dog lottery

Well, dog, you're five. Happy birthday.

There was a time when I didn't think you'd live much longer than this, because of things I'd heard about giant breed dogs. But it's obvious you're not going anywhere for a while. At five years old, you have the energy and playfulness of a puppy, which is what you're still occasionally mistaken for.

Speaking of which, you were a ridiculous, pain in the ass of a puppy. Adorable, clumsy, hysterical when left alone. You hated to be crated, and you were terrible on a leash. But now that you're all growed up, I can't believe how much I lucked out.

I won the dog lottery.

Let's start with what a pleasure it is to walk you. You trot along beside me, and you only pull when you see a familiar face that you want to greet. The leash hangs slack between us, a wordless agreement to move at a comfortable, companionable pace. People are amazed at how good a walker you are - other dog owners, jealous. Even if you're in a mood to sniff every goddamn tree, you respond to my slightest correction, and settle in by my side, content just to be out and about. At night, when the streets are empty, I unclip you, and we sprint together down the sidewalk, you bursting with energy and joy in the cold night air. But you always stay close, and I never have to worry about you running off, or away. I take you everywhere I possibly can: coffee shops, the cleaner's, the tailor's, the salon, late night pizza runs. I even sneak you into the very edge of Grand Central Market, so I can get juice for our walks.

You're friendly to strangers, stopping cheerfully to say hello when you hear them exclaim over you. You've come to recognize the oohs and ahhs that mean someone wants to pet you. You allow yourself to be stroked, your chin to be lifted, and your gaze to be held, by humans you've never met. You read my energy, and if I'm nervous, so are you - but you never snap or snarl. Most days we can't go a block without at least one person wanting to meet you. You're unfailingly calm with children, even when they grope and pull and scream. You sniff toddlers' and babies' faces with gentle curiosity, to the delight of both them and their mothers.

At home, you're less a pet than a roommate. You keep me company for hours at a stretch, lazing about on your bed or the floor. You've learned to ask permission to be let on the bed: you'll stand beside it and look at me imploringly. Sometimes I'll indulge you, and throw an old sheet on top of my covers, so you can stretch out in luxury.

You're smart. You've learned your schedule, you read my cues - you know how to ask for what you want and need, be it a toy that's rolled under the bed, a trip to the park, a treat, or just a few minutes' worth of caresses. You're completely in tune with my emotions, and it never ceases to amaze me, how much your mood on an given day lines up with my own. If I'm sleepy, you zonk out. If I'm happy, you're playful. If I'm stressed, you pace.

When I'm upset, you're instantly at my side, pawing me, licking my face, whimpering. If I cry, I can't do so for very long - I quickly end up consoling you. But I don't even have to get to that point for you to feel the change in my energy; you reach me before the tears do. You've seen me through the death of two parents, a divorce, three moves, and a handful of breakups. You wait patiently while I travel the world. You never judge a single bad choice I make.

You love your toys, and play with every single one. When friends come over, you systematically present each of your balls, ropes, and stuffed animals to them one at a time, showing off like a child. You're no longer afraid of the toy basket I bought you a few years ago; you plunge your head straight into it and root around to get exactly what you want.

You've learned to talk, small growls and cries and barks and howls that I echo back to you. We converse together in your jowly voice, sometimes throwing our heads back and singing. You ask for meals. You whine for lost toys. You growl playfully for attention.

You've accepted the major changes in your life with grace and even, it seems, gratitude. Suburb to city. House to apartment. Yard to sidewalk. Smaller and smaller abodes each time. And yet you've remained sweet-natured, playful, well-adjusted. You let me know when you need some attention - a few minutes of tug-o-war, or a good long walk and some socialization. You've adjusted to loft life beautifully. You've made friends. You have play dates. You're a recognizable fixture in our neighborhood.

You're never picky. When things are tight and I run out of dog food, you're content with a few eggs, or rice, or whatever I have on hand. You'll eat salad, for god's sake. You love berries and apples, steamed carrots and broccoli. At least a couple times a week, we split a banana during a walk: you eat your half straight from the peel, like me, standing on the corner while we wait for the light.

Your size is never a problem - only a bonus. You're tall enough that in the morning, you can press your face into the bed near mine, wagging your tail when I smile and say good morning. Then, kisses. And yawns - you've learned to yawn loudly because it makes me laugh. Beside me on the sidewalk, I don't even have to stoop to stroke your back or finger your velvety ears. You're a sure, solid weight next to me as we walk. Sometimes when I'm feeling overwhelmed with happiness and optimism, I'll shut my eyes and tilt my head back to feel the sun, the breeze on my face. I keep my eyes closed for a few moments, knowing you'll keep leading us straight.

You delight onlookers with your sweet, puppyish face and goofy gait. When I used to get lonely late at night, I'd walk you by the bars and nightclubs, just to have some social interaction. You've made me friends. You're an excellent wingman, too.

You never complain when I have to leave you for several hours at a time, or if I spend the night away. You never have accidents, even those times where emergencies have kept me from you for half a day.

You're a riot. You'll lick a cut lemon and huge, foamy bubbles will froth from your lips. Sometimes you fart when you're play-bowing, and the noise will startle you. You run and slide down the hallway, slipping clumsily around corners. Your huge, post-meal burps are a viral YouTube video waiting to happen. I'm pretty sure I gave you a contact high a few months ago: you spent five minutes sniffing in bizarre circles and tracking invisible prey around a tree and into the air. You once stole a slice of pizza from a kid in a stroller.

We've perfected our relationship. You know when you can get away with pushing my buttons, and when I need you to be more independent. We understand one another's needs, and we meet them as best we can. And you forgive me every time I fuck up.

We have our own language. I have so many silly, secret, special phrases and pet names for you that no one else gets to hear. I grab you and nom-nom-nom on your head, your cheeks, your ears. You wag and smile. Sometimes when I've been at my desk for a long time, you'll come to me and paw my arm. Come sit with me. And I do. I sit cross-legged in front of you and stroke your front legs, kneading the calluses on your elbows and cooing at you. Every part of your anatomy has a special, silly name. I baby you completely, and you are a little bit spoiled - but everyone comments on how well-behaved you are, nevertheless.

Look, we both know this letter is for me, not you, but whatever. You're incredible, and a birthday card is the least you deserve for all the love and laughs you've given me this half decade.

I love you, dog.