Earlier this month my husband and I went out of town for several weeks to spend time with my family in Florida and to go to our beloved Disney World. This annual trek is so precious because it is our time to be together without anyone needing anything from us and we get to put adulting on hold and act like kids, or at least much younger adults.
Of course, I have written about these trips before, and the fact that no matter how much I love this time with just my husband, it is also a long time to entrust the care of my dogs to anyone but me. We’ve established through this blog that I am more than a little neurotic and picky. I have exactly two trusted pet sitters and one boarding kennel on my personal list of approved caretakers, so changing things up and trusting our eldest human child with their care was a ginormous leap of faith for me.
My husband broached the subject with me well before our departure date, knowing that it was going to take me a while to become comfortable with the idea. A long while.
It was not a question of our son’s character, his love of the dogs, or his decision making that made me so uncomfortable. He has great character, was a manager at his workplace before he even graduated from high school, and is working on a degree in social work with the help of an academic scholarship. My nerves were caused by the fact that it’s easier to ignore or question your parent’s instructions than it is a boss or teacher, and my dog care instructions do not allow for ad-libbing or deviating from the established procedures.
As I pondered the topic, I thought about all of the times I had watched my parents’ dogs when they traveled and how seriously I took the task. Not only did my parents go away for two to three weeks, but they were usually out of the country on some remote island that required a tiny plane to get them back and forth to a bigger airport with flights to the United States. There was no hopping on the next flight out of Orlando for them if I had had a problem as a teenager, which fortunately I never had.
I remembered how my bond with the dogs grew even stronger each time I watched them alone like that, how much fun it was having them sleep in my room at night. I thought about how our dog Cinder ate a wasp one evening while on my watch, and how I sat up with her the entire night, making sure that her head and throat were not swelling up and blocking her airway, and that at 18, 19, and 20, I was quite capable of taking care of emergencies and keeping them safe.
And so I agreed to let Jackson and Tinkerbell be cared for by their big brother.
The night before our flight, I made sure the dog care binder was updated, the post-it note reminders were in place, and that he knew where all of the dog supplies were located. I take a lot of teasing from my family about my habit of placing post-it note reminders for basic things like locking the door, setting the alarm system, but it makes me feel better and keeps the post-it company sales robust.
Of course, everything was fine and we returned tanned and full of Mickey Mouse shaped foods to be greeted by happy, healthy dogs. I managed to only text every few days and refrained from asking to Facetime the dogs. It was not until after we were settled back in that our son told us of the night that he thought he lost Jackson.
Like many dogs who were properly introduced to a crate, both of my dogs will often hang out in their crates even when they don’t have to. I frequently find both of them fast asleep in their crates with the doors wide open when I am in my office working or watching TV in the family room. They also have both pushed back their kennel beds and prefer to sleep on the hard plastic kennel floor using their beds as pillows. Every time I smooth out the beds, thinking they cannot possibly be comfortable, they push them back out of the way.
One night as he got ready to go to take the dogs to bed, he could only find Tinkerbell. He called for Jax but Jax did not appear. He checked Jax’s crate, checked the entire house, and started to panic. Afraid he had somehow left him outside on their last potty break, he searched our entire fenced yard and even went into the front yard even though he knew there was no way the dogs could have opened the front door on their own. Still no sign of Jax.
Growing more and more upset, he decided to put Tinkerbell in his crate while he tried to find Jax. There was no way he wanted to call me but could not figure out where Jax had gone or how he had gotten there and was resigned to the fact that he was going to have to call and completely freak me out.
As he closed the door to Tinkerbell’s crate, he noticed Tink standing awkwardly smushed up against one of the crate walls even though her kennel is large enough for her to move around and spread out. It was then that he saw Jax hanging out in Tinkerbell’s crate, almost invisible as he blended in with the black plastic kennel floor. In my mind I imagine Jax thumping his big thick otter tail and giving his human sibling a look that said, “Sorry bro, I didn’t want to get up!”
I’ve written several times about how it is just as important to train your kids to be around dogs as it is to train your dogs to be around kids. If you listened to my interview with my own Dad or read my book, you know that I am a dog lover and responsible dog owner because of my parents. As our human kids continue to reach adulthood, it makes me proud to know that we are raising the next generation of responsible animal lovers and that it is being passed down to another generation who will love and care for our dogs and cats and animals in general just like our parents taught us to do.