Valerie Banfield 

Author and Basket Weaver

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Welcome to Walking the Dog Blog

Lessons Learned from the Human End of the Leash

 

This is the place for you if you are searching for: light entertainment of the canine persuasion; practical, dog-driven lift-your-spirits therapy; amateur insights into your pet’s non-verbal communication; or a pleasant diversion from your daily routine. This is not—trust me—a place to learn how to train your dog. This blog simply serves to share what I’ve observed and learned from countless canine capers.
 

Ready?

Come. Sit. Stay for a while.

Lesson #6 – Eye of the Beholder

 

I thought Hawkeye had been rather silent on our walks of late. This morning, however, I determined that it was my own mind and attention that had meandered into a state of listlessness. Our walks, though a good habit, started to take on the pall of a rather dull routine. The catalyst of my learning experience today was the inordinate number of obstacles that forced us to veer off course. Let me paint a picture for you, if I may.


I live in a family-friendly neighborhood of narrow streets, short driveways, and homes with relatively small, attached garages. When children grow up in this type of community, at some time they trade in their skateboards, bicycles, and various mini-motored modes (say that three times) of transportation for cars. The number of driveways and vehicle-friendly garages (i.e. not filled with stuff) falls far short of the quantities of vehicles that require a place to rest when not in use. While community rules prohibit residents and guests from parking in the streets, drivers may park in such a manner as to leave two wheels on the blacktop. Hold on while I zoom in the camera lens so you can appreciate the close-up view.


This addendum to the parking code is a liberty few abuse, although its implementation can stymie the best of us. The driver must ease the right side of his vehicle over the curbing at the same time he maneuvers around in-ground sprinkler heads and mailbox posts. If said driver executes his parking prowess properly (...another tongue twister; repeat three times), the undercarriage of his vehicle straddles the narrow strip of grass that lies between the curb and the sidewalk. The passenger-side wheels rest somewhere on the sidewalk. This, among other things, creates an obstacle course for sidewalk-walking dogs and their walkers.


Which brings me to the point Hawkeye wanted to make this morning. A daily walk, in spite of its repetitive path and destination, isn’t dull. It isn’t routine. “Yes,” he seems to tell me as he wags his tail and presses onward, “we may have to cross the street three times because the passenger-side wheels block every inch of the sidewalk. I like variety, don’t you?”


When we encounter a pair of rumbling lawn mowers, one on each side of the street, we ignore the one and pass by the other. The men wielding a weed-whacker and a leaf blower, however, nudge us across the street again. Hawkeye doesn’t miss a step. “See? We get more exercise this way.”


It’s at this point that Hawkeye picks up his pace. He presses past brilliant arrays of pink and white flowers, and skirts the flowering bush that garners the attention of a host of humming honeybees. The highlight of this jaunt is what lies in wait at the pavilion. Hawkeye’s big-hearted biscuit benefactors (…one last tongue twister—I promise—repeat three times) aren’t in sight, but two golden retrievers amble by and wait for me to dispense a few treats of my own.


Hawkeye sees my empty hands and knows I’ve emptied my pockets. He seems to shrug and say, “I’m ready. Let’s go home.” When we reach my friend’s house, I hear a sputtering noise. A second later, little sprinkler heads pop up all along the sidewalk. It’s useless to sprint to the edge of the property line. The microburst of water from my left hits my walking shoes and dampens my exposed toes. From the right—and behind me, of course—another jet sprays my calves and my shorts. Yes, by the time I reach my house, it will appear to anyone driving by that I’ve wet my shorts.


Hawkeye lifts his head to the tepid spray and gives me a doggy smile. “Be sure to thank Irene for the refreshment,” he seems to say to me as he tugs on the leash and heads forward. He looks over his shoulder and gives me a doggy wink, which reminds me that Irene doesn’t water her grass with reclaimed water. “No worries,” his carefree manner tells me. “We don’t stink and you don’t have to decontaminate me when we get back. I could use a treat, though.”


