Two Rude Jerks Go Out For a Walk

As Cali and I were walking to the park, we saw a woman with a small terrier-looking dog. I said hello and she did too. Cali was taking a long sniff of the grass near some trash bins, so I moved aside to let them pass.

As we walked behind them, I noticed that the little dog kept picking up his rear right paw. He had impeccable leash manners, which means that the woman wouldn’t be able to see his back paws, since he was walking right next to her (paying attention, Cali?). Also, despite a lot of rain this winter, dry season has arrived. Stiff grass stubble is everywhere, as are foxtails. Cali comes home from walks full of tiny burrs. In other words, prickly things that could easily get embedded in a paw are everywhere.

So I said to the woman, “Your dog is picking up his paw; he might have something stuck in it.”

Her reply: “I’m a good pet owner.”

Is it me or was that an oddly hostile and/or defensive response? Quashing the impulse to say something defensive in return, I said, “I thought he might have a thorn or something in it. That happens to my dog a lot around here.”

She softened a little, I think, and told me that her dog has a congenital knee problem and that’s why he does that.

But, really, is the assumption that I am criticizing your parenting the go-to response for most people? That’s a sad comment on society.

Or maybe it is me. Because, a few blocks later, we encountered another dog walker. As I tend to, I detoured into the street to avoid passing close to an unfamiliar dog on a narrow stretch of the sidewalk. The other walker said, two or three times, “He’s friendly.”

When we were closer, I said, “My dog is nervous around unfamiliar dogs.”

All perfectly normal … except the implication that I was assuming negative things about her dog. Do I radiate an air of disapproval and judgment? (Please do not answer that question.)

The last encounter in this bizarrely social morning was at the park. This time, Cali was the jerk, running off an overly friendly poodle who showed too much interest in her ball. The joke was on Cali, though, because, while she was running him off and then I was reprimanding her, Maui, a dog Cali used to consider a friend, actually stole her ball. We beat an embarrassed retreat before she could challenge Maui to a duel.

I am going back to 7 a.m. walks; the park is empty and the other dog walkers are also trying to avoid dog encounters. That all makes it easier to avoid offending the entire dog and dog-owning population of Petaluma.

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A Journey — or a Destination?

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Jana and Cali have vastly different understandings of our morning walks. Each girl’s interpretation also describes her approach to life.

For Cali, the point of the walk is the destination. She wants to be at the park with every cell in her body. The closer we get, the harder it is for her to contain her excitement. She does her little skip-walk dance, where she bounces ahead, remembers, bounces back, walks nicely for two steps, can no longer contain her excitement, bounces ahead, remembers … I think she burns more calories doing this dance than she does at the park. Mostly because she spends too much time at the park jealously guarding her ball rather than running around chasing it.

Jana, on the other hand, is all about the journey. Even at the park, she’s on her journey. She investigates everything along the way with her full attention. Everything. Clumps of grass. Leaves, wood chips, tendrils of ivy trailing on the sidewalk, fence posts, trees … She looks and sniffs from every angle, breathing deeply and considering the nuances of the scent. Only then is she ready to move on … to the next leaf.

At the park, she sniffs and samples the grass, which is very fresh, green, and wet these days. She then rolls in it. Her favorite thing happened the other day: The mower was just finishing up, which meant that she got to roll in the freshly cut grass, turning herself light green in the process. I think “freshly cut grass” is her favorite scent. If I had shampoo that smelled like that, she’d willingly bathe every day.

Since walking the two of them presents certain logistical challenges, with one full steam ahead and the other moseying along … I tried taking them for individual walks. Jana was having none of it. She wanted to go with us. She’d bring me my boots, stand by the door, push her way out the door if I was leashing Cali, use all of her considerable expressive talent to communicate: Take me too! So maybe her walks are a little bit about the destination too.

Which is great, because Cali also has that bit of balance. Her delight in the journey is evident when we meet other people along the way. Her excitement is channeled at them as she beelines for this new best friend. Tail wagging, huge smile on her face, she eagerly waits for the person to greet her. Most do. To her credit, Cali brushes off the rare crushing rejection with aplomb. We’re on our way to the park, after all!

Dog Walks Man: A Six-Legged Odyssey

At first glance, a book about walking the dog might not sound very exciting. But, as a person who has written about dogs extensively and who has blogged about dog walking, I was intrigued. I picked up a copy, started reading, and was entranced.

Dog Walks Man: A Six-Legged Odyssey, by John Zeaman, is delightful! A collection of essays that is part memoir, part philosophy, and part social commentary, it has something to appeal to everyone. Zeaman, an art critic, has a warm writing style and a wry humor that makes a topic as ordinary as dog-walking almost poetic. I found myself nodding in agreement frequently and laughing out loud more than once.

Though he initially regarded the daily walks with his young standard poodle, Pete, as a chore, Zeaman describes the evolution of his attitude toward their nightly outings. I am sure that many dog owners can identify with his descriptions, and, I hope, with his ultimate realization that dog-walking provides access to pleasures that the dog-deprived miss. While there are certainly times that “having to” walk the dog feels burdensome, I find Jana’s and my morning walk-and-greet (I live in a neighborhood with many regular morning walkers, some accompanied by dogs, others there to admire my dog — that’s her take on it, anyhow) a genuine pleasure.

The fact that I agree with Zeaman’s view that dog-walkers should be in the moment, focused on the dog and the walk — not talking on their cell phones, shepherding children, and doing their errands at the same time — naturally added to my enjoyment of the book. But Zeaman’s philosophizing extends beyond a description of the ways that a daily walk enhances his relationship with his dog — he touches on people’s connections with nature, community relations, solitude and friendship, family dynamics, and the joys and responsibilities of dog ownership.

Anyone who has ever walked a dog will find something in this book that evokes a smile and a warm memory. And for readers who don’t have dogs? You’ll find out what you’re missing!