Barry does not talk, pose for the camera, star in movies, walk on two legs or even sit on command. There are no capers, no crime-fighting dramas, no charming quips as to why he is entitled to grilled steak for dinner. But he is without a doubt the best dog I could imagine, and there is no need for him to perform a circus act when I arrive home in the evening.
Barry eats dry dog food of the brown, duck-flavored variety, with an occasional heap of wet food over the top when he manages to convince me, in his way. He has not wet the floor since he was a puppy, and for the most part, leaves the furniture intact. His weight has gone up at times, mostly by my own doing from overfeeding and underwalking. His white and brown fur sheds, quite a bit actually, though it does not bother me, nor does it bother anyone who comes to play with him. He cooperates on walks, does not pull the leash, refrains from eating garbage off the street and generally goes to the bathroom on command. Oh, and he also happens to clean the house during the day.
In the movies, the comics, on television, the amazing feats accomplished by dogs are perhaps more incredible, but what Barry does for me is infinitely more practical. I save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars per week not having to pay someone to clean my apartment. It is nice to know that when I get home after a busy day at the office, I can return home and enjoy myself, not having to worry about daily chores.
It may seem unrealistic, but I can attest that what Barry does is truly amazing. First of all, he vacuums, which is helpful since most of the excess hair is his own shedding fur. He cleans the furniture, and does quite a job, leaving it streak-free and absent of dirt and smudge. In the kitchen and the bathrooms, he mops the floors, wipes down the sinks and cleans the grime out of the corners. My laundry is freshly done each day, the smaller items folded and ready to be put away, the shirts and pants ironed and already hung on the rack and ready to be placed in the closet.
Barry does not cook. That would be nice but really a stretch for a dog; not that I have confidence he could handle the gas stove without causing a fire. It would be interesting to see what he would cook; I imagine I would have to increase my grocery budget. But with Barry handling the other domestic chores, I have enough time to cook at night, and he does a great job of cleaning up the following day. I come home to dishes washed, dried and stacked, ready for dinner. Barry is the household help that relieves the stress of my busy schedule, and for that, I cannot complain.
Barry did not come from somewhere special or, even, magical. There was no whimsical day when I arrived home to him, as a puppy, rolled in a blanket at my doorstep. He did not descend to me from the heavens in answer to a prayer or glide down to earth bathed in a streak of light. Barry was the runt of a litter of puppies birthed by the dog of my cousin’s neighbor. And at that, my acquaintance with Barry was fortuitous, the result of a happenstance visit to a backyard gathering at my cousin’s house.
From over the fence, the unmistakable squeaks and muted growls of a gaggle of puppies, likely desirous of the meat grilling on the barbecue, caught our attention. We peered over the fence to bear witness to the sight of seven puppies, their eyes barely open, roughhousing each other in a makeshift pen in the backyard. Seeing us looking at them from across the yard, all seven ceased playing and lined up in a row, their paws latching the highest cross-bar of the pen, eyes fixated on ours.
Their tails wagged without abandon, lacking sufficient length to reach the ground behind even their short legs. Too young to bark, they let out wails and yips, as if to call attention from anyone who may not have yet noticed their presence. On the far end of the row, Barry perched his paws one bar below the remaining six, his smaller stature holding him back from aspiring to the height of his siblings. He too could yelp, but lacked the unison of a cry with his pack.
His tail moved distinctly more rapid than the others, its shorter length able to run a cycle in less time. Our hands resting atop the fence, our jaws dropped lower the more squeals and squeaks they released. Their owner, less in awe with the saddle of responsibility for seven new canine mouths, sported drooping eyelids over the dark circles underneath. His first instinct, seeing our gaze at the litter, was to query our interest in adopting one of the pack. Having grown up the only brother of four under six feet, my immediate connection made for little quandary as to whether and whom I would bring home that day. Their owner had not yet named them in the weeks since their birth, offering a clean slate that I chose to fill with the name of my grandfather.
Barry’s time as puppy reflected opposite traits than he would come to exhibit later in life. Small indentations graced the lower edges of each piece of furniture in the living room, where he spent his days while I worked. Frayed carpet edges joined the list of casualties to Barry’s months of teething, while his propensity to pee on the rug simplified the choice to dispose of it after he finally abandoned the habit.
Once he was crate-trained, and given free rein of the apartment, he forced me to search for him when I came home, only to find him on his side, under the cover of my bed. He refused to exit in the absence of prodding him out with the promise of a treat or dinner, often so excited that he forced me to recoil at the thump of his head contacting the edge of the bed frame.
Eventually, he grew too large to fit under the bed, reaching 20 pounds, then 30, in what seemed to be the span of a single week of his adolescence. By the age of one year, his early life as the runt of the pack was no longer an appropriate classification, having fully outgrown some of his siblings that we often visited. Keeping them together was simple, four of them, Barry included, went home with members of my family that same afternoon, the other three remaining at home with their mother.
