I did the math a while ago and figured out that my dog Chuck and I have covered a lot of ground together. He’s been in our lives for about 5 years now, and I’ve walked him virtually every day since then with rare exception. In fact most days I walk him twice a day, sometimes three times if he looks bored. Or I do.
That’s 1825 days and 3,650 walks, give or take a few. If each of those walks averages 400 meters (a quarter mile) that means we’ve covered somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 miles together.
All of this is passive fitness of course. It’s not like my heart rate goes up much during our walks. But I know for a fact that the walking does Chuck some good. He needs the stimulus for one thing. We can’t leave him outside on his own for a variety of reasons to do with his size and his general anxiety at being alone. There are coyotes eating the occasional pup in our region of the country and Chuck weighs only 18 pounds.
That’s fighting weight in his mind of course. He has never met a dog he won’t challenge or at least demand some respect. Recently he’s met a black poodle named Benji that likes to stand up and wrestle with him. It’s pretty much healthy fun and they both get out of breath trying to dominate the doggy conversation and try to hump each other now and then.
There’s also Molly, the show dog pup that looks like she fell out of a Disney movie. Her owner is a flight attendant who knows dogs really well. She laughs that I always seem to be out of poop bags when we meet. “I can’t help it,” I respond. “He always seems to poop twice on the mornings we meet up.”
I never set out to become a dog owner. There’s a Catch-22 to the responsibility. I really love Chuck but often there are scheduling conflicts that keep me away from the house for long periods during the day. He perches himself on the couch and watches the street all day when I’m away. That’s what my neighbor Mona across the street tells me. She loves Chuck too and has him over for doggy sleepovers once a month. Chuck gets all excited and happy when I say her name. His tail wags and he pulls on the leash. He even acts like a different dog in her presence. When I take him over to her house and he reads my body language as if I’m going to take him home, his ears drop and he slouches. It’s like a vacation for him.
My daughter may someday take Chuck with her now that she’s moving out of the house. She loves Chuck even more than me it seems. Chuck also loves her boyfriend Kyle, who owns dogs and knows how to treat Chuck like a real guy dog, which he likes.
I will confess to some guilt when I’m away from the house for long periods. Sometimes I’m even gone overnight. But he pretty much sleeps on the couch all day anyway except for when the postman comes. He hates the postman. Hates. Barks like a Jekyll and Hyde dog out of his mind. The postman just laughs, as does the postlady.
If he does move out it will be a relief not to feel guilt about him being alone for so long. And getting up early to run or ride or swim won’t require an interruption to walk him at 5:30 in the morning in the cold or wet or snow.
He’s also a transition from one life to another in some respects. Chuck loved my late wife too. But he’s fond of all the people in life who come to our house as well. One cannot ascribe too much emotion to all this. He is, after all, just a dog.
Yet when I write those words I know they are not completely true. Our walks together have saved my brain on many a day when times were tough or worrisome. That still happens today.
But through the years and all those miles with Chuck I’ve learned a few things about my own mind. Our time on the road and through the parks and playing with other pups has enriched my understanding of the world. I appreciate that his sniffs are like reading a book. It lets me stop and snap interesting photos with my iPhone and post to Instagram and Facebook. Owning a dog is a studied existence if you let it fill your mind with the appropriate things.
Of course the inappropriate things include leaving his doggy doo behind anytime we walk. He does his business while looking back at me most mornings. Sometimes it’s hard not to laugh. Yet I recall how disgusting it is for a runner to step in dog shit. So I never let that happen unless we’re far out in the woods or fields. Even then I pick it up or kick it into the prairie if we’re out of bags.
This period of life with Chuck has been like a window into a different kind of soul. He’s got a great personality and his greetings at the door every time I come home can break your heart. He loves. He truly loves. And that will never be forgotten.