And now, without further ado, the big confession.

The Urban Dictionary says the long game is having a long-term plan, long-term goals, or doing things now that set you up for the future. If you have a dog you know I’m right.

The first thing they do is to perfect the look. You know that look. Those luminous eyes, hopeful and filled with adoration even though it’s really about the food you might drop while cooking, or a sly hand dangling a piece of bacon.

If there are multiple people in the home dogs play the long game by deciding who might be the weakest link and then pandering to that person while waiting for the right time to move into phase two.

Coconut is my dog but he figured out quickly that Gary is the weakest link. I am the person who feeds him, takes him on 95% of the walks, gets on the floor at night to check his eyes, paws, and teeth before singing him the night-night song, yes, all true, and he obviously loves me more than anything or anyone. Except for food. This is one food-driven dog. But Coconut figured out that to win the long game he needed to play Gary cause he couldn’t play me.

Two years after my wreck I decided that since I’d tried prescription drugs, edibles, acupuncture, massage, therapy, shots in my forehead, and so much more maybe my doctor was right so I’d get a dog. The doctor was convinced that even though I’d likely have migraines for a long time of even forever a dog would help with the suicidal thoughts, depression, and anxiety caused by the traumatic brain injury. But I had a few conditions. Any dog in my house was on probation, could not bark, jump, lick me, get on any furniture, and there would be no puppy under any circumstance.

So we got a scrawny little fourteen-month-old mutt with those aforementioned eyes. The first night home was a nightmare that ended up costing us over $2,500 including the emergency vet. I admit it was my fault because I had never heard of crate training and blithely left him alone to go to see a show.

The next morning Coconut could barely walk and so the mark put him on my white chair despite being told that dogs do not belong on furniture. But he was hurting, I was guilty, and so for a few days, the white chair was his throne. He was such a smart dog that we broke him of that nasty habit. Yeah, smart like a fox. Turns out that was only phase one of his long game.

Before long he had claimed the middle seat as two became three on the sofa. Then we bought a new sofa. A mere five weeks later three sticks of butter in the middle of the night somehow made their way into his tummy. Trust me, it’s way worse than you can ever imagine when nature calls. No, that fancy warranty did not cover the cleaning. Again I took the blame because I had no idea a dog that short could reach that high to nab the goods off of the island. But he was so cute and after hours of scrubbing with many trips to Petco, I decided that the middle seat was his.

Coconut really is a sweetheart and he truly saved my life. He doesn’t bark unless there is a valid reason. I’ve become much more willing to be licked and to wear dog hair as an accessory for the rest of my life. We settled into our routine with him getting better and better. I did not know he was still playing the long game.

Coconut is a runner and we’ve had more stressful late nights than I can count because of our neighbor’s homemade fence but we’ve managed to avoid a lost dog. For the record, Gary gets one hundred percent of the blame for our little runaway.

The worst night was when he escaped from an unimaginably narrow space he had obviously been eyeing. There was a train involved, yes, a freight train, a few scrapes, a sprained leg, a hemorrhaged eye, and another trip to the vet. Thankfully, he is back to normal. But that night he was a shivering mess cuddled against his protector, otherwise known as “the mark” and turned those eyes upwards and earned himself a spot at the end of the bed. This was the never-to-broken rule. Dogs do not belong on beds. Period. I read in bed and toss and turn and I guess Coconut didn’t like feeling like he was adrift in a rowboat so he somehow made his way off the bed and limped off to his little spot and that was that.

Coconut loves people and he likes to lean into me or Gary and he adores being touched as he nestles in between us on our forever stained but no longer disgusting sofa. But he has always hated being picked up and cuddled. So in December when he started preferring my husband over me and began crawling into his nap I felt first betrayed and then curious. In January, Gary had a biopsy after an elevated PSA and discovered that he had prostate cancer. Even before the diagnosis, I knew Gary had cancer in part because of Coconut’s behavior. It was like that little dog knew Gary was sick and decided that Gary needed him more than I did. Or it could have been the final stage of the long game.

By now you probably know how this story is going to end. All I can say is never say never because dogs will make a liar out of you. Dogs do smell cancer, that’s been proven, and Coconut seems to have made it his mission to be there for Gary. So the long game plan has always been to get on the bed any time day or night. The good news is that he doesn’t like to be in the middle of us, he stays on Gary’s side, he leaves after just a few hours, and he has some sort of schedule that only he knows because he usually starts on the bed only three or four nights each week.

The best news is that Gary had surgery and the surgeon said it was a textbook removal with no complications and that all the cancer should be gone. So we’ll see if there are any other long games we don’t know about and it will be interesting to see if Coconut will continue to be Gary’s lapdog now that he’s cancer-free. As long as he stays off my side of the bed I guess this is my new normal.