Once we arrive home, and after Hawkeye empties a bowl of water, he plops down on the floor and releases a contented puppy sigh. He looks up at me as if to say, “The path is in the eye of the beholder. Did you see all the cool stuff we passed today? The yippy brown dog behind the fence? The hawk with the little birdy in its claws?” He looks at my grimace and continues, “Hey we didn’t’ see any dead frogs. Or live snakes. It was a good day. We didn’t sidestep junk on an obstacle course. We had an adventure, with a capital A-D-V-E-N-T-U-R-E. Capisce?”


I pat Hawkeye’s head and scratch his chin. He has a point.


“Can we do it again tomorrow? Can we?”

 

Copyright © 2017 Valerie Banfield; all rights reserved

Lesson #5 - Seasons – A Canine Perspective

 

Hawkeye looks at me expectantly, those big brown eyes darting toward the door. His raised eyebrows ask, “We’re going on a walk. Right? No? Maybe later? Please?”

 

I leave my unspoken apology in the form of a few treats and then walk to my car. When I reach my destination and step outside, a brilliant and cloudless blue sky tangles with a cloak of humidity. Red roses, sunflowers, baby’s breath, and a vase of pastel flowers decorate the front of the sanctuary. Three colorful butterflies rest on the leaves of the pink blossoms.

 

The pastor reminds us of the verses in Ecclesiastes: a time to laugh, a time to cry. After the service we gather and do a little of both. I’ll miss my friend, but her joyful spirit etched a special place in my heart, and I will carry that with me always.

 

I run an important errand on the way home and find the perfect piece to complete a wedding gift. The occasion, just days away, signifies a different season—one for love.

 

After Hawkeye and Sophie fill their bellies with kibble, they excuse my extended absence. While they stretch and nap, I bury my efforts in the computer and quickly deplete my energy and my patience. When I finally come up for air, the clock confirms what my body has been trying to tell me. It’s dinnertime and I’m hungry.

 

I put a pot of water on to boil and then take the dogs outside. When I step onto the lanai, the warm air that lifts the hair away from my face has lost its humidity. It’s heavenly; the temperature, sublime. I look at Hawkeye and say the magic word, “Walk?”

 

It takes about one minute to turn off the stove, put on tennis shoes, and leash the dog. It’s glorious outside, but as I breathe in nature’s perfection, I have second thoughts about my timing. When’s sunset? Can we really hike one and a half miles before the street lamps glow? Hawkeye doesn’t care. He sets a brisk pace. His eager steps invite me to be excited along with him.

 

The setting sun lends a yellow glow to the underside of the clouds that dot the sky. As we near the pavilion where the community has a playground and a couple of basketball hoops, sunlight streams through a small opening in the darkening canopy, a brilliant spotlight calling attention to God’s majesty, “Over here. Don’t miss this. It’s pretty grand, eh?”

 

Although Hawkeye’s contingency of canine friends isn’t at the park right now, children play on the swing sets while a few fathers play catch with their sons. All is right with the world in this place and at this moment in time.

 

As Hawkeye and I do an about-face and head back home, a gentle breeze caresses the landscape. The last rays of sunlight shimmer against the dark leathery leaves of the magnolia trees that line both sides of the roadway. Soon, gigantic white blossoms will fill those stately boughs. My steps feel lighter, even as the sun sinks toward the horizon.

 

As we reach our driveway, we share an unexpected treat when the family who lives down the street walks up to us. Hawkeye sits like the perfect gentleman that he is, and waits for the little tow-headed toddler to pat him on the head. The little girl’s glee comes in the form of a broad smile and giggles. Hawkeye shares his with a wagging tail, a canine’s rendition of a time to dance.

 

Back inside, Hawkeye sprawls out on the cool floor. I can almost hear his contented sigh. I wonder if he notices mine. I turn the burner back on, survey this place I call home, and breathe in a heart full of love. I exhale a prayer of gratitude. Right now, all is well in my world.

 

A parting Haiku for Donna:

Today I miss you

When again we meet, my friend

Let’s chase butterflies


Lesson #4 - Election Year Special - Race to the Top Dog

 

    “I don’t want to be a mediator. I’m supposed to be a guest.” Mercedes’ protest slid off Gilda as fast as dog drool sizzles on a Florida sidewalk.

