Time to say goodbye. As the ancient philosopher Heraclitus proclaimed, and the great poet Kermit eloquently reaffirmed, the only constant is change. After more than a year walking dogs in Oak Park, I’m moving to Chicago. Or rather, since I already live in Chicago, I’m going to walk dogs near my home instead of commuting to work every day. It’s a big change. Though I will certainly miss the dogs I’ve seen nearly every day for over a year, I think I will miss freeway traffic comparatively less in the long-run. It will be bittersweet to leave, but I suspect the sweet aftertaste will endure longer. For though I have formed wonderful, strong relationships with my Oak Park Pack, I have no doubt that I’ll form new and equally rewarding relationships with my new Chicago dogs (ChicagDogs?) The real consideration is commuting: commuting on the train with my bike is inconvenient for myself and my fellow passengers; commuting in my car through some of the country’s worst freeway traffic erodes my faith in the future of the human species and pummels my benevolent nature under the kicks of despairing brake feet. I don’t want to get to work every morning, and home every evening, with nausea in my soul. Besides that, riding my bike around my own neighborhood and down towards the massive splendor of downtown Chicago, well that’s just lovely. It’s trading a negative for a positive, and maybe it’s also change for change’s sake. Because, though my Oak Park routine was comfortable, it was still routine. Heraclitus and Kermit would approve of this change, even if my Oak Park Pack might not. At least at first. Yet I’m sure they’ll fall in love with their new walker, because I happen to know that they are lovely dogs. Just lovely. Oh how could I ever leave them? What have I done? How will their new walker know just where to walk or pet them? Will they all waste away longing for me? Are they eating? Heraclitus was just a dumb old Greek guy and Kermit is just a stupid frog and what the heck do they know? You see, I have moments of doubt. I’m a little possessive, and a lot loyal. I’m susceptible to effusions of sappy motion. Sometimes I prefer what’s comfortable. I’m very dog-like, in other words. And I find it hard to leave my pack. So what if change is the rule. Rules suck.
But what’s done is done. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about my new pack, but at present I’d like to give a quick roll-call of the lovely pups I’m leaving behind. I’m sure they won’t read about themselves, for literacy was not something I was able to impart to them during our time together. So maybe this is more for my sake then theirs. But in any case, here they are, my pals:
Snuffy and Fozzie Bear were two very special dogs. They are a credit to the beauty of mixed-breeds, and the challenges and rewards of adopting dogs. Snuffy is a Pitbull/Husky mix, and though I know how difficult that is to imagine, you’ll have to take my word for it when I say she looks just like a Pitbull/Husky mix. Fozzie Bear (FB) is a sort of brindled German Shepherd/Something Else mix (maybe Dingo?) and together they form a little pack that consistently turned heads when walking down the street. Snuffy, outside of the unfortunate and incorrigible need to kill anything that she cannot clearly perceive, understand or anticipate (a distant plastic bag blowing in the wind, for example, would arouse truly murderous urges) is really a very sweet dog. Not many people get to see her sweet “I love you” gaze and big happy grin, nor the adorable way she paws at you when you stop petting her for a moment. Most people would indeed find such images hard to conjure, given that the face she projects to the world is one of a rabid and hysterical ball of furious fur.
She wears two collars, a harness and a muzzle whenever out of doors, all secured to my arm with a double set of thick leashes. FB has a similar arrangement but doesn’t really need it, since as the mellow alpha dog he is content to just mark things and look cool. On many occasions, however, I could sense him rolling his doggy eyes as I struggled to control and redirect the focus of Snuffy, who in her desperate and brutal hatred of squirrels, bikes, pedestrians, other dogs, helicopters, and things that moved, turned her attempts to bite things on me, him, and occasionally nearby trees. Her muzzle, in other words, saved both FB and myself (not to mention most of America) from total gnawing destruction. But once back home, she was a doll. Both dogs took about a month to really warm up to me, but then everything about them said “I like you.” They could be challenging to walk, but were always a great way to start a day.
