I'm about to leave on what my grandchildren call "a work trip."
I should be packing right now, but I haven't even taken the bag from the closet. I can't do it to the dog.
The dog recoils when suitcases come out. He slides from carefree oblivion to guarded vigilance.
He lies near the open bag, chin on paws, moping.
"Don't worry; you get to go!" we told him the last time suitcases appeared. He did get to go, on a three-day cabin getaway with daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren and even another dog.
"If only he could understand us for just a few minutes while we explained," my husband and I have often said.
Had we been granted this miracle, however, we'd have been disappointed, because it turned out the dog had no interest in going on a cabin getaway. At least, he was a nervous wreck the entire 72 hours, pacing, whining and, whenever he was outside, lunging on the end of his leash. Far from being thrilled to pile into the car with us, he crouched in the back seat like a nervous great-aunt twisting her handkerchief and expecting calamity at any moment.
We did learn something from this experience.
The dog's suitcase anxiety doesn't indicate a desire to be included.
It indicates a desire for us never to leave home.
His philosophy, which summed up in one command, is "stay."
I'm delaying bringing out the suitcase now even though the dog needn't worry. He'll spend one night with a daughter's family, including a dog who could be his brother from another mother, then my husband will bring him home. I'll be gone a few more days, and although my absence will trouble him -- he likes each of us in our place and himself somewhere in the middle -- he won't go to pieces, unlike the time friends who adore dogs talked us into letting them dog-sit for a weekend.
We agreed, with reservations.
We didn't think our dog would misbehave in any of the flagrant (and fragrant) ways dogs can misbehave. We thought he'd whine, worry and pace inconsolably, and that would be bad enough.
We still don't know what happened. But this we do know: The friends are as dog-crazy as ever, and they have stopped offering to keep our dog.
While it's possible our guy did, in fact, behave badly, it's more likely that his whining, pacing and constant worrying drove our friends nuts. We'd warned them he probably wouldn't eat and told them not to fret -- but they did fret, and even fed him, one morsel at a time, by hand.
Not that my husband and I don't adore this neurotic animal.
Only today, we woke up and realized he had not come upstairs during the night. Usually if he's sleeping when we retire, he'll wander up a few hours later, jangling his tags and scratching himself vigorously before settling down in his bed.
This morning, he was nowhere to be found.
He wasn't prancing impatiently at the foot of the stairs, and he didn't appear, stretching, when we called his name.
"Oh no," I said.
He isn't young, this dog, and we both were suddenly struck to the heart with fear.
We were practically clinging to each other as we started looking, and my husband found him in one corner of the living room, behind my favorite chair.
"Pip!" we both shouted. Pip opened his eyes, stood and extended his little white legs like a dancer warming up.
"What?" he seemed to say.
Then he trotted to the back door just like always while our hearts slowed down and our watery insides gradually firmed up.
This is why I'm piling socks on a chest in our bedroom, why I have clothes hanging on my closet door and shampoo and toothpaste on the bathroom counter: Because our dog may be old and weird, but we understand him.
If keeping a suitcase out of sight until the last possible second will spare him unnecessary dread, it's the least we can do.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.