The dog-sitter

monkey baby

It was hard to get good help those days. The Brown family had a bear, a young one, mind you, to tend the children. The Nelsons, however, had a dog. You might say having a dog to keep the children company was to be expected, and it was, but not in this way.

Simon was a spaniel mix of some sort. They weren’t sure. It wasn’t like they got him from a kennel. He was found along with his littermates under their back shed one spring day, all mewling and trembling. All of them were cute, but only Simon was attuned to them.

They’d gone to check on the litter several times, admiring the way the mother was caring for them. This was probably her first litter, but she was doing great, like this was her favorite thing to do. The Nelsons had heard of animal mothers instinctually knowing what to do, and this one sure did. They wondered how it was possible that some “lesser” animal could know more about tending an infant than humans did. Maybe humans did know, they’d just forgotten in the race to be “civilized”. Maybe they still knew, very deep down.

They found homes for the rest of the puppies, but Simon they had to keep. He was too perfect to give away. They’d only briefly considered giving him a dog name like King or Spot, but no such name fit him. He really was like a human in dog form, so they gave him a human name. He was a full-fledged member of the family then, albeit one who slept in the garage.

That was until they had their third child. There was no time for taking off from work, no money for daycare. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson’s parents had died long before they got married, so there were no free babysitters to be had. So Simon would have to do.

He was normally a very serious and sober dog, but he became even more so when they put his uniform on. It was as if he knew he was on duty once they dressed him in his apron and cap.

Simon was the best babysitter they could have ever hoped for. He was alert to every cry and always made sure the baby was warm enough. He’d either drag a blanket over her or just lay down next to her.

There was only one problem. The baby thought Simon was her mother, and refused to even recognize her real mother when she returned home from work. It was as if her own mother was a piece of furniture that moved. She didn’t hate her mother – she didn’t even know her to hate her. Simon was all she’d ever needed and not even known it.

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Felix’s last stand

4

Felix was having none of it. His parents had chased him around the house for an hour, trying to snatch him up. This was the day to get his hair cut for the first time.

They had braced him for it for a week – dropping hints as to what to expect, offering promises of treats if he behaved. He knew full well what they were planning to do to him. He knew that of all the things they had done to him in the name of his ‘best interest’, this was the last straw. He had to finally draw the line.

He was sick of being directed, ordered, bossed around. Nobody ever asked him what he wanted to wear. Nobody even cared to know what he wanted to eat. Every day of his three years of being alive was a battle of wills.

Every now and then they got it right and they gave him something that wasn’t tasteless to eat or scratchy to wear. Those days were rare, and on every other dull, grueling day, he felt that his very being was being washed away bit by bit until the rock that he was had worn away to nothingness.

Little Maxie was his only friend, the only one who understood. They’d gotten her when Felix was six months old after a particularly difficult trip to the doctor for booster shots. They hoped she would be a calming influence on him. It turned out that the two had developed a stronger bond than his parents could ever imagine. They both felt the same way.

Both were ordered around. Both were ignored, neglected, relegated to the ‘passive’ pile in their parent’s minds. Felix and Maxie developed a common bond out of their silent mutual suffering.

They forged a method of communication that worked perfectly for them, which his parents were oblivious to. Why wouldn’t they be? They never even thought to speak with either one of them – always at, or to, but never with.

It was funny in a not-so-funny kind of way. Both of his parents were all about communication, but they never thought to apply their skills at home. Mom spent her weekdays teaching dolphins how to communicate, getting them to mimic human speech or to point at symbol boards with their noses or flippers. All day she taught them how to tell her what they were feeling. She constantly modified her techniques to better understand their needs and wishes and thoughts. Never once did she think to learn their language.

These ‘animals’, these beings she and every other scientist thought were lesser than, purely by virtue of the fact they weren’t human, were expected to learn human language rather than the other way around. Who was less intelligent?

Felix’s Dad was equally culpable. He too had no excuse. They both knew better and they both didn’t act upon their knowledge. Ignorance was indeed bliss, but they didn’t have that luxury.

His Dad worked as a counselor with people who had learning disabilities. It had been his passion for a dozen years, far longer than his marriage, a third of his life. He’d even gotten professional recognition for his techniques to reach patients who were considered unreachable by conventional methods.

Neither of the parents thought to take their work home with them. Felix was a child, and that was that. It was unthinkable to them that he should be asked his opinion. Dolphins and profoundly autistic children were paid more heed than him, purely because he was theirs. The idea of trying to communicate with their child was something they never would have considered. Why would they ask him his opinion? They knew that their job as parents was to tell him what to think – not to ask.

Felix and Maxie had refused to budge from the settee. That stiff sofa was the ultimate symbol of all they were fighting against. It had been moved into Felix’s room last winter when the parents had bought a plush leather sofa for themselves. They had decided unequivocally that dogs and children were not allowed on it, out of fear of stains and rips. They were relegated to the board-stiff contraption of cloth and wood that had been in the family longer than anybody could remember. It had stains but no stuffing. In their minds it was perfect for a boy and his dog – they couldn’t wreck it any more than it was.

The boy and his dog thought otherwise. Here they were going to make their final stand. Here was going to be the epicenter of their future, the point where they were going to make their captors listen to them for the first time.

In unison they both peed on the couch.

Horrified, Felix’s parents and Maxie’s owner (or was it the other way around?) stared at them both as the warm pungent liquid seeped into the threadbare cloth. As a communication technique, it wasn’t the best. It got them to be noticed for sure, but not taken as seriously as they had hoped.