The baby has just turned 8 months old. She has been practicing self-feeding with finger foods for a few weeks now. Generic crispy rice cereal seems to please her greatly. I only use them when I need a few minutes to prepare her "real" meal. I sprinkle a bit of crispy rice on her tray and she busies herself with her little pinchy fingers- picking at the individual pieces with precision and bringing them to her mushy mouth. For every one in the mouth, ten get brushed to the floor. I've never worried about the stragglers. We've always had a dog or two underfoot to lap them up with relish (yes, sometimes there is relish on the floor). Today, the baby seemed disinterested. She has a new high chair-one that she can lean over-one where she has a terrific view of the dog. And, the game has begun of pinching the food bits off of her tray and nonchalantly, deliberately dropping them for our dog, Ruby, to catch.
Today, Ruby, also, seemed dispassionate in helping the baby finish her pre-breakfast. Instead of sitting by the high chair- at the ready, she was laying on the living room rug reluctant to budge. I called her over and pointed at the crispy bits on the floor. She sniffed and backed off. The only other time Ruby refused meals or snacks was this past July when she was ill with a horrendous case of diarrhea and depression as she mourned the loss of her companion, Oscar. So, I turned to Ruby,"What is the matter, dear?" Ruby promptly crossed the threshhold to the kitchen and stood before her water bowl. Dry as a bone. I seem to remember seeing it in my periphery last night-less full than usual- as I went about washing and drying the parts to my evening shackle (I mean, my manual breast pump). I made a mental note to fill the bowl before bed. But then my brain farted and knocked itself out. And my poor dog went thirsty. I filled the bowl to the tip- top with cool, fresh water. And, apologized for my neglect. She stood lapping it up for two full minutes and then joined us in the dining room where she effortlessly swiped up the crispy bits with one sweep of her purple tongue.
In that moment, I realized how very grateful I am for Ruby. Without her, I would actually have to use the broom that spends more time hanging in our kitchen closet than it does on the floor. But, she is so much more than a four-legged Hoover. I feel safe(r) knowing that she is around. For years, the Mr. worked from home. I never worried about armed robberies during the daytime because I knew that I could fend off the burglar while he snuck in the other room to phone the police. But now that my hands are so often tied with baby matters and there has been a recent wave of thievery in our quiet neighborhood, I know that my enfeebled arms have no muscle memory for fighting and my flaccid brain may forget the three simple digits to call for help. I rely on Ruby to be my first line of defense. By physical appearances she looks like something wild. Her muttiness has been construed as both an homage to Muppet Theatre and also something to be wary of. I am certain I have heard more than one stranger mumble,"We don't know what she is, or what she is capable of- we should probably cross to the other side of the street." She alerts me to the changes in the rhythm of our neighborhood. As much as I would love to believe that this Chow Chow/ something mix would protect me- viciously warding off whatever enemy breaches the peace of our home, I know that she would just wag her tail and fold in on herself at the slightest attention from a stranger, from even the evilest of interlopers. She would not hurt a fly, but her high pitched, excited whining, would let me know that a fly has entered the house. Maybe that alone would give me enough time to find the fly swatter-arming myself against the intruding insect before it has time to take stock in our valuables and poop on the bananas we leave out on top of the microwave.
Having animals reside in your life is expensive to both the financial and emotional pocketbook. When we made the decision to put to sleep the senile creature who barked to go outside and then would forget why he was out there, who then would come in and poop on the floor, and would have intense anxiety attacks even if he thought we had left him alone making him go out of his mind enough to gnaw on the metal support posts in our basement- we felt the blow to our chests. It knocks the wind out of you to walk into the veterinarian's office with this animal who has spent 12 years in your home and to walk out alone( this time the poor Mr. took on the death duty) . I know we will experience that with Ruby, as well. I don't want to think about that now. Our relationship has been symbiotic- we rescued her from the probability of a short life due to abuse and neglect at the hands of her former owners, and I believe that every day she rescues us- possibly from the dangers that would enter our home if she was not here. But, most definitely, she has rescued me from an exhausting Cinderella life (pre-glass slipper)- constantly mopping, always sweeping. What more could I need from her?