In the Doghouse, Ch. 31 by Teri Case

Cover: In the Doghouse by Teri Case

Chapter 31


Downward-Facing Dog

I trot ahead of Aunt and Lucy. Can humans walk any slower? I yank on my leash so hard I start coughing and huffing.

“Skip,” Lucy warns.

I keep plowing forward, willingly strangling myself. I’ve never taken this route before. I’m like an artist with a blank canvas, and I can only hope my bladder has enough paint. I don’t know where dog yoga will be, but I’m going to have loads of fun getting there.

In between leaving Skip Was Here on every hydrant, trash can, and light post we pass, I’ve been thinking more about humans and confessions. Lucy said she’d want to know if John cheated on her. That it would be easier to move on. And talking to Manny, Manny pointed out it shouldn’t matter because Lucy was hurt either way.

But the thing is, if Lucy asks John again, I don’t think she really wants the truth. I know, I know, it sounds like I’m trying to justify my betrayal and that her not knowing is self-serving because I don’t want her to find out about Cecilia because she might hate me, and when John pulls his head out of his butt she won’t take him back, but I’m serious. Deep down, Lucy doesn’t want to know John has cheated on her, she only really wants to know that he hasn’t.

I have mixed emotions about going to doga. The last time I was introduced to a new group of dogs and their owners was with John, the day we met Cecilia and Bunny. We all know how that worked out. And since John left, Tank’s the only other dog I’ve been around. I wonder how long I can be dog in absentia before no one in my hood will remember me, and I’ll be the new dog on the block. Seven years of pecking order work down the drain. I’ll have to start all over. Ugh.

I’m not worried about learning yoga. I’m a coordinated bloke. But I’m rusty on meeting a larger population of nooches; that’s dog lingo for new pooches. I can’t wait for the chance to be social again, but the first introduction to a group of dogs is critical. Any group of dogs is considered a pack, even if it’s short-term and circumstantial, like this class. The manner of our meet-up will establish my place in the class-pack within minutes. Canine Credo dictates letting the weaker dogs come to me but being the first to greet the stronger ones. When uncertain if another dog is friendly, a dog will raise his hackles all along his spine. His whiskers will go back, flat against his face. His ears will move back too. His tail might even tuck. The stronger dog will make strong eye contact, whiskers forward and body tall. He’ll lean on his front legs with his ears and tail high. The Pack Pecking Order Pyramid happens in rapid-fire succession. Weakest on the bottom and the Top Dog on, well, top.

Once we get that out of the way, though, I’m going to Namaste the heck out of doga. Just wait until everyone sees me. I bet there will be a dog there named Namaste. I’m going to be a natural, I think. Take Downward-Facing Dog for example. I’ve been starting my mornings and waking up from naps with that move since I was a puppy.

Legs out front, head down, butt up in the air. Stretch. Exhale.

My mom only had to show me how to do it once. Can’t believe there’s a class for it. 

My bladder is about empty when we near the yoga center, and I know we’re close because we start to see more and more people with dogs intersecting and turning in the same direction. My nose is bombarded with new-to-me-dog smells. I can’t even imagine how I will relax with all this awesome stuff in the air.

There’s a line outside the building, and a woman and a white Maltese with a bow on top of its head stand in front, greeting everyone. I’m too far away to tell if the Maltese is a she or a he, and there are too many dogs present to single the Maltese’s scent out from this distance. As each person enters, their dog approaches the Maltese.

Ah-ha. Master Maltese.

In line, I follow protocol and exchange butt sniffs with the poodle in front of me and with the gray mutt behind me. Without words, we are saying, “It’s nice to meet you.” But something is different about the people. At the dog park, people are chatty, laughing loudly, often shouting at their pets, like they (the humans) need attention. I can’t put my paw on it, but these people are so calm, and this makes their dogs calm. 

