Gerald P Murphy masthead

The Family Safe

In a small town in Minnesota, are the bedtime instincts of this 4-legged family member

a model for law enforcement?

A week ago on Mother’s Day I visited Ellie in Minnesota. Ellie would be the last dog
I would meet on my 2016 Muzzle Tour, representing the 98th exceptionally long-lived Rottweiler I have studied in their homes.

Ellie and I became fast friends. I quickly learned that her most favorite thing in the world these days is to have her lumbar region rubbed while she is standing up pressing her back end against someone. Her love for this sort of caveman chiropractic maneuver fits with the multiple orthopedic challenges that are stealing away some of her frolic and agility. Over the years both elbows, both knees, and both hips have been the target of progressive arthritic change as a consequence of elbow and hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament injury. But Ellie has such a fun-loving heart that this girl still manages to run after and delicately romp with her housemate — a powerful 8 year-old male Rottie who is 5 years younger than she is. Ellie has been free of cancer diagnosis her entire life — weathering a scare 2 years ago when nodules on her spleen showed up. The masses were not malignant and she’s now navigating life a little lighter in the water after having her spleen removed.

During each of my visits, I ask owners a series of questions about the duration and quality of their dog’s sleep. I learned that Ellie is a sound sleeper, sometimes requiring a minute or two after awakening to get moving. It was through this line of inquiry that I found out that Ellie has a notable personality-defining bedtime behavior. Each night as the humans in the household are preparing for bed, Ellie busies herself in selecting the item most recently handled by her owners. Sometimes this means the TV remote, sometimes a box of cereal. Then, as the humans lay safely tucked in their beds, Ellie carries the item to the bedroom, where she proceeds to place the item and guard it for the rest of the night. That’s right, it is as if the item was locked up tight for the night in the family’s safe — because no other paws or human feet can tread near the item without a fight. Not ‘til morning comes is Ellie ready to release the item, graciously returning the precious object of interest to the free world.

I have no clear explanation for Ellie’s nighttime “family safe” ritual. Could the fact that both of her owners are in law enforcement have planted a seed in Ellie’s mind that makes such safeguarding appropriate? Perhaps dinner conversations of crime waves or shady perpetrators have gotten the old girl’s suspicions up.

I’m thinking that the whole of Ellie — her physical attributes, her medical history, her bedtime behavior — just doesn’t fit into a neat category. But for now, I can conclude one thing: Regardless of the cause, the consequence is clear. There’s at least one house in that neighborhood north of the Twin Cities where a houseguest’s hankering for a late night bowl of cereal could seriously jeopardize their health.

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