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Me and My (Unemployed) Dog

It’s another monday morning, and I’m reading the Times and sipping my coffee at an hour when most respectable people are already at work, or at least on their way. Like I used to be. Bam! The “Arts” section flies into my face as Tillie, my two-year-old Lab, head-butts her way onto my lap.

“You need a job,” I tell her as I rub her ears and wipe the sleep out of her eyes.

“Hell, I need a job,” I add.

It’s true. But had I been employed, Tillie wouldn’t have been here in my New York apartment, watching my every move to see what the day would bring. On the contrary, she was a direct result of my lack of a job — the beneficiary of my desire to accomplish something worthwhile while I had free time on my hands. Tillie is the second puppy I’ve raised for the Guide Dog Foundation. The first, Cathy, is now a working guide dog, and the pride of my life. Tillie, though quite wonderful, is a slacker. It was allergies that got her booted out of the guide-dog program and onto my couch.

So now we find ourselves in the same boat. Long days stretch ahead of the two of us like shadows on a late-summer afternoon. The intervals between our snack breaks seem to be getting shorter and shorter, and if either one of us makes even the slightest move toward the kitchen, the other is right behind. Our once-idle friends, who were always available for a romp in the park or a late-afternoon glass of wine, have moved on to big jobs and left us behind. Corey, Tillie’s favorite yellow Lab, is off guiding in New Hampshire. Leslie, my pal since college, is working such long hours that I rarely see her.

Too much free time can make you crazy. I recognize Til lie’s obsessive tendencies only because they mirror my own. She keeps a steady watch for the mean dog next door: I constantly check for Facebook updates. On our daily runs, she pees in the exact same three spots and I count my steps between lampposts. She chases her tail, I fruitlessly launch résumés into the ether. Really, the only difference between us is her lack of concern about money.

We did try the volunteer circuit, even before Tillie was tossed from Guide Dogs. An outing with an elderly woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease nearly gave me a heart attack, with my Parkinson’s lady hanging on to my right arm for dear life as Tillie yanked in the opposite direction on my left. Maybe we’ll give it another shot when she’s a little older. And the therapy dog thing? Let’s just say that neither of us survived the screening process. But I do suspect we’ll both get over that and try again, sooner or later.

I feel bad about Tillie not having a job. I understand how she feels. Like in the mornings, when that ad with Roscoe the bedbug-sniffing dog comes on TV and her head swivels around from its spot on my pillow, her eyes blazing with envy. Or when folks ask how Cathy is doing, and I feel like I should cover Tillie’s ears before recounting the stories about what a superstar guide my first puppy has become.

But then again, maybe I’m just projecting. Maybe she really doesn’t want to work. In fact, when I think about it, it seems as though those “allergies” that were making her so itchy right before she was about to go in for her formal guide-dog training suspiciously disappeared as soon as she was released to me. And she does love that couch. But in my opinion, she’s way too young for retirement. And so am I.

Now, together, we’re trying out a new job. We’re helping to raise Bau, an eightmonth- old future guide dog. I have a lot to teach him, and he has a lot to learn — mostly how “not” to do things. Like how not to trample the daffodils, how not to run down the stairs with a dog bed in his mouth, and how not to launch a stealth attack over a glass coffee table. Tillie’s lessons seem to be more focused on things like successful strategies for tug-of-war, tag and keep-away.

I hope Tillie doesn’t become too much of a role model for Bau. After all, I don’t want him to get any big ideas. He only has five months or so to go before he heads off to work, and I worry that Tillie’s going to make this whole jobless thing look a lot more appealing than it really is. I guess I’ll just have to keep an eye on her, and make sure she keeps her opinions to herself. The last thing I need is another bum under my roof.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 65: Jun/Aug 2011
Ellen Kaye is a freelance writer and co-author of The Wine Guy: Everything You Want to Know about Buying and Enjoying Wine from Someone Who Sells It. She lives in New York City.

Image: WACSO

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