I have three dogs: Cookie, a female black Lab-Beagle mix; Cecilia, a female Beagle-Basset Hound; and Tequila (or Tiki), a moy-macho Chihuahua mixed with maybe Boston Terrier. My wife Joni and I take them around our block every day. And on our travels, I’ve realized that life is a lot like a dog walk.
We tell our dogs that it’s time to go and they get all excited: running for the door, barking, jumping. It’s hard for them to hold still, and thus, it’s a little hard for us to get their harnesses and leashes on. But we’re patient with them because we know they’re happy and just want to have fun.
Out the door we go, my wife with Tiki and Cecilia, the two smaller dogs; me with Cookie (and the obligatory plastic bags). Tiki runs to the end of his leash and pees on the first thing he can find right there in the driveway, usually a bush, sometimes a tire of my car. Cookie’s all about getting out of the driveway as fast as possible, out to the mailbox where she can sniff and sniff and find out what other dogs have come by.
Cecilia takes her time, scenting around here and there, not wanting to miss anything. She goes out on the front lawn, where the dogs hardly ever get to go, and sniffs around there. And then she usually does her business, peeing and/or pooping, right there in front of our house. Sometimes she gets so engrossed with sniffing and squatting that it takes us five minutes just to leave our yard.
And then we go down the street, which looks like your typical suburban place, even though it’s in a semi-rural area. We almost always go the same route around our block, but the dogs never seem to get tired of it. When we do go a different way, they’re all out of sorts. You see, they have their spots they like to stop at and sniff: other mailboxes, as you might expect, but also certain bushes, sewer lids, ends of driveways, parked cars, trash cans and recycling bins that neighbors have brought down for pickup the next day. They get obsessed with smelling other dogs’ poop, and we have to tug on their leashes and tell them to move on.
If there’s a bit of paper—part of a napkin or paper towel, an empty cheeseburger wrapper or soda cup, even some newspaper—Cookie will try to surreptitiously gobble it down. She knows I don’t like her to eat trash we find, and when I can, I take it from her mouth before she can swallow it and make herself sick.
When Cecilia poops, she doesn’t hold still, but keeps walking, crouching, sniffing around for new things, not paying full attention to what she’s doing. When she or Cookie pee on something, Tiki runs over and tries to pee on top of it, after them, like he’s “claiming” what the others had marked as “theirs.” Then he digs and kicks his legs, scratching the ground, tearing up grass. Because he can. He really seems to enjoy himself. Each of them is very impatient, straining on their leashes, when I stop them from going on so that I can clean up their messes.
If they come across another dog on the walk, Cookie will always pull as hard as she can to go meet the other dog nose-to-nose: if I won’t let her, she barks. Cecilia is either very shy with other dogs—not wanting anything to do with them—or very aggressive: barking, howling, charging the other dog. If it’s a male, Tiki wants to fight; if it’s a female, Tiki wants to get busy. He’s very predictable. Either way, Joni usually has to pick him up and tuck him under her arm.
If they come across people, Cecilia and Cookie are always very friendly, especially to little kids. Cecilia will meekly approach them and, if they’ll let her, slowly sit up with her paws on the other person’s legs so that they can lean down and pat her. Cookie boisterously rushes up, tongue flapping, tail wagging, hoping to get petted, or lick the person’s hand, or—best of all—get a treat from them. Cookie would go home with an obvious mass murderer if it meant a treat. Tiki hates and growls at everyone, especially little kids. And if a jogger or someone on a skateboard, scooter, bike, or motorcycle goes by, he wants to chase and bite them. We don’t let him.
Nor do we let them chase the birds, cats, squirrels, and occasional rabbits we come across. Oh, they’d love to: Cecilia just loses her mind, howling and whining and yanking on her leash, trying to get away, to run after the critter. But if we ever let her, we’d never see her again: she’d run and run and keep running until she was lost and couldn’t find her way home. And though I don’t think Cookie or Tiki would do that, they would, I know, pay no attention to anything else, and might run into the path of an oncoming car. And that would probably be it for them.
Speaking of cars, there’s a section of our walk along a main street, and we’re often there when a lot of people come home from work. So there are usually lots of cars. At that part of the stroll, we reel in the dogs’ leashes and make them walk close to us, on the side of the road, well away from the cars, and we don’t let them stop to do their business. If it’s really busy, and if we’re by the big willow that normally we go around into the road, we’ll wait in the grass for a minute before we proceed. Of course, the dogs want more than ever to go out in the road, to not be reined in so tightly. They pull and tug and try to stop our quick march. But it could be dangerous for them and for the drivers if we didn’t hold them back.
Three-quarters of the way through our walk around the block, the dogs are pretty worn out: they’re not yanking on their leashes, and when they do stop to sniff, it’s for longer than usual. If it’s raining or cold or really hot, they’re feeling it now, and all they want to do is go home; at the start of the walk, they had been so excited that they had ignored or shrugged off the bad weather.
And so we get to our door and we stop and I take off their leashes and harnesses and they wait while I do that. Tiki is sometimes angry with me for doing that; Cookie is always excited; Cecilia is calm. If it’s raining, Joni goes inside and gets a towel and comes back out and dries them off before they go in. And then I open the door and they go: Tiki trotting in, casually; Cecilia either headed for the water dish or the cozy place under the stairs, where she likes to sleep; Cookie eagerly bounding up those same steps to get her daily post-walk treat. And then the dogs settle down for the evening and sleep well.
* * *
Life for a lot of people is much like that dog walk we take every day. In our youth, we start off rushing to get the first thing we can, like Tiki, or barreling towards some more distant goal, like Cookie, or we check out everything that we find right there out of the door, like Cecilia.
We progress on, getting a bit more mature, and we develop habits that we rarely think about or tire of, much like how my dogs never think about or mind going the same way—and when our routines get disrupted, we’re as befuddled as the dogs when we walk a different way. We pour a lot of energy into finding out about other people’s stuff, just like the dogs sniffing at mailboxes and trashcans and parked cars. And just as the dogs can’t get enough of another dog’s poop, we are consumed by anything unsavory that we discover about others.
We eat and do things we know we ought not to—but we do anyway. We often don’t pay attention to important things—or we trivialize them into some contest among ourselves and others, to see who can be “the big dog.” If we notice that someone is doing something essential for us, like cleaning up our messes, we are often ungrateful and impatient, eager to get on with the next thing.
Our reactions to others vary, based on personality: like Cookie, some are eager to make new friends; like Tiki, some want to conquer, in one form or another; like Cecilia, some can fall somewhere in between, depending on circumstances.
Some of the things we want so badly to do, feel so passionately about—like chasing the squirrels or walking out in the road when everyone is coming home—can be horrible, even fatal, for us. Often, we lament what we think of as “good times” or “good opportunities” lost. We can even resent our Master for holding us back. We are confident in ourselves, sure of our abilities, though often we don’t fully understand or even see the dangers.
We get older and we tire, slow. We contemplate things more than we used to. We feel the weather more than we did; we pay attention to small things we used to ignore. Some of us grow weary of the walk, and just want to go Home.
And when we are on the doorstep of Home, as our Master prepares us to go in, we might be angry, like Tiki, at the bother. We might be excited, like Cookie, thinking of a reward. We might be calm and accepting of whatever is there, like Cecilia. Perhaps we need a final bit of care before we go, like Joni toweling them off. But eventually, our Master opens the door and lets us in. And our rest begins.
Will there be more walks after that? I cannot say.