    “Come on. You’re perfect,” Gilda the cockatoo said. “All the female news anchors have dark eyeliner around their big eyes, and their golden hair is flawless. They all want to be you. You can do this.”

    Mercedes tweaked an ear. Really? Gilda was fashion savvy. Stylish. But Mercedes didn’t want to participate in the debate. After the two humans returned from their lunch date, she would go back to her own home were she was Queen. Mercedes craned her neck until she caught sight of the other two golden retrievers, the candidates. What a pair.

    Sophie panicked at the suggestion of thunder, and had a strangeness phobia—which included anything that fell beyond the routine of eating, sleeping, or visiting her own backyard: trashcans, yard flags flapping in the breeze, cats, and people. Yet she considered herself a candidate. Really?

     Mercedes narrowed her eyes and studied the other contender. Hawkeye boasted premium bloodlines and carried himself in a manner that reminded everyone the fact. Although he was good looking and affable, rumor had it that he struggled with his weight due to his obsession with food.

     Gilda tipped her head toward the wall clock. “Time to get started,” she said to Mercedes.

     “Good evening and welcome to the Race to the Top Dog Debate. Tonight’s program is sponsored by . . . uh . . . I forget.” Mercedes covered her mouth with her paw when she burped. “But the treat was delicious. We don’t have time for pleasantries, so let’s start. Our first debate question is: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the canine population in this household?”

    Sophie went wide-eyed. Hawkeye stuffed a dog biscuit into his mouth. Mercedes lifted her nose and leveled it in Sophie’s direction.

    “Me? You want me to go first?” Sophie owned two voices: one whiny, which she displayed at the moment; the other, brusque and sort of selfish. Reminded Mercedes of someone who had the habit of saying, “Mine, mine, mine!” which happened to be one of Sophie’s mantras.

    Sophie looked at the dark gray sky that loomed beyond the sliding glass doors and swallowed hard.

    “Healthcare,” Sophie said.

    “Healthcare?” Hawkeye asked. “Everyone knows it’s the economy.” His pedigreed tone was incredulous and taunting, just like the politicians he watched on TV.

     “I dis-respectively disagree,” Sophie replied. “I have to be healthy before I can contribute to the economy.”

    “Yeah, well you could work on that for a lifetime and—”

    “Excuse me,” Mercedes interrupted. “We agreed to leave our wild dog instincts outside.”

    “Fine,” Hawkeye growled. “In light of our agreement for transparency, what exactly are your healthcare needs?”

    “I need a new storm coat,” Sophie said. “The Velcro on my coat has so much fur stuck in it, the thing won’t stay closed. I need to be snug before I feel safe.”

    “You’re a crybaby even when you wear your coat,” Hawkeye said.

    Mercedes cleared her throat. “That’s twice, big guy.”

    Hawkeye leaned forward and asked Sophie, “How do you propose to pay for another coat?”

    “Um.”

    Hawkeye leaned closer. With his muzzle two inches away from Sophie’s snarling lips, he said, “Huh? Where will you find the money?”

    “Hey, I smell peanut butter. No fair.”

    “Life isn’t fair,” Hawkeye said. “When you eat peanut butter your face gets itchy and your ears get infected, and you have to go to the vet. All the time. No wonder you don’t have enough money for a storm coat. You’re always spending the human’s money because you don’t stay away from things that are bad for you. B-a-a-a-a-a-d.”

    “You sound like a sheep,” Sophie said. She raised her head and sniffed, as if she caught the scent of a rabbit or, ooh, maybe a skunk.  “Wait. I know how to pay for my storm coat.”

    “How?” Hawkeye asked while he licked remnants of his biscuit off his whiskers.

    “Taxes.” Sophie sounded jubilant.

    “Nobody wants to pay taxes,” Hawkeye said. “What are you planning to tax? The baby shampoo the human has to use on your sensitive skin? Hmm?”

    “Peanut butter. I’ll tax peanut butter.”

    “Hey now,” Hawkeye said. “My special interest groups won’t go for that. Right Mercedes?”

    “Me?” Mercedes asked.

    “Yeah. You like peanut butter, don’t you?”