Barry’s special talents did not manifest until his second birthday, by which time he had reached 60 pounds and nearly three feet in height. We spent the weekend together at a ranch three hours to the north, a hotel offering a dog retreat with a variety of agility courses and open fields. I was glad to get away that weekend, and three days with only Barry offered a welcome respite from the goings-on at the time.
Battling against the traffic returning home on Sunday night, the sight of my apartment was anything but welcoming, having slid, beneath my nose, into a state of disarray. Preoccupation with matters other than housework led to piled clothes, lingering food crumbs and a build-up of gunk anywhere touched by water in the bathroom. Three days’ absence refreshed the sensitivity of my senses to what my surroundings had become, dislodging a growing sense of complacence.
With disgust overcoming my relief at arriving home following the long drive, a lack of energy beget enough antipathy to put off the task of cleaning until the following day. Barry did not seem to mind the discomfiting status of his surroundings, finding solace in the plush comfort of a crumpled blanket on the floor next to the couch. He arose to eat, but quickly returned to the blanket, electing not to expend what little of his own energy remained to make it to his bed. Barry chose not to pursue his typical routine of begging for scraps after being alerted to the presence of human food by delivery man’s ring of the doorbell.
Barry sprung back to life in the morning, standing, as usual, with his front paw shaking next to my chair as I consumed breakfast before work. Three days at the retreat were enough to wear him out for a single night, his revitalization completed by the morning. Before leaving, I added to the growing stack of dishes in the sink, piling my empty cereal bowl and coffee mug into the mess.
Leaving work was usually the best part of the day, but with the looming task of cleaning the apartment to follow, my walk through the revolving doors of the building turned to bittersweet. For a moment, when the train stopped midway between two stations, I conceived of the impending delay offering an excuse not to face the task ahead. But it was not to be, as the train continued its path after a mere stoppage under a handful of minutes.
Key in the door, turning to the right, the time arrived to face the mess. Imagine, then, my astonishment upon the sight before me once the door cleared the entrance, making way to an unimpeded view of the apartment.
Barry stood, standing, in the middle of the living room, looking at me and wagging his tail, as if to take credit for my surprised delight. Surrounding him were the markers of a freshly-made room – no dog hair on the floor, blankets folded and stored, dishes washed and stored, smell noticeably improved.
My shocked delight shifted to alarm at the concept of what occurred in my absence. Someone or something cleaned my apartment, did my laundry and put away the dishes, from the inside of my apartment. Who or what or when was this person here, and why would someone come in and conduct the most heavy cleaning the place had seen in some time – that was the question. Nobody that I was aware of, save for the super, had a key, and it would take a bribe to get him there to fix a perilous gas leak, let alone to do something not on his list of responsibilities.
With the dusted phone receiver in my hand, I spent the time originally dedicated to doing the cleaning myself to sorting out the who and why, in addition to the how. Reactions were mostly subdued denials. Not seeing the immaculate precision of the cleansing no doubt accounted for their restrained impressions. The super held back laughter in his confirmation that he did not clean, and implored me not to call him at night without a serious emergency. Neighbors, many of whom I had never exchanged more than passing hellos with, mostly shrugged in the negative.
Cooking dinner that night did not require searching for the remaining clean pans and utensils, nor did the countertop need scrubbing for sufficient space to chop. No choice remained other than to drop the issue for the night, the late evening having receded past the expiration point of my daily contacts, leaving the passage of a night without a resolution.
Dirty dishes and pans assumed the once empty space in the sink, the return to my normal weeknight habit persisting. But again, a distinct difference marked the state of my apartment at my arrival home the following day. Couch cushions were smooth, as if untouched the prior night or during the day, the sink no longer occupied by the dirty remnants of the previous night’s meal. Similar to the day before, but divergent from his usual habit of laying on the couch, Barry stood in the center of the living room when I arrived home, his tail wagging, tongue hanging out and mouth curved upward as if showing me a smile.
No indications that an unknown benefactor forced open the door, or the windows, or the air vents, to clean inside were present. Further phone calls and prodding of neighbors, friends and family yielded no conclusion as the perpetrator of the act of domestic aid. As far as I could tell, only one living soul was in the apartment all day: Barry.
But it was not possible. There was no sane rationalization for the belief that my sixty-pound dog, who lacked the ability or ambition to perform even the most basic of tricks, cleaned the apartment. I had let the place go in the weeks past, but not to the point that another species, particularly one with a penchant for rolling in dirt and eating garbage, would gain the ability to transcend reality for the purpose of vacuuming.
