As an independent consultant, I get to work from home most of the time. It’s an introvert’s dream: no lengthy staff meetings, no forced small talk, no awkward holiday parties. Unlimited snacks.
Still though, it’s isolating - even for me.
Except for the occasional days when I work from neighborhood coffee shops (shout out Denver Bike Cafe and Hooked on Colfax, among others), the stretch when I thought I was hip enough to work at a trendy office share, or when I was on-site at a client’s office a couple days a week for a few months, it’s been four plus years of working from home alone.
That’s why losing both of our dogs over the last 13 months has hit me particularly hard.
They weren’t just pets, and they weren’t just family. They were also my coworkers.
I wrote about losing Boone, the yellow lab, two Decembers ago, which you can read here.
He was built to be an office dog. He would gladly position himself on the plush dog bed in my home office for an entire day. He adhered to a strict noise policy and did not like to be interrupted with things like bathroom breaks or exercise. And if I lingered too long over my morning coffee in the kitchen, he would scold me with his eyes to let me know I was late to work.
He was my Employee of the Month for 38 straight months.
Finn, the golden retriever, was more court jester than office dog.
He didn’t give a shit about my to-do list. While he was content to rest during his morning snoozles and afternoon naps, he had no patience when it came time for his meals, walks, games of fetch in the yard, or even just having class outside under the afternoon sun.
It wasn’t always clear which one of us was the supervisor and which one was the subordinate.
In the mornings, if I didn’t take him on a walk to the park or the coffee shop, he would just stand by the front door and bark at me until I did. If I had a conference call or client meeting and couldn’t walk him, he would pout the rest of the day. If I spent too much uninterrupted time in front of my laptop, he would come plant his big dumb head over my hands and mash them into the keyboard.
When my wife - who typically travels each week for her job - would work from home in her alcove in the basement, her conference calls and webinars were often scored to his snoring or panting. Finn would barrel into her with a stuffed toy or tennis ball, demanding that she pay attention to him and focusing on playing. If her attention were elsewhere, he would bark at her until it was correctly focused.
In late October, after weeks of gradually increased breathing problems, Finn developed a cough. What we thought - or hoped - would just be kennel cough was quickly diagnosed as a large mass in his chest. It was inoperable and untreatable. The vet and the oncologist thought he might only have a month to live.
We canceled some trips and changed Thanksgiving plans. I rush ordered a human-sized tennis ball costume and dressed up as his favorite thing for Halloween. I think I thought I was cheering him up, like a lunatic.
Fortunately the cancer did not progress very quickly.
Our routine adapted. Morning walks got shorter, but we relished them for longer. Games of fetch were no more, but we still spent afternoons in the backyard - me at my laptop, and him laying in the grass, chewing sticks, under the late fall sky.
November was rocky, but he seemed to rebound over the holidays. He loved Christmas, and once again thought everyone was in town to see him and that all the presents were somehow his.
We enjoyed the frequent snow days with him in January. My wife brought him back an embroidered Mickey Mouse hat from a work trip to Orlando. We spoiled him rotten with people food, had friends over for visits, and even took him to a dog-friendly distillery one snowy night in Salida (shout out Woods).
In those waning weeks before we said goodby to him in early February, Finn mostly just patiently slept next to me, often falling into dreams which were signaled by the tap of his tail or the flinching of his paws, no doubt sprinting down a trail or chasing a tennis ball on a beach.
Finn was my ballast - always wanting to play, always wanting to go outside, and always brightening every day. He was present in every moment and never brought anything to the office but his whole, confident, curious self - which is a pretty great lesson to learn from a coworker.
Things aren’t quite the same without Finn and Boone. But even though I miss them every single day, our lives are a lot warmer and a lot brighter for having had them in it.