    “Sure. Who doesn’t?” When Mercedes saw Sophie’s face fall, she said, “Sorry, but it’s true. I love peanut butter.”

    “What about me?” Gilda said. “Cockatoos eat peanuts. You can’t tax peanuts. No way.”

    “See?” Hawkeye asked.

    “Then you’ll have to pay a tax every time you walk the human to the park.” Sophie’s thumping tail underlined her enthusiasm.

     Mercedes held her breath while she waited for Hawkeye’s retort. He seemed to be chewing. Yes, he was. After he swallowed another biscuit, he said, “What do you do while I’m walking the human?”

    “I take a vacation from you.” Sophie nodded to Mercedes. “You get that. Every girl needs some solitude.”

    “I dunno. I’m an only dog.” Mercedes yawned. She really wanted to take a snooze.

    “If I refuse to take walks because you charge me, then I’ll be home twenty-four/seven. Capisce?”

    “Capisce? What do you think you are? An Italian retriever? Quit talking down to me, will ya?” Sophie asked.

    “Just pointing out the obvious.”

    Sophie narrowed her eyes, leaned into her attack mode stance, and growled.

    “Knock it off,” Mercedes said. “We’re out of time. We have to take a vote.”

    “Who gets to vote?” Gilda asked.

    Hawkeye raised his shoulders and said, “We each get one vote.”

    “Not me,” Mercedes said. “I’m not registered. I’m just visiting.”

    “Shh. It’s the garage door. They’re back,” Gilda said.

    Mercedes, along with Hawkeye and Sophie, decided to play opossum as the humans entered the kitchen.

    “Did you get the shopping bag with the storm coat?” the homeowner human asked.

    “Yes. And I put the jar of peanut butter in the bag. Here, let me help you.”

    After the humans went back into the garage, Sophie whispered, “Are we going somewhere?”

    “They carried our bowls and thirty pounds of dog food to the car,” Hawkeye said. He started wagging his tail when he looked at Sophie. “I think we get to go to Mercedes’ house. I like it there.”

    Mercedes gulped.

    “Shh. They’re coming back,” Gilda said.

    “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. Three weeks is a long time to impose.”

    “Aw, it’s not an imposition. Mercedes loves company. Especially Sophie and Hawkeye. Who’s taking care of the bird?” Mercedes’ human stretched her neck and stared at Gilda until the bird blinked.

    “The neighbor. Hey pups, you ready to roll?”

    Mercedes stood and delivered a wide-eyed plea to her human. No! She shook her head. Hard.

    “What’s the matter girl? You didn’t pick up fleas from these two, did you?” Her human laughed.

    Fleas? The thought induced a scratching frenzy in Sophie, and a fast retreat by Hawkeye. No matter, the humans hustled all three pooches into the car. While the humans gushed over the golden retrievers crammed into the back seat, Mercedes did her best to make her position clear, “I am queen of my castle.”

~

    After the dogs left, Gilda looked out the window and watched her human stuff a suitcase into her car before she drove away. The house was eerie quiet. Eerie nice; not eerie scary. Gilda drooled as she studied her good fortune. One of her food bowls held fruit-flavored treats. Peanuts in the shell brimmed over the edge of another bowl. A new chew toy hung from the bars on her cage. Very nice.

    This was a perfect day for an election. Not that the household needed one. If those two mongrels would recognize that the human took care of everything they needed, they wouldn’t bother trying to decide who was Top Dog. In the human’s world, all of the animals in the home rated the best treatment and got an endless supply of love. From the looks of things, the human was in charge. Good thing.

    Still, just for a moment, Gilda relished the thought that she was the matriarch of this castle. Queen Gilda looked about her nest. Her little fiefdom was exactly as she imagined in her dreams: quiet, peaceful, luxurious, and dog-less. Sadly, her term ended just three weeks from today. So much to enjoy . . . so little time.

 

Lesson #3 -  Letter to my Neighbor, dated 7/10/2016

To my neighbor and the men and women he represents:

 

When I walked my dog past your house today, your flag, flying at half-mast, grabbed at my heart. During another dog walk, many months ago, I saw the sheriff’s vest you picked up while you rummaged through your trunk. I want you to know I’m grateful you live nearby.

