From beneath a quilt on these dark December nights, I occasionally sense what sounds like sleigh bells, the music of Christmas faintly guiding me to sleep.
But what I’m really hearing is what I hear throughout the year — the jingle, from the next room, of my terrier’s vaccination tag as he rolls over in his dog bed beside the dining room table.
He shifts as he dreams, or appears to dream, although what Foster is dreaming about I can’t really say. I tend to doubt that visions of sugar plums are dancing in his head. The anticipation of Christmas, or the anticipation of anything else, isn’t something dogs seem wired for.
Like most dogs, Foster lives pretty much in the moment, which means that Christmas morning will surprise him as all days surprise him, in a way that sometimes fills me with envy.
Because my children demand it, Foster will receive a tin of gourmet dog food on Christmas, and some new tennis balls — what he gets every year. The sameness of the ritual doesn’t blunt his enthusiasm.
He’ll be pleasantly shocked to hear the whirr of the electric can opener as it separates the lid from his entrée — some potted version of porterhouse steak that will smell, in a holiday kitchen otherwise scented with cinnamon and cloves, as if we’ve overturned a compost heap.
It’s a rankness only a rat terrier can savor, and a reminder that Christmas asks us to tolerate all sorts of family eccentricities, both canine and human.
In admiring my dog’s genius for enjoying the present, a pleasure uncompromised by worries of Christmases past and Christmases yet to come, I find myself in a growing community of people who regard a dog’s life as worthy of imitation.
Chief among them is Patrick Moberg, who’s just authored and illustrated “Lessons from a Dog,” a tiny, tongue-in-cheek primer on canine philosophy.
“Enjoy the ride,” Moberg advises beneath a picture of a mutt happily sticking his head from a moving car. “Make time for fun every day,” he implores, drawing a dog digging a hole to make the point. “Don’t hide your excitement” is the lesson we’re supposed to learn from a tail-wagging pooch poised to chase a ball.
At the risk of channeling Scrooge, let me offer a few words of dissent from dog-lovers embracing the Zen of Rover.
I fail to see the wisdom in my terrier’s daily yapping at the postman, a visitor he should learn to greet as a friend. Trying to chew off the wheel of a running lawn mower doesn’t seem very enlightened, either. And I don’t see my terrier’s fear of ironing boards — yes, ironing boards — as a textbook example of high IQ.
But no one will do less to prepare for Christmas, and enjoy it more, than my dog.
So maybe, as dumb as he is, he’s smarter than I am.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.