Nola walked into my house light-footed, bouncing on her toes like she’d been coming here her whole life. Like she’d been looking forward to this visit for days even though she couldn’t have known she was coming, and anyway, this was her first visit. She made her way confidently through the crowd of the party. Within minutes she’d mapped the house, a few more and she was up on the bed, nestled among the pillows, looking too cute and cozy to bother fussing. There she stayed, curled in almost the exact center of the house, keeping one eye half-open to watch the partygoers shuffle from the front room to the kitchen and back with more drinks. Within the territory she had claimed, she was easy to overlook: I noticed her only in passing, only in transit between the rooms of the house. She remained, for the longest time that day, a phantom animal resting peacefully on the periphery of the crowd, someone glanced out of the corner of my (increasingly) drunken eye. But the passing glance was all I needed to feel warm and happy at the sight of her comfort.
The party grew, the party contracted, the party grew again. The attendees wandered freely between various cliques and demographics. At one point I found myself the only male in a room of women who were talking as women do about things that men like me are often thankful they do not understand. My dejection must have been evident because Nola’s owner suggested that I rouse the dog from my bed and take her for a walk. Both of them would, I was told, appreciate it. When I picked up Nola’s leash she jumped right down and came to me. We were out the door and down the street in no time. Though I’d met Nola before, I had never taken care of her. This didn’t seem to matter; she knew the whole array of rules, including regulations on leash tugging, sitting at corners, and even looking up with questioning eyes before peeing on a patch of grass, as if to ask “is this spot ok?” I was always careful to reassure her, to give her a wink and smile to reply “yes girl, it’s fine.”
Our walk concluded a large, wandering loop through the neighborhood without any incident beyond some innocuous butt sniffing a few blocks from home. We walked in the door to a smaller crowd than we had left, but Nola still made her rounds of the people, collecting accolades and praises before settling this time snugly between bodies on the couch. She joined our conversation, at least in spirit, so while we all sat around on the couch, chairs and floor talking, she would make eye contact with each of us as we spoke. I could tell she had adopted this group, that she felt like she belonged in this place. There was, at one point, a loud crash from outside and everyone’s heads snapped up to attention, Nola’s included of course. She turned to the door and produced the smallest, softest of attempts at a bark, almost out of obligation. Once her half-hearted warning had been issued, she looked at me as if to ask “was that ok?” So I reassured her with a wink and a smile, another friend visiting my home, that yes girl, everything was OK.
When we think about entertaining guests, we usually think of friends, family, and sometimes strangers, but we never really think of animals. If animals can be more than just pets, if they can be friends and family, then they can be guests too. As a host, your responsibility is to make your guests comfortable, and in return they do what they can to help out. Some guests might wash dishes, or clean up a spill, other guests bring food and great stories, and some guests keep an ear out for trouble outside. In the end though, what is important is that your guests feel at home, whether they are human or animal. Our role in life is to make the people we love feel comfortable, especially when they are in our homes or we are in theirs. After all, the purpose of any party is to enjoy each other’s company.
That’s what Nola taught me.