Lucy and Aunt Eve follow my lead and shake hands with the woman standing in front of us. Lucy is fidgeting. I know because my leash is jerking against my neck. Forget doga, I’m going to need a chiropractor. She has got to be the only nervous person here. I want to tell her to chill out. I’ve got this. Look around and pace yourself with everyone else’s cool vibe. Like Aunt Eve’s. They be chillin’, and you should be too.

The instructor turns to us, and her expression is open and welcome. I like her on the spot. But I look around, all cool-like and wait for the bow-headed Maltese to welcome me. It’s a he. A he with a bow in his hair! He’s not moving; he’s just staring right at me.

I want to say he is challenging me by refusing to give up eye contact, but damn, like all the people, he’s cool as a cucumber. I must be ten times his size, but his presence makes him seem twice my size. I don’t know why, but I growl at his unwavering stare. This shocks me as much as it shocks Lucy. I came here to be friends with the leader, so what the heck am I doing? I’m off to a wrong start. I’m going to be known as Anti-Social Skip.

“Skip,” Lucy says, turning to the instructor. “I’m sorry. He hasn’t been around this many dogs for a while.”

But the Maltese’s little bow doesn’t even jiggle. I can’t shake him, and the kindness in his big dark eyes makes me feel ashamed. I lower my snout, lean forward, and wait for him to nudge my nose with his own. He turns his backside to me, and I return the favor. All is forgiven.

“We’re all here in harmony,” the Maltese’s human says with an accent that sounds familiar. “I’m Natalie, your yogini.”

She sounds a little like Marge, the travel agent who leaves Lucy messages, but not as scratchy. Natalie reaches out both hands to embrace Lucy’s hand and then Aunt Eve’s. She nods down at the Maltese, “And this is Mantra, your dog’s dogi.”

Mantra? What the heck kind of name is that?

Mantra. Mantra.


Natalie holds out her hand for me to smell but doesn’t lean over me. Dogs don’t like to be leaned over by strangers. She smells like tree bark and grass after a warm summer rain.

“Say hello, Skip,” Lucy says.

“Natalie,” Aunt Eve says, “your accent . . . are you Australian?”

“I am.”

Aunt Eve and Lucy look at each other and smile. Lucy says, “I’m supposed to be going to Australia.”

Aunt Eve says to Lucy, “You said you were looking for a sign.”

“Anything you need to know, I’m all yours.” Natalie sweeps the doorway with a graceful arm. “Take some time to walk Skip around the room to meet the other dogs and then grab your mats and find an empty space. Try to find a spot near a larger dog since size makes a difference in the moves, and you can watch and learn from your neighbor.”

Whoa, what? I can’t start this visit with me going to all the other dogs! Doesn’t this lady know it undermines my leadership of Lucy and makes me look subservient to the other dogs? They have to come to me first. That’s how it works. I get it. Mantra is the head honcho, but this will put me on the bottom. They’re going to eat me alive.

But when we enter the room, it’s full of that same indescribable tranquil energy. There are more dogs than I can shake a tail at, and yet they aren’t running around sniffing ass. The owners aren’t loud and obnoxious. Nope. Instead, they’re all lying on the mats with their owners, leashes dangling. Human hands-free. Gentle music is playing in the background, and there’s a small fountain with running water.

Oh my.

All of a sudden, I know, I just know, that it doesn’t matter if I’m on a leash, not on a leash, if I’m the first to approach another dog, or the last . . . everything I know about pack pecking orders is irrelevant here. From the easy breezy attitudes and body language of the dogs and owners, it’s clear there are many packs here, but they are two-member packs. One owner and one dog. They move together as we walk toward them, and they greet us together, untroubled and relaxed. A woman with a Golden Retriever slides her mat over so we can be next to her. “I can help you with the positions,” she offers.

I never knew a pack could work this way. When Aunt Eve goes home, I know Lucy and I can keep coming to doga and not feel alone as a party of two. In this place, it’s okay if it’s just Lucy and me.

dong sounds from the front of the room. Natalie sweeps her arms wide as if she is going to hug the room and says, “Thank you, friends, for giving Lucy, Eve, and Skip a warm welcome. Shall we begin? Stand at the back of your mat and let your dog rest between your ankles or on the mat before you. Inhale. Exhale.”

