A young dog fills your day. Play, walk, feed, train, clean, shop, be surprised, recount, repeat.
An old dog doesn't actually require that much of your time. But she still structures your days. She bisects them in at least five: morning bathroom run, morning food, mid-day walk, afternoon food, late night bathroom run. Nothing away from home can last more than 6 hours. Even when you are away from home, you have a little internal clock that goes off after about 5 hours and beeps "Check on the dog, check on the dog." You occasionally resent this 6 hour bungee cord tethering you to your home, but when it's off, you find there's nothing you really want to do for more than six hours except hang with your dog anyway.
Dogs also structure your space. Sancha and I were both creatures who nested, and we were both creatures of routine. So we had our designated nests and our routines around those nests. Each move required a re-configuration, but generally there was the bed: top half reserved for me, bottom half available for Sancha, (but always under a hefty supply of blankets.) This wasn't an imposed demarcation, she just preferred the bottom half, and especially the crook in my knees as I lay on my side. She needed her own space, though, and that was currently the plastic tub I used to store all my (formerly) nice wool sweaters. The tub was resting at the side of the bed, where it could conveniently serve as a step up when she decided to switch resting spots. Sancha's other space this last year was under our house (raised, because New Orleans). I have no idea what she did under there. My friend L suspected she had a home office and was filing and catching up on e-mail. Pretty much every day she would disappear under there ---I could always hear the little jangle of her collar so I didn't worry--and emerge 10 minutes later, giving with no clue as to her activities. One time she got disoriented and went under the neighbor's house, and I had to crawl under and drag her out, but other than that I didn't ask questions. It was her space. Kind of like the time my mother came to my apartment in Brooklyn to help me move and I had been charged with cleaning up beforehand. I cleaned up everything I could think of, but when my mom stepped in the first thing she saw was dog toys everywhere all over the floor. "I thought you cleaned!" she protested. I did...but it hadn't occurred to me to pick up things that didn't belong to me. The floor was pretty her space too. It only seemed fair, as she was so close to it.
Life in the house was a repeated choreography: dog from sweaters to bed, Dale from bed to fridge, dog from bed to fridge, Dale and dog from fridge to bowl, Dale from bowl to bed, dog from bowl to sweaters. A frenetic hip-hop dance moment when Dale came from outside to door: wild figure eights, jumps, usually extended to the back yard, back in, and then to the leash and out for the walk. My neighbor who sits on a chair on his porch all day every day and observes the world would joke when I came home from work that he'd see me in 30 seconds. With a dog you never come home once. Our other routine was the bathroom: if I went to the bathroom, the rule was I left the door open, Sancha came in, put her paws up on my legs and I rubbed her tummy. This was pretty much the only access I ever had to her tummy, as she was a very low-center-of-gravity girl and she did not like rolling over.
Last semester I had both my undergrad and graduate seminars on Friday, which meant leaving her for a long afternoon alone and, if I had a faculty meeting in the morning, leaving her at doggie boarding. So we developed a new Friday afternoon routine: get dog from house or Zeus's place, go to McDonald's drive-thru, order a hamburger and a large soda. Soda was my treat (I've stopped buying them), wait a few minutes until the burger cooled and then give it to her, bun with pickles and mustard for me. I am a vegetarian and pretty much vegan, but Sancha is emphatically not. And then home, to the weekend.
Dogs structure your interactions with people. Most days I took Sancha down our street to the coffee shop on the corner (about 3 blocks down), where I would offer her water from the bowl they keep outside, she would refuse it (she was very particular about only drinking from her bowl), I would tie her leash to one of the outside tables, go in and order my same small medium roast (I don't even have to order it anymore, on occasion both baristas have independently had it ready for me when I come in), untie her, and we would proceed back. There are several retired/self-employed/unemployed guys who live along that route, and one house that always has somewhere between 2-4 kids playing outside, and the conversations at each as I went by were always pretty much the same. One of the little girls had seen a movie about Chihuahuas and was quite the expert, she always came running out screaming "Chi-huaaa-huaaa!" and the two girls would pat Sancha delicately, the two boys would pretend to be afraid of her and touch her and then run screaming, they would all ask to take the leash and walk Sancha a few steps (Sancha was always so patient with little kids, although I had to walk too or she wouldn't go with them), we would chat about dogs or the Chihuahua movie for a moment, and then I'd go on my way. The raeggae musician who lives across the street from them would always say "Going for a walk?" and I would say "Yup". Obviously no information was being exchanged here, it was just the thing we said to show that we were neighbors and it was a nice day. Call-response. Sometimes I walked to the coffee shop to work inside and wouldn't bring Sancha; invariably the raeggae musician would say "Where's the little one?" and I would say "Inside taking a nap." Today I walked down the same block, managed to avoid the little girls but the raeggae guy was out and asked "Little one taking a nap?" and I had to explain, and then the barista peeked out the window and asked where my dog was... It's like I'm dancing without a partner. A tango. And you know what they say about tango.
I have a ton of things I should be doing this summer, but I don't have to teach, and the deadlines are flexible or self-imposed, and the days and the house and the world just looms like a formless, unstructured void.