It first occurred to me this morning as I was leaving for work.
Truett, my two-year-old Cavapoo, followed me into the living room, hung his head and looked up at me from under impossibly long eyelashes.
Truett, Mommy has to go to work now. I’ll be home soon and we’ll make chili.
You be a good boy. Watch the house. I love you!
Yes, I said all that. Out loud.
Although I’ve had pets my entire life, I realized in that moment that I’ve never said “I love you” to an animal. In fact, when I heard a roommate say it years ago to her cat, I distinctly remember feeling sorry for her. (It was a cat, after all.)
But our relationship hasn’t always been like this.
When the breeder told me seven-week-old Truett was potty-trained, she forgot to mention the doggy door: She had one and I didn’t. I spent the next three months making endless trips to buy puppy pads, repeatedly steam-mopping the floor and seriously considering buying stock in a paper towel company.
Meanwhile, one very confused puppy struggled to understand my constant bad mood.
I didn’t yell. Or throw things. Or shame him. But I definitely wasn’t feeling the love, either.
We struggled on.
A few months later, on one of those mornings that starts with a missed alarm, I was halfway to work before I realized I couldn’t remember locking my front door. Trying to talk myself out of turning around in rush-hour traffic, I began to inventory my valuables. I didn’t own a TV, and my cell phone and laptop were in the car. What would a burglar steal?
And then, I thought about the black fuzzy dog sleeping in his crate in the corner of my bedroom. I felt real panic at the thought that someone might take him. Take my baby? I got off the interstate and went home.
I’m not sure when things shifted…when he utterly and completely won me over.
He’s been by my side through pneumonia, a broken arm and several near-misses with serious illness.
He insists on sharing my pizza crusts, oranges and tortilla chips. The word chicken is dance-worthy.
He snakes his way under the bedcovers at the first sign of daylight each morning, flipping over with a loud grunt to signal that I may commence with his belly rub.
He accompanies me to the bathroom every time because no one should have to potty alone.
And in his most endearing habit, he sleeps nestled next to me and re-settles near my heart each time I turn over.
This year, I do have a Valentine. He’s short, dark, handsome and cuddly.