The elderly family pooch gives Wendyl Nissen a fright in the night, all the better to score the comfiest spot to rest.
It's been a while since I've been woken at 2am by someone staggering about in the hall. There was a time when this was a semi-regular occurrence as the older children ambled through their late teens and early 20s of serious drinking.
Now that they are all grown up they tend to stagger less on their way to bed.
But last week it happened again. Only this time, as I made my way into the hall to investigate, it was the dog.
"What's up?" I asked Shirl, her dear old face flecked with white, her eyebrows and snout giving her the look of an ancient mariner, if dogs could be ancient mariners.
Shirl was panting furiously, then ran up the hall, then staggered a bit and started nudging my husband to wake up.
He didn't. Nothing wakes him, not even gunshots and police dog handlers sprinting through our garden.
I settled Shirl on her mat which I put on the floor next to my husband.
"Did you just have a stroke?" I asked her.
She stared at me miserably and whined.
In the morning it was straight on to the computer to find out what exactly had happened.
"It says here that dogs pant a lot when they are in pain," I told my husband. "It says here that old dogs can have little strokes and things," I continued. "It says here that big breeds like her rarely live past 10 or 11! Oh my God we're going to lose her," I said before running and hugging my old dog to death.
Shirl is only 10, but you could be forgiven for thinking she was 20.
Since the "stroke night", as I have begun to call it, I've been on high alert for any other health issues and have become convinced Shirl will simply die in the night. A mild passing brought on by a gentle heart attack.
"I don't think heart attacks are particularly gentle," my husband pointed out, before telling me to stop waiting for her to die.
"She could easily live for another two years."
I nearly believed him and would have calmed down completely if I hadn't walked into his office and found him desperately trying to close down the Trade Me page he was looking at.
"Show me," I said.
And there they were. Cute little puppies needing good homes.
When I woke two days later Shirl had made her way in the night to the place beside the bed where I put the big European pillows before I go to sleep. Right next to me.
Somehow she had managed to stretch out over the two pillows and that's where I found her.
She looked very peaceful I thought as I watched her in the dim light of dawn. Her head was nestled into the folds of the down pillow with her front paws tucked either side.
I reached out my hand to touch her flank and felt the cold beneath it.
"So that's it then," I thought to myself before moving my hand up to rest over her heart where I couldn't find a beat.
My big old dog just lay there, eyes closed, dead to the world.
"Shirl?" I whispered, finding myself suddenly not very okay with this peaceful passing.
"Shirl!" I shouted for good measure.
And that's when she leapt up in one movement, which is very hard for an old dog to do, and looked at me as if I was insane.
"You nearly gave me a heart attack," she would have said, if she could speak.
Instead, she just looked crazed half out of her mind having been woken from a very deep sleep.
"What the hell?" said my startled husband from the other side of the bed.
"Shirl's not dead, and at least I now know how to wake you up if I need to."