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.
Come. Sit. Stay for a while.
Lesson #9 - I'm sharing a father's wisdom today—which has nothing to do with walking the dog, but everything to do with gratitude.
Lesson #8 - Life Changes. We Carry On.
It's been a long while since I had
the gumption to write a dog blog, but Sophie has made it clear that she's ready
to assume the role of inspirational canine. She was the follower, the timid one
of the pair, and the adjustment to that of being the only pooch wasn't easy.
The little red-haired golden retriever offers some good stories, although I'm
not certain how valuable the lesson. For instance, when I woke up in the middle
of the night and couldn't find the girl, I worried that someone had broken into
the house and kidnapped her. Silly me. We'd had some thunder nearby. I should
have known to look behind the shower curtain where I found her curled up in the
bathtub. The lesson? If the doors are locked, keep looking. That's not
particularly meaningful for most folks, but that's what she presented to me.
On a serious note, I am compelled to write a new lesson today because events of this past week reminded me how hard it is to begin anew. When the world we know, imperfect though it may be, falls apart, how do we start the next day? Walk through the next hour? If a loss befalls someone we love, how can we help them heal? Fictional characters give readers an opportunity to relate to their circumstances and their makeup. Several years ago I created a character who suffered an unbearable loss, and in the aftermath she penned an essay. I’d like to share it with you here:
On the desk sits a kaleidoscope, a gift. It waits with the same determination as the piece of mail, misplaced decades ago but still willing to bring news to the intended recipient. Circumstances waylaid the gift in the same way good intentions, promises, or hopes sometimes tangle with those things in life that are more demanding, more persistent.
When tragedy is the culprit, it can derail the loftiest dreams and bury memories and mistakes, alike. Tragedy can cast a stubborn shadow over the importance of something as simple as a gift. It can steal the present and mock the future.
Though its outward shell pleases the eye, the undisturbed kaleidoscope fails to fulfill its purpose. The craftsman intended the buyer to caress the smooth finish, to put the piece in motion, to turn the wheel with anticipation.
Nonetheless, even if an eager holder fulfills the actions required to produce a riotous display of color, the kaleidoscope promises nothing if it lacks a light source.
Faith triumphs overs tragedy when light outshines the darkness. Where is light in the midst of tragedy? God’s light and love shine in prayer and condolences; in hugs, letters, and long walks. Light intensifies with an invitation to cry, to reminisce, and to share stories of life ... before. Light takes the form of patience, understanding, and acceptance.
With faith, life moves forward, just as a turn of the instrument’s wheel sets a new pattern in motion. Each of us has a purpose. We need to turn the chipped and broken pieces of our lives, as the broken shards of glass in a kaleidoscope, toward the One true source of light, and wait in expectation. The reward? An ever-changing dance of color and light; delight, joy, and contentment, even in the aftermath of loss.
If you haven’t opened the gift, this might be the right time. Go ahead.
Excerpt from Deceived: A Case of Mistaken Identity, Valerie Banfield, Copyright 2015.
Lesson #7 - Sometimes Life Hurts
The space beside my writing desk has been empty for too many weeks already. In December I had to say goodbye to my sweet Hawkeye, my gentle companion and the inspiration for my Walking the Dog Blog: Lessons Learned from the Human End of the Leash. His lessons were many as he lived out his contented, happy-go-lucky life. He savored each new day, his walks, and the daily biscuit offering from his friend at the park. His passion was food. (His vet called him a "happy, overweight dog.") For all of you who loved my precious pup, who scratched him between his ears, or snuck food to him, I thank you. I think his last lesson meant to remind me to count my blessings. He inspired the thought that has kept me company these past few days: thankfulness softens the sharp edges of sorrow. Ten years was a pretty good run, and for that I am grateful.
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.
parting Haiku for Donna:
Today I miss you
When again we meet, my friend
Let’s chase butterflies
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.
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—
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?”
“Do you have a ladder?”
“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?