By the time that Elisa returns to the barn at the end of the week, it will have been nearly a month. During that time, I have come to realize, as I do every time she leaves, that I am second best in the eyes of our dogs, and that the distance between first and second is so great that the distinction is essentially moot. The dogs are hers, and I am but a poor substitute when she is away.
I didn’t grow up around animals. My father has severe allergies to dogs and cats (as do I … this was a major obstacle that Elisa and I had to overcome early in our relationship), and so I didn’t ever have a dog, or spend much time around them at all. Now that I am the adopted father of three awesome K9s, I find myself in the position of having to learn their language, just as they find themselves in the position of having to communicate with an imbecile. When Elisa is here, I can easily think of myself as an animal person because of the ebb and flow of our day-to-day routine and Elisa’s experience working with all kinds of animals. We have been in each other’s lives for more than five years now, which you would think is ample time for the pups and me to have gotten to know one another fairly well. When Elisa is gone, however, the dogs and I quickly realize that we are stranded on a foreign island without a translator.
Since Elisa left to compete at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials three weeks ago, I have had the most trouble with our Jack Russell, TyTy. TyTy is used to spending much of the day outside and in the barn with Elisa. When Elisa is gone, though, he finds himself suddenly cooped up in the house. I leave in the morning, and return in the evening. Our working student Aly lets the dogs out when she is at the barn, and I of course try to let them out as much as I possibly can, but I know it’s not the same as when Elisa is around.
The most difficult situation for TyTy and me has been when it is time to come back inside. Elisa and I live in an apartment above the barn. Between the barn and the apartment is a foyer which, in the days leading up to Elisa’s departure for Blenheim, exploded with horsey stuff. I typically have very little trouble calling our other dogs in. Pocket is very responsive (unless she has to poop, in which case number two gets number one priority), and even our older deaf dog Poohie has an intuitive sense that it is time to return indoors. Since Elisa’s departure, however, TyTy has been frustratingly steadfast in his refusal to listen.
He enters the foyer without issue, but as I call the dogs up the stairs into the apartment, he just sits on one of the chairs. He stares at me. He is obstinate. Each time this happens, the situation escalates until I am finally forced to re-descended the stairs, stand before him, point, and firmly make my demand: “TyTy! Go Upstairs!”
This situation repeated itself nearly every day that Elisa was gone until, into the second week of her absence, I finally came to the realization that TyTy was not simply being an ‘opinionated Jack.’ He always plopped himself in the same chair, and that chair was not selected at random. On that chair was a pile of Elisa’s clothing. The reason for TyTy’s obstinacy was not simply to get his way, or even because he did not want to go upstairs. The reason for his daily refusals was that he missed Elisa, and the gravity of his relationship to her was so powerful as to overcome the claims I was making on his attention.
Since this realization, I have been far more understanding of TyTy, viewing moments like this, not out of frustration, but with tenderness. It is moments like this that demonstrate the humanity of animals. From a life spend without animals, my experience as a horse husband daily expands my horizons to appreciate the very blurry lines that separate us and them. It has expanded my heart. It has led me to grow in understanding and to embrace forms of love that, until Elisa, I never thought possible.