This past Memorial Day, I got a phone call from the guy I'd been dating for two months. Kevin was adorable and handsome, and we were still in that giddy, romantic phase. If there was a complaint it was that he was almost too attentive, wanting to talk every day and wanting to see me as much as possible. Still, I was nuts about the guy and our time together was bliss.
When the phone rang I knew he was calling to let me know he was on his way over, ready to spend the last day of the sunny holiday weekend together, holding hands and maybe sneaking a smooch on the High Line in Chelsea. Instead, there was a quick hello then straight to the matter.
"I can't see you anymore."
"Why?" All I could think of was a death in his family.
"It's your dog. He sleeps in the bed with you. I would never allow that in my house and it's not going to work."
I haven't seen Kevin since. My dog still sleeps in my bed.
DJ, the pug I've had for eight years, has slept with me since about six months of age. That's not about to change. He also plops down on the couch and chairs and often sits on my lap when I'm working on the computer... like now. Do I regret any of this? Aside from the occasional dirt marks on a comforter or pillow, not a bit.
There are many reasons why I wanted a dog, and a huge one is the amazing love we get from their physical presence. There's nothing more enjoyable than stretching on the couch reading the newspaper as DJ sleeps on my lap, or cuddling up at night watching a movie, with DJ nestled in my arm or waking up in the morning to find a 22-pound bundle of heart-beating fur nestled among the pillows. He's not only a guaranteed de-stressor; he's a guaranteed love-of-life magnet.
I don't believe a dog can replace human affection, and I have no qualms with people who would rather not have their canines on the bed or couches or other select spots. It's for each of us to choose how we treat our animals and what we allow as acceptable behavior. I also know that some dogs, no matter how hard you try, will not sleep on your bed. I grew up with that dog, a Black Lab.
I've also learned from previous relationships that a dog in the bed can be problematic. My ex-boyfriend allowed DJ in his bed, rather reluctantly. He was the first man I was serious about after I adopted DJ, and I'd never had to give much thought about sharing the bed with a "third" party -- in this case, the third party being the boyfriend. Rick loved my pooch, but wasn't thrilled about nighttime when we jumped into bed and, sure enough, DJ jumped in as well, then insisted on sleeping between us. Twenty-two pounds of deadweight is a major roadblock in the spooning department.
If the bedroom was used for other purposes, the only way to keep DJ from whimpering, then crying, then scratching the door so paint chips fell off was to provide him with Bully Sticks. I felt like I was giving alcohol to a baby, but those things worked. Within a few months, the Bully Stick transformed into a treat once the bedroom door was back open -- a tactic I successfully use to this day.
My dog's physical companionship has been one of the great joys of the last eight years of my life, as well as a great healer. When I first adopted DJ, I suffered from depression and illness. There were some days when getting out of bed and walking him and playing fetch with him felt like a day's accomplishment. During those times, I often took afternoon naps.
DJ caught on to my illnesses. As soon as I hit the bed, he'd fly up out of nowhere, run around for a bit on the comforter to examine me, smother me with kisses, then plop down to rest... on my head. I had to turn my face sideways so that I could breathe, but for general relaxation it beat any five-star massage or meditation techniques I've received. Eight years later and he still serves as my "massage therapist" when I take an afternoon siesta (the code word is "Snuggle!").
I read an article once about a guy who said the secret to his success was allowing his dog to sleep in the bed with him. His theory was that dogs, unlike the rest of us, live in the moment; they're not concerned about the mistakes of the past or the pressure of tomorrow. Their lives are planted firmly in the present and it rubs off. It's true.
I shower my dog with love. I play with him, I exercise with him and keep him healthy and look after him when he's sick. The physical rewards of his upbringing are like animal crack. Should my temperature rise he won't leave my side and he won't eat. If I burst into tears or have a verbal argument on the phone he's right at my side planting kisses. The bond we have with dogs is already physical in that verbal communication is not our principal way of interacting.
Dogs can be relationship deal breakers for many reasons. So can religion and money and politics. Yet for many who don't approve of animals on furniture, there is a condescension in their reaction to my dog's "liberties"; an attitude that reeks of superiority, as if I don't know my place on the food chain. I've gotten the same treatment from people who love the Dog Whisperer, and lecture me when I tell them I'm not a follower. It reminds me a little of the teachers and neighbors growing up who raised their eyebrows at my non-religious upbringing. I growled at them too.
I had a date with a guy about a year ago, who, upon seeing DJ on my couch, abruptly told me to remove him. I removed the guy. When he called later to officially say my behavior was disgusting, I told him that I wouldn't go into his home and tell him where his pets were allowed to go, nor would I tell him what his child should wear or what type of kitchen cabinets he should purchase. And let's just say I wasn't exactly licking my wounds over that relationship coming to an end.
Today, if I meet a potential date I immediately tell him that my dog sleeps on my bed. I also have it listed on the dating site I joined. It seems no different than mentioning whether I smoke or drink or if I like Madonna. If my dog is a problem for someone else, it's best that it's out in the open immediately. The kicker is that I've discovered that I tend to be drawn to other men who allow their dogs on the bed.
My dog has spent more time with me in eight years than any person I know. He's here when I leave and he's here when I come home. He's slept next to me on the floor on a day when I was too depressed to climb into the bed, and he's been at my side when I've been devastated by heartbreak. I've rushed him to the hospital for the flu and dog bites, and I've nursed him back to health when he lost sight in one eye. Together, we must have walked a thousand miles together on these streets of New York.
At night, I say "Bedtime" and DJ jumps up onto a pillow, gives me a look and settles in. In that gaze is love in the purest form. It can't be explained or quantified, and yet it's as natural as air. Unlike the outside world, in that moment is clarity.
David Toussaint's most recent book is DJ: The Dog Who Rescued Me.