I glance at the Retriever next to me and decide to copy him. I sit in front of Lucy on the mat but turn to face her. I hold my head high. When my neighbor sighs, I sigh.

“We’re here to find harmony with ourselves and our best friends. Let the chatter and energy of the outside world go. You are here now. You are safe. Inhale love. Exhale your worries.”

As I listen to Natalie and the soothing sound of breathing from humans and dogs, an aroma of peppermint toothpaste and dog biscuits fills the air. I am moved by the serenity that overcomes me. Oh, how I have missed feeling this unity. This understanding of being in the moment, feeling whole in my little pack.

“Now. Both of you face the front of the room. Stand behind your dog. We’re going to go into Downward-Facing Dog.”

Oh, I know those words. Without looking at my neighbor, I turn and stretch my front paws forward and lift my hips. I hear Aunt Eve and Lucy giggle behind me.

Our neighbor whispers, “Looks like he’s a natural dogi.”

Damn straight I am.

“Now,” Natalie says as she bends over and places her fingers around Mantra’s hips, “slide your hands under your companion’s legs and pelvis, and lift the hips. Give them a wonderful stretch, lifting their feet off the floor into Downward-Facing Dog.”

With my back toward them, I’m surprised when Lucy and Aunt each take one of my hips and lift me off the floor. Not only does it tickle, but I also only have my two front paws for balance. Oh, but then the best stretch I’ve ever felt extends from my groin to my chest. I groan and stretch my neck forward, causing more soft laughs from my ladies.

“Release their hips and now sweep your arms up, watch your fingertips, and reach for your sky.”

I turn to watch Lucy. Her shoulders roll back, and her chin lifts as she raises her arms above. I am mesmerized, staring at her throat. I almost imagine a strong howl bursting from her lips.

“Reach toward your sky,” Natalie says again.

Lucy wiggles her fingertips. She looks so tall. So graceful. Strength is in there somewhere; I can see that now. If only John could see her. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. Or maybe he had an idea at one point because he was right: change suits her.

As we reach the end of the class, call me Jell-O Skip as Natalie asks us to lie down together. The smaller dogs crawl onto their owners’ chests. I decide to lie between Aunt Eve and Lucy. All for one and one for all, Namaste style.

“Continue to breathe in tandem,” Natalie says. “Close your eyes. Place one hand on your dog, and one hand on your stomach.”

When both Lucy and Aunt Eve rest their palms on me, I feel full inside.

“Inhale to the base of your spine. Feel your stomach rise with air. Exhale. Make an affirmation today for you and your pet or human.”

I like how Natalie treats us as equals.

“What are your intentions for your life together?”

I’m chillaxed, but Nat has my full attention. My ears perk.

“Envision your future. What do you see? What image of the two of you brings you joy? Embrace that image, and let’s move into ten minutes of meditation.”

Feeling Lucy’s hand resting on me, I have a vision of us running in a grass field, laughing and smiling. We’re playing chase. Once we are worn out, we lie down in the warm grass just like we are lying now, and Lucy stares into my eyes and smiles. We don’t have to say a thing. We are sympatico. It’s just the two of us. John isn’t there. There is no fear or consequence for having betrayed Lucy. There is no betrayal. There’s a new page. All for one and one for all.

I wake with a start. The class is still motionless. This class that we would never have tried with John. And it hits me, my secret will always be safe, and Lucy will always keep me if John never returns. I miss him. Lucy misses him. But look what we’re doing. We’re making new friends. We are finding ways to change and to be okay alone, if necessary. We don’t need John. No, John could ruin all we are building. If John stays gone, our secret stays gone too. We will turn a new leaf. We are turning a new leaf.

Two dongs sound.

“Namaste, my friends.”

Lucy opens her eyes and stares into mine. She smiles. We are in sync. Damn, I love her.I will never let John come between us again.


copyright 2019 – Teri Case

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