 

My eldest grandson bears the name of a fallen officer. The gunman drove to the local police station and incited the officers to end his life by taking the life of one of the officers as he reported to work. My son-in-law lost his best friend that day. Families, friends, and communities mourned.


A number of years ago I had a unique opportunity to experience one of the training methods used by a metropolitan police force in the Midwest. The trainer handed me a weapon that had the heft and size of a .45. He turned on a projector and a video started in which a man arose from a park bench, pulled a butcher knife from beneath his coat, and raised it. I stood, stupefied, while the man turned and attacked my off-screen partner. The clock at the bottom of the screen said I’d wasted my 3.2-second opportunity to prevent the carnage. 3.2 seconds. The incident sobered me.

 

The events of these past weeks are heart wrenching. I can only pray for the victims, their families, and their communities. And, I can tell you thank you . . . for getting up and reporting to work each day, for taking the risks associated with your choice of career. Please tell your fellow officers and the people who love you that I am—

 

Truly,

Your grateful neighbor.


Lesson #2 - If it Chirps, It must be Doomsday


     It only happens at night. I know the drill. I’m in that coveted deep sleep, the short recharging mode the body craves. The dream is sweet, so real I can feel the ocean breeze as it caresses my perfect beach body. The scene is glorious, peaceful . . . until . . . a cattle prod punches my adrenal gland. I bolt upright, gasping. The emerging shadow is that of a canine, and he knows.

     He jumps onto the mattress. Hot breath, a whine, and drops of drool wash over my pajamas. He trembles so violently that the bed shudders.

     “It’s okay. Relax. I got it.”

     Nothing doing. He’s not convinced I can fix this. Most things, yes. This? No way. The dog’s freaked-out posture tells me all I need to know. We’re doomed.

     I slither out from under the weight of his massive body and try to coax him to go outside. He declines and tries to wrap his torso around me as I walk to the garage. When he sees me collect the ladder, the whites of his eyes, like the gauge on an automobile dashboard, move the needle from fear to terror. No amount of soft-talk, encouragement, or wailing on my part can restore the pup’s condition to calm.

     I’m quick. I know where to find the nine-volt batteries. I have a ready supply. We wait until the culprit chirps again, the only means available to determine the location of the guilty instrument. Having identified the target, I slip out the battery, swap it for a fresh one, and decline the manufacturer’s suggestion to test the battery freshness by pressing the round button for three seconds. No way.

     With the ladder back in the garage, silence reigns throughout the house—with the exception of the labored doggy breaths. After what feels like hours, his heart rate calms and he trudges after me while I crawl back into bed. He gives me one of those, “Don’t you think we ought to call the reporter and tell them we saved the world?” looks. I pat him on the head and tell him to go back to sleep. As if . . .

     Two days later, while I’m chatting on the phone with a neighbor, I think I hear the dreaded chirp again. No. It had to be my imagination. I stare at the smoke detector, the one with the new battery. It’s LED glows green. While I talk, I wander through the house and take inventory. Green lights everywhere.

     The dog tells me I’ve missed something. The trembling, the slobber, the help-me face. Déjà vu. But I have an appointment. I have to leave. I worry the entire time I’m gone, and after the service department returns my car to me, I cancel my lunch plans. The first time the dog encountered failing batteries in the new house, he tried to claw his way out of the sliding glass doors. I check my watch. He could have tunneled through concrete and stucco by now. Imagine my relief when I return home and find nothing but normalcy. I exhale.

     Two days later, I’m on the phone with the neighbor again. I pull the phone away from my ear and do a visual inspection of the smoke detectors again. Sure enough, the dog warns me that doomsday has arrived. When I put my ear back to the phone, I hear it again. That chirp.

     “Uh, is that your smoke detector I hear?” I ask, making a minor attempt to hide my incredulous tone.

     “It’s been beeping for ten days now. My son-in-law promised to replace the battery for me this weekend.”

     Seriously? Ten days? I will never, ever speak to this woman on the phone again . . . unless . . . “Do you have a nine-volt battery?”

