Piper is a remarkably adaptable dog.
Most days, especially since March 2020, the middle-aged hound spends her days at home, napping on the couch, sunbathing in the yard, and chairing the local chapter of the Squirrels Are The Enemy club. She joins me on a few runs or walks each week and the occasional weekend adventure hike around Pennsylvania. She spends nearly every daylight hour in my presence during this work-from-home time.
There was a time a few years ago when she spent a 10+ hour drive to Maine resting patiently in the backseat. When I stopped into a diner for lunch, she didn’t make a peep as I walked away. Leaving her to guard the car in a shaded area (I told her the job paid in french fries and she immediately accepted), I returned after my meal to find a groggy Piper in the driver’s seat. No separation anxiety from this mutt.
More recently, Piper accepted a new job as “office dog,” – which comes with rules like “no scaring the mail lady.” She’s adjusted well to her new role and is less on-edge when the office door opens than when she started. All traits contrary to her youth, keeping me awake in our tent most of the night, guarding us against chipmunk invaders of Mt. Desert Island. She’s learning.
For example, in 2019, I bought a brand new car. Later that year, I scheduled an early morning oil change at a local dealership (a first for me!). Since I was stopping on my way to work, Piper was with me – entirely out of habit, I hadn’t thought about what I would do with her while the car was in the shop. I asked the technician if he minded me bringing Piper into the waiting area with me. Luckily, he said it was fine.
I leashed Piper and we walked into a waiting room with 5-6 people. We quietly walked to a table and sat – me on a chair, her on the ground. We sat there for nearly an hour. Quietly.
Going into that room, I thought she would put up with sitting still and not greeting people for ten minutes, and then we’d have to go for a walk. She has likely trained me as much as I’ve trained her. I knew what it would take to keep her content – I laid my jacket on the ground for her and she curled up. She got up once or twice when a stranger came within petting distance. But otherwise, she was happy enough laying and watching and waiting for me to say, “ok, let’s go, kiddo.”
That is one of my favorite Piper stories because it’s a story of a mature dog. A dog with experience behind her eyes and ears and the ability to separate instinct from expectations. It’s been exciting to watch Piper grow up – four-year-old Piper would have looked and sounded quite different in that waiting room. Her patience and quietness took time – she knows the difference between playtime and quiet time. A lesson the two of us learned together.
A few weeks after I turn 30 in April, Piper will begin her 9th trip around the sun. I’ve had her by my side nearly all of my 20’s. And we’ve both done a lot of learning and changing, always together. To date, she has a perfect track record of keeping secrets, listening, and sticking with me through all my questionable decisions. She’s not a perfect dog, but she is an ideal friend – and the cheapest (and furriest) mental and physical health therapist I’ll ever find.