"My little dog: A heartbeat at my feet." — Edith Wharton.
When it comes to pet ownership, there are two distinct schools of thought on sleeping arrangements. One is that the only furry things allowed in the bed are husbands, while dogs should be appropriately and sanitarily confined to a kennel or their own bed.
They will argue — quite convincingly — that snoring dogs and face-kneading kitties will interfere with sleep, and that animals who are allowed to share mattress space may develop alpha dog aspirations — snarling and snapping at other pets, or even lowlier humans, who dare to encroach on their sacred territory. I once belonged to this first category.
I had just finished reading numerous articles and books on how to properly care for a dog, and so briefly fancied myself to be a bit of an expert. My dog would never bark excessively, jump up on others, drag his butt across the carpet or pick fights with other dogs. He would sleep in a kennel in the garage, become a champion agility dog and perhaps take up chess, opera appreciation and needlepoint.
I clung onto these idyllic dreams for about a month. Then I actually got a puppy. In no time, Jake the Human Whisperer had deftly trained his humans to perform a variety of tricks, which included screaming and running in circles whenever he squatted in the house, feeding him hot dogs to make him stop barking and clinging to the edges of the bed so he could sleep spread-eagled (spread-beagled?) in the center of the bed.
Since then, I have meekly relegated myself to the second group of pet owners: Those who sleep with their pets. We inductees into this second group no longer fret about fur, pet dander or the occasional half-eaten pig’s ear we discover under our pillows. It feels perfectly normal to share our valuable rest time wedged between a gassy Rottweiler and six of his favorite squeaky toys.
Back when I had Jake, I was still married. On more than one occasion, I would turn over, finding my human mate had been replaced by a snoring, 90-pound golden Labrador with the covers pulled up to his chin and his head resting on the pillow in a disturbingly human fashion.
At the same time, my long-haired cat Sebastian would either wrap his 17-pound body around my head so that I resembled a Russian Cossack or knead my throat relentlessly until he successfully closed off my windpipe, all in a ploy to awaken me for his breakfast. (As the years passed, these requests arrived earlier and earlier, until I found myself stumbling through the house to pour food into his bowl at 4 a.m.)
When I acquired tiny Kita several years later, I was determined to do it right this time. She would sleep in a kennel in the bedroom, and I would not cave until she got used to it.
They say consistency, routine and reward are the key to successfully training an animal. This is absolutely true. After three weeks of consistently whining through the early hours of the night, this tiny puppy wisely rewarded me by dozing off silently and obediently whenever I removed her from the kennel and let her sleep in bed.
In fact, to this day, Kita sleeps with me, usually positioning herself behind my knees or by my feet. On occasions when I’m traveling and she’s not there, I will wake up and almost palpably feel her absence — like a part of me is missing. So, for me, I guess that is what it boils down to.
Pet hair? Yes. Dander? Yes. More interruptions in sleep? Certainly.
But also companionship, bonding and love. And the occasional pig’s ear.