Barkley gives me the look as he sees me pull the suitcase out. I've a short trip up north on business this week and I always pack a little extra in case weather changes my plans some. I'm going to hate to leave him, but he has fun with friends while I'm gone. I probably get too attached to my pets. But Barkley is family to me. Not a substitute for a relationship with another human being, but an outlet for the warmth I harbor in my soul, seeking a place for the waters of emotion to go when all else is damned up by duty. He's my confidant, he's my fashion critic (khakis and black shirt again? Well if you insist Barkley), he's the soft coated Kleenex if I cry.
He's given me renewed hope in the capacity of a heart, as his ability to love is boundless. He'll stay on alert, face aching with a grimacing growl, keeping that squirrel at bay while I'm at work. He's been the soft nuzzle of concern on my neck, whether it be a bad cold or a broken heart. I know that even when he's old, muzzle flecked with grey, woken by my movement into the family room where he snoozes on my leather couch, he'll move to my side as swift as strong as ever. Looking at me with brown eyes more humorous and honest than many humans, above the blunt black nose, content simply to be by my side because I'm there.
Dogs, will always be my favorites though certainly I've been around other pets, either by association or adoption.
There was the snake. Not mine, but belonging to a coworkers son who had built a herpitorium for his Boa as part of a high school project. They went on vacation and I was asked to (1) water the plants and take in the mail and (2) feed the snake. "Ok, where's the Purina snake chow", I said. Oh uh.
Apparently they like their food still alive, so I took the directions they gave me for a store that, in addition to regular pets, sold feeder rodents. I hated to do it, but I'd given my word. So off I go and bring home a couple mouse-like objects. I felt bad enough as it was. Catching mice in a little mousetrap was necessary in a country home but I was going to feed them live to a snake. I hate snakes. I felt worse and worse as I approached the house. The little carrier the store gave me to house them that was shaped and painted like a little house with the lettering "Thanks for giving me a home", did NOT help.
The snake got part of a Slim Jim, and the mice "accidentally" escaped in the barn.
Somewhere else along the way I inherited a parrot. The sister of a a pilot friend needed a home for the young bird after her divorce. It was just a little Cockatoo. They're like budgies on steroids right? How much trouble could he be? I named him "Beaker". He was a pretty personable little bird and easy for others to care for when I was off playing weekend warrior or attending grad school. They're smart, normally learning to talk. Not this bird. I had inherited mute bird. I tried all the tricks, repeating things over and over, rewards, repetition. Nothing ("No no he's not dead, he's, he's restin'! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, idn'it, ay? Beautiful plumage!")
This bird was not "restin" he just would NOT talk. Not even a "hello".
Then one night I had a get together on my houseboat. Just a few pilot friends, who were as close as brothers though we didn't share the same last name. We grilled, sat out on the deck and had a couple beers. Beaker was in high form, sitting on folks shoulders, walking across the room (he could fly, he just chose NOT to), getting some treats fed to him.
Where I lived was a ways out of town, with a treacherous road so the guys brought sleeping bags as I said I wouldn't serve beer if anyone was going to attempt to drive home. Finally after much food and a few beers, I headed up to my little loft bedroom, pulling up the stairs and saying goodnight to the gang sleeping downstairs with the television. They were still up, surfing with the remote, amazed at the great cable I got and all the channels including, apparently, "naughtyvision", which I was sure they were going to study in great detail, once I was asleep.
I slept like a log, earplugs in and came downstairs in the morning to the sight of three of my best friends snoozing on the floor. Beaker was back in his cage, proudly proclaiming at the top of his little bird lungs "Nice Tits!"
My bird had learned his first (and only) words.
OK, cross off the pastor's wife as a bird sitter in the future.
Now, I just have Barkley, his form of communication with others mostly a version of Doggie Tourettes as the neighbor's mutt goes by - &*@(! you mongrel, you want a (#)@* piece of me?!"
But to me he communicates all I need to hear, trust, love and devotion. To Barkley, I'm not Dr. B, or Brigid or someones Mom or Daughter. I'm not a blogger, a title or a name. To Barkley, I'm just his chosen instrument to love and protect, imperfections and all.
And though he's partial to squeaky little animals, fortunately they're the plastic kind.