A shaggy dog story

It can be a lonely workday for those of us who labor at home, but here's the answer: a dog.

(OK, don't all you cat lovers write in to complain. I'm sure cats are wonderful, too, but I'm allergic to them. I'll take your word for it. No catty letters.)

I recently returned to the world of canine companionship after a 10-year hiatus. Our last pet had been a mutant Airedale named Scotch, who still thought he was a fidgety lap dog when he reached 85 pounds. Scotch nearly caused me to swear off pets forever. He ruined the yard. He left tooth marks in the doorknob, trying to get inside. He barked all day while my wife and I were at work, prompting the neighbors to leave anonymous threatening notes. I realize now that he was lonely and neurotic and way too excitable. We found him a nice home before our first son was born.

While that was a terrible experience in pet-owning, it was, I learned later, pretty good training for parenthood.

I wasn't in any hurry to try another dog, but my wife and kids wore me down. My best ammunition -- a dog would be lonely and loud if left alone all day -- became a dud once I started working at home.

A couple of months ago, we adopted a puppy. Actually, at $75, it was more like ransom. He's a shaggy mutt named Elvis. My sons say "he ain't nothin' but a hound dog," but I believe he is part Clydesdale. He nearly doubled in size the first month we had him. He's only six months old, but we're already sizing him for a saddle. We can tell the boys we got them a pony.

So far, Elvis is rowdy with the kids, apparently thinking they're puppies, too, which isn't so far from the truth. But he thinks I'm the Alpha Male, in charge of things around here (ha, ha!), and his job is to follow me around the house.

When I go to the kitchen for coffee, he comes along, watching carefully, as if he's trying to learn to brew French Roast. (Which wouldn't be a bad trick to teach him, come to think of it.) When I'm working at my desk, he sleeps. He's delighted to go outside and play by himself.

He is, in fact, the perfect co-worker.

He doesn't talk back. He doesn't complain. He does exactly what is requested of him (sure, that's essentially nothing, but he's good at it). He never tries to sell me band candy.

He doesn't goldbrick and then hog all the credit. Indeed, a dog can even provide a good excuse for your own lolly-gagging. This has been true since the days of "the dog ate my homework," though it pays to be more sophisticated than that now. Your grandmother can pass away only so many times, but your dog can have repeated miraculous recoveries.

A dog makes sure you don't sit too long at your desk. You have to let him outside and later you have to let him back inside. He'll let you know when. One way or the other. Get too wrapped up in your work and the carpet suffers.

There are other disadvantages. Elvis sheds hairballs, something you don't see much with human co-workers. And humans don't usually snore and drool while you work. Well, some do. But they don't usually chase rabbits while they're sleeping. That can be distracting.

Because Elvis follows me wherever I go, I have a good excuse when walking around the house, talking to myself. See, I'm not really talking to myself like a lunatic, I'm talking to the DOG. Maybe he doesn't answer, but it helps to have someone to bounce ideas off. I find myself muttering, "Elvis, where did I leave that invoice?" And then, "Ah, here it is!" He shares my delight, naturally, though he may just be scamming for another Milk-Bone.

But the No. 1 reason a dog is best is this: You can rarely get your human co-workers to lie on your feet and keep them warm.

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