     “Yes.”

     “Do you have a ladder?”

     “Yes.”

     “I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

     Five minutes later she calls me back. I stare at the phone. If that alarm chirps again, I’ll remove the woman from my contact list.

     “Hey, guess what,” she exclaims. “When you told me you could fix this, I thought I could do it myself. And, I did. It’s changed. No more alarm.”

     I look at the dog and shake my head. If the neighbor only knew.

     So, does this tidbit have a moral? At least two: 1) keep extra batteries on hand; 2) if you help your neighbor; you might do yourself a favor at the same time.

     “Right, pup?”

      He doesn’t answer. He’s catching up on his beauty sleep.

Lesson #1 - Walking the Dog

 

Two hyper golden retrievers pace and circle my ankles as I stuff mini dog biscuits and blobs of peanut butter into their bright red treat holders. Eighty-pound Hawkeye is first up on the daily walk. Sophie stays behind and slurps on her tasty feast.

 

The red harness is snug around Hawkeye’s belly and shoulders. Dangling from the upper loop of his double-grip leash is the obligatory doggie bag holder. He exits the front door like a thoroughbred thundering out of the gate, its rider holding on for dear life. The three-quarter-mile walk to the community park and pavilion is a series of pulls forward and jerks to a standstill, and effectively meets the walker’s daily push-up and pull-up quotas.

 

When I, the bedraggled walker—with emphasis on the drag part of the word—can’t keep up, I pull the leash up short, toss out the suggestion that Hawkeye obey the sit command, and have an eye-to-I’m not looking at you chat with the exuberant dog. When he rises, the tug of war begins again.

 

We finally reach the pavilion, where he sniffs every inch of sidewalk for evidence of other dogs’ visits. He recognizes the scent of the regulars, but his excitement mounts when he recognizes his own bouquet. As expected, within the two blocks of beginning the return trip, he makes his daily deposit near the curb. It’s time to engage the doggy bag, but separating the plastic at the top of the bag is worse than using fingernails to slice open the tread on a Goodyear tire.

 

Once back home, Hawkeye gasps for breath. He gives me an accusing look that says I made too much work of our daily stroll. Nonetheless, he greedily snags his treat holder as soon as he’s off the leash and out of the halter.

 

Sophie’s back end is wagging so hard her entire body sways. Her sixty-pound weight makes her easier to control than Hawkeye, but she’s still a tough walk. Trash cans resting by the curb terrify her. She stalls at open garage doors and freezes with each passing vehicle. Her aversion to yard decorations requires a separate writing altogether. When she senses danger, she tries to back out of her halter so she can flee back to the house.

 

An “aha” moment. I recognize a flaw in my prayers. I am accustomed to asking God to be with me, to walk with me. I am the dog. I willingly let my Master put on my harness and leash. Once I utter “amen,” I expect Him to be with me as I choose how and where I spend my day. Sometimes I sense a tug on the leash, and just as the dog walker keeps a snug hold on his pet until the cars pass through the intersection, I let God hold me long enough to keep me out of harm’s way.

 

He tells me to sit. I hear, but do not listen. He tells me again. And again. He holds tight to the leash, even as I disregard His leading. I tug and pull, pointing out the things that catch my interest, my time and attention.

 

Do I resemble the dog who drags his master towards disgusting minefields left by other animals, when He’d rather lead me to a place of delight, a place filled with flowers, clean water, and a refreshing breeze? Like the canine, do I come home tired but eager for more attention, clamoring for something more? At the end of those days when I insist on making my own path, my own discoveries, has God grown weary of me?

 

I need to re-word my prayer. I need to hand over the leash and say, “Please lead me. Let me walk with You today. Show me all You would have me see. Open my eyes to those things in which You delight, those things You would have me learn. Keep my steps in tune to Yours. Keep me from errant paths, from temptations and hazards that call me away from You.”

 

Maybe, at the end of the day, my neck and shoulders will relax as I climb into bed. Instead of protesting at their misuse, my rest will be sweet. Surely, my day will be sweeter still, when I correct the wording of my prayer . . . and heed the difference. In your own life, who’s walking whom?