Last week, I worked the afternoon and evening shift while my news editor, page designer and all-around nighttime showrunner April Baumgarten took a well-deserved vacation.
That meant I had to get into the habit of sleeping in, working until around 11 p.m. or later and staying awake into the early-morning hours — something that until early 2013 was entirely normal for me after spending the previous decade working in newspaper sports departments.
It sounds kinda fun, right? Sleep in and stay up late! Well, it wasn’t so bad when I was a single guy. Now, with a wife and dog at home waiting for me, it’s not so fun.
When I work nights, Sarah does her best to pester me into getting home before she goes to sleep — which happened just once last week — because if I don’t, our dog, Noodle, will become what she calls “the alpha male.”
Noodle, our now 2½-year-old schnoodle who I’ve written about a few times, is one of the sweetest dogs you’ll ever meet. He’s happy, intelligent and enjoys sitting on laps. At around 18 pounds with curly and soft salt-and-pepper colored fur, Noodle also isn’t the type of dog you would expect to put himself between you and potential danger.
Yet, he is quick to go into guard-dog mode if he senses something outside the norm. If a doorbell rings, like it did Saturday morning, Noodle will sprint from wherever he is in the house straight to the door or the living room window. But he doesn’t howl — he screams and cries, something poodle owners will know he gets from that half of his breed.
He doesn’t hold back either. Whether it’s someone he knows or the UPS guy, Noodle is on high alert whenever we get a visitor. It was funny the fi rst few times, now it’s just an exhausting battle to calm him down after they leave.
But that’s just during the day. At night, especially when I’m not home, he turns into “Noodle the Protector.”
And while, like Batman, he may be a watchful protector, but he sure isn’t what you would call a silent guardian.
Noodle will expertly position himself at the foot of our bed to seemingly keep one eye on Sarah and another on the bedroom door until I come home. Sometimes when I pull into the driveway, I’ll catch him looking out our living room window as he watches me walk into the house.
But when I get inside, he’s nowhere to be found. Where did he go? Well, back to the bedroom, of course, positioned where he had been all night, at the foot of our bed between Sarah and the doorway to make sure that — just in case it wasn’t me — she would be protected.
Then, almost like flipping a switch, when Noodle realizes I’m the person who walked through the bedroom door and not someone unfamiliar — like a burglar or worse — he lets his guard down, quietly comes over to me, asks for a quick head scratch or belly rub, I tell him “Good boy,” and then he hops down onto his dog bed on the floor nearby. Within minutes, he is asleep.
That’s all well and good when I come home at night, but when I was gone for two nights in November for a work retreat, Sarah said she hardly got any sleep. Noodle was on such high alert, in protector mode and upset that I hadn’t returned to relieve him of his duties, that he growled at bumps in the night and screamed every time the wind whistled outside the bedroom window. He gets especially wound up when our newspaper delivery driver comes around 2 a.m.
That said, would I rather have a layabout dog who doesn’t care whether or not we are safe or not? Never. It’s wonderful to know that the same soft and cuddly dog who climbs on top of me to burrow himself into whatever nook he can fi nd also has a not-so-soft side to him and is willing to put himself in harm’s way to protect our girl when I can’t be there.