Okay … Confession time.
I do not enjoy walking my dogs. There. I said it. I have admitted this rather nasty truth both to myself and, now, out loud. It’s not pretty. It has long been my private shame, and I feel pretty guilty about it.
It’s not so much that there is shame in doing things one does not enjoy. I would guess that about 90% of the things I do on a daily basis are things I dislike. Laundry, for example. Or cleaning bathrooms. Or grocery shopping. Or cooking dinner. Or cleaning and dusting. I’m a stay-at-home mom. It is an occupation for which I am, apparently, not well-suited. So most of my days are a veritable litany of stuff I don’t like to do … or stuff that doesn’t make me feel fulfilled or good about myself. I still do those things. I’m not sure I do them particularly well, but I try. It’s my job. But, for me, being the at-home parent is just that: a job. And one that doesn’t pay particularly well, at that.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining here. This is not meant as a whine or as a bid for pity. I am not trying to shout out about all the things I do on a daily basis and this is how incredible I am and yadda, yadda, yadda. No. I am simply putting this out there as a background fact: I am a person currently in a job for which they are not qualified and which is, mostly, not that much fun. The one bright spot is that I get to spend oodles of time with my daughter. This was, of course, a lot more fun before she hit her teenage years. But … Eh. I still love her, even if she is surly and does the eye-rolling thing — A LOT. I am convinced that, one day, she will wake up and be a mostly kind, mostly sweet human being again. In the meantime, we play Pokemon Go and Dragonvale together. We will always have that. I think.
The thing is this: I never thought “walking the dogs” would fall into the litany of things I don’t enjoy doing. The realization that I don’t enjoy this came out of the blue and hit me as quite a shock. I love my dogs. Anyone who knows me knows I love my dogs. Sometimes, I love my dogs more than I love my husband and daughter. The dogs are always happy to see me. They seldom complain. They don’t try to second-guess everything I do. They don’t turn every decision into an inquisition. They think I’m awesome as long as I manage to get their food mostly in their dishes somewhere within the general umbrella of mealtime. Most days, I can manage this so well that I am hitting rock star status. It’s a giddy high.
The dogs are with me all day, every day. My English Springer Spaniel, in particular, is a velcro dog. If I am in my office, trying to write (and mostly failing), he is right there, curled up in his bed or laying on my feet. If I am in the kitchen, he is right there, staring up longingly at the counters. If I am at the table, he is right there, under my chair. If I go to the bathroom and forget to close the door all the way … Well, you get the idea. My rescue girl, although not quite as clingy, is also affectionate and cuddly in her own way. She likes to visit me and check in several times a day. And she loves hugs and gentle pets on her tummy. I love this about both of them. I love knowing they are right there, at my heels and sticking their little noses into everything I’m doing. I also love knowing they are always available for a cuddle or a quick game of fetch-up-the-stairs. Basically, they are lovable, fantastic, great dogs.
Until we head out to walk. And then, they turn into doggy jerks. Can dogs be jerks? I’m not sure. But, if they can, then my dogs are. Because I have two of them and because my rescue girl doesn’t like to walk on her own, I have a leash splitter so that I can walk them together. I used to have a separate leash for each of them, but it was too much trying to juggle two leashes and bags and picking up poop. Because it’s inevitable: Poop Happens