travel mug with coffee, grabbing his leash from the hook in the garage.
For that moment, he turns into an adolescent again, excited to experience the sights, sounds and flavors outside.
Every morning, he marks the same trees, nibbles the same grass patches, and makes his daily deposit conveniently close to the neighborhood pet waste bin.
Once home, Dinghy takes inventory of the family, and then eats his breakfast. Between chomps, he slurps water, then lopes out of the laundry room to make sure we’re all still there. By the time he’s done, there’s a path of slimy drips and kibble shards trailing out of the laundry room.
Belly full, he licks his chops and belches, before finding a suitable spot to sleep the remainder of the day. Usually, he prefers to climb slowly onto the couch in the den and circle around for what seems like forever before lowering is body in one slow, groaning plop.
Other than a brief frisky period when the kids get home from school, Dinghy’s middle aged eat-walk-sleep routine continues late into the evening, when he follows us back upstairs for the night.
As my husband and I nestle into the well-worn spots in our bed, Dinghy plops down with one final groan as if to say, “Whew, these dogs’r barkin’.”
As a Navy family still on the move after more than 20 years, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.