Barry’s facial expression would indicate otherwise, though he made the same face whenever I so much as approached the refrigerator. Sitting against the fluffed pillow, located deliberately in the corner of the couch, I extended my fingers out into the open space, to which Barry instinctively responded by approaching. He refused to sit, stay or play dead, but he knew as much as to approach when there may be food in hand.
Barry licked my finger, then approached the couch, resting his chin on the cushion, his soulful brown eyes looking up at my face. His tail wagged back and forth; the fact that his tail made contact with the coffee table behind him, producing an audible click, did not seem to bother him. He stayed in place for a minute before his tail stopped wagging and he sat, his eyes still meeting mine. I looked back at him, his wet nose glistening in the brightly-lit space, and succumbed to the thought crossing my mind, bluntly asking him whether it was him. Barry opened his mouth, extending his tongue, panting loudly, his mouth forming the anthropomorphic “smile” he was making earlier. He did not utter any words.
Testing the duration of the new arrangement occurred progressively. Over the span of the ensuing weeks, I left different indicators of deficient cleanliness. A pot on the stove, crumbs on the floor, unmade beds, clothes in the hamper, liquid soap on the basin, coins under the couch – these were my testers. Barry retained his position of commanding my immediate attention after work, followed thereafter by verifying the state of the specific disarray, in addition to a general overview of the apartment.
Without fail, my token of discord had been rectified by evening’s arrival. On the weekends, or the days I stayed home, the cleanings occurred either under my nose or during trips to the grocery store. The nearly invisible camera positioned surreptitiously in the bookshelf failed to capture Barry in action, but also never revealed the presence or identity of another stranger undertaking the tasks.
Barry’s mysterious ability to proceed undetected was uncanny. I kept my eye, nearly all day, fixed on the camera, waiting to spy him in action, if nothing more than to see how it was he did it. Could he walk and hold the vacuum with his paw, or did he hold it in his mouth? How did he reach the dishes and bring them down to the dishwasher? He was not tall enough to jump from the floor to the kitchen counter, so what did he use to get up there, and did he hold the dishes in his mouth? How did he find the hidden tokens I used to evaluate cleanliness each day? Where did the sponges and cleaning supplies come from? How did he get his paws into the most narrow of crevices? How long did all of this take every day?
When I arrived home, he was always beaming with the same energy he had before his cleaning days. Above all, was I concerned with how he got it done? There was a benefit to both of us, living harmoniously in a clean apartment. I was pleased that Barry was pitching in, it was more than I could possibly hope for in a dog.
I sat on the couch and Barry laid flat on the floor, his brown eyes looking up at me, his legs splayed out behind him in the manner of a frog rather than tucked under this body. Barry’s expression varied between a panting smile with his head raised to placing his chin flat against the floor. Other than the ambient street noise filtering through the window, no other sound had its genesis in the living room.
The spot Barry occupied used to play host to a different face. She too walked on all fours, but had started making her way to two. She too had the habit of licking the furniture, but was beginning to stop. She had less hair to leave around the apartment, though she was growing more. She too spit up at times, but was getting better.
We were getting better at keeping her from that which could harm her. We had no dog, lacking the space. I did not have a dog growing up, either. She might have one, some day. Barry is there for me now, but she has never met him. She will not. And we will not have to make space for Barry together. The cold days of that winter gave way to rejuvenation in the spring, and a barbecue that brought another beating heart back into my home.
At times, Barry hid from me. Once, he was gone for several days before coming back. Other times, I had to call around to see if my cousins had seen him anywhere. One of them always seemed to have him. Barry fit in well over there, playing endlessly with his brothers and sisters. It was difficult to fathom how Barry had the time to clean my apartment, then make his way across town to my cousin’s house, all in time to return home for dinner. Maybe he could talk, and just called a taxi to bring him over and back. If he could accomplish my chores, maybe he could do that too.
These were my thoughts. Of the life I once had and the life that it has become, in which Barry is my only reliable constant. People come and go all day. Family members come and leave, they talk to me, they bring dinner. Others come in and out, they all wear white. My surroundings are well-taken care of, by Barry, by the others. Not having to clean or to fold laundry has been a relief. We used to take care of it together, but we no longer have the chance to do so.
For eight months, we had more laundry to take care of than we had become used to. Barry does not have any laundry for me to do, other than getting his bed washed. But he takes care of that, and so do they. He rests beside me when I come home, but Barry always leaves at the same time every night, hiding in his own space after I feed him. I can never find him when he leaves, but he comes back during the day, right after breakfast. Then I leave for work, and Barry is no longer with me until I come home in the evening, when Barry reappears, everything around clean to the touch.
I rest in the evenings, the cold comfort of television keeping us company. At times, they come in to check on us, and we are usually doing well. My apartment has evolved into a more sterile space, but is otherwise fine. With Barry by my side, I am ok.