Jackson and Poncho. Jackson is a big Great Dane/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, a big wiggly monster, and a total coward. He barks like a feral beast whenever anyone passes by his window, but whenever I walked through the door he commenced bunny hopping, running laps around the living room (including detours onto the couch and crashes into my legs) and, after I corralled him enough to give him a good
how-you-doing pat on the rump, dancing around in a way that would be unsuitable for immature audiences. He was terrified of thunder, construction and garbage trucks, but don’t tell anyone I told you, because he wants so badly to think he’s tough. His brother Poncho was a dog trained by parolees as part of a rehabilitation program, and still has a tough edge to him. He loved to run right up to me when I entered, turn around and sit down right in front of me so that 1) I would rub his chest and neck and 2) his brother Jackson wouldn’t try to come around. Jackson, being the bigger and dominant dog, would inevitably snarl and growl at Poncho, who would abandon his position to go swing his blankie around like a bullfighter. He was a very fairly-behaved walker and much sweeter than he looked (like a giant pit bull/weasel mix) but was also a notorious multi-pooper. These two together always gave me the most fun and enthusiastic welcome, and also peed and pooped far more every day than most elephants do in a given season. They have completely disproved the laws of relativity and the conservation of matter because each of them expelled twice their body weights every day, and yet neither one ever disappeared or turned into a black hole. They were also the most set on their walking route of any dog I’ve ever seen. Jackson would pull frantically back toward his normal patrol of the neighborhood, having no interest in exploring even two steps beyond his own scent trail. They had the most well-stocked treat cabinet of any dogs in the county, and were always well treated. They were really some of my favorites, and really good pals. They fought like grizzlies for my attention and once while wrestling with them I lost my keys (for half an hour–they were under the couch), but otherwise they were just pure goofy goodness. I walked them almost every day, starting from my very first day on the job. Every part of our routine had become so automatic and easy that it’s hard to believe it’s all over. Our visits were like self-contained little worlds. I think I will miss them most of all.
Morgan and Barley are two other mixed-breeds, and two other from-day-one friends. I covered more ground with them than any other dogs because they were so quick and athletic that we could explore half the neighborhood in 15 minutes. Our routine also became entrenched, though they took longer to get the hang of things since when I first met them they were still puppies, just on the cusp of doggy adolescence. By the end of our time together, they were habituated to sit in their crates before I even asked them and then lay down at my feet before I even told them; these were the two steps their humans (who will also be missed) recommended I enforce to save my thighs from being scratched and my eyes and groin from being kicked or nose-jabbed. The very notion that they would resist their incredible hyper elation at my arrival and lay down calmly before I said anything other than “hi girls” was like a daily miracle played out before my eyes; it is a testament to their sweet natures, our good rapport and the sheer quantity and regularity of my visits to their home.
They learned to stopped pulling at the leash and wandering any and every which way on our walks; stopped lunging after things and tying me and each other up in their leashes, and generally started behaving like the beautiful, pleasant and mature dogs that they were meant to be. No dogs grew up better or made me prouder, and no adoption story had a happier ending. I’m grateful I got to see it all happen before my eyes. They’re on their way to being the coolest pack of dogs in the world, and their loving and conscientious parents are well-rewarded for their efforts. Incidentally, probably no entities on this earth have listened to me sing more than those two pups, since I sang to them constantly every day. They never complained, and I that’s probably a miracle in itself.
Roxie is the dog I most want to have someday, and also the dog that is, in my opinion, the best prototype for a new breed. Part Newfoundland, part Poodle, I took to calling her “Roxie-Roo the Newfiepoo,” and no I’m not ashamed to admit it. She is still a puppy, though she is easily 70 lbs and wonderfully mature. Not to say that she isn’t a total and incorrigible goofball, because she is that too, oh yes. She always danced and wiggled when I walked in and gave me big hugs, and few dogs were ever more huggable. She wasn’t the best walker, simply because she was so strong and eager to dash off and explore absolutely anything, but I didn’t really mind because I enjoyed being with her so much that I wanted to go off and explore everything too. We would often run through the park across the street from her house, even though she almost always tripped me by dashing in my path, running into my legs, trying to climb on my shoulders or just running way, way too fast for me to keep up. I never enjoyed almost tripping more. Of all the not-from-day-one pups, Roxie was my favorite. Can I have favorites? Well how could I not, after how much fun we had together? Roxie loved nothing more than finding a nice stick in the park and parading around with it, until she found a better or bigger stick, and then upgrading all the way home. On several occasions she dragged whole limbs for several blocks, but she was so happy that I couldn’t say no. Next to gathering lumber, Roxie loved treats. She earned them well too, since her “shake” involved flinging her whole arm through the air in a wide pitcher’s arc, and her “down” involved jumping up in the air, assuming the proper sphinx-like “down” position mid-air, and then landing with a big thud. It never failed to make me laugh, just like the waddle of her big Newfiepoo butt down the street never fail to make me smile. Though she loved her treats, she also sometimes required that I open her mouth for her and place them between her jaws (and then shut her mouth for her) as if she were a mannequin. I don’t know why, but then that was just her way and I was so charmed by it that I was all too happy to oblige. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that Roxie is a one of a kind, and I hope to one day again meet one of her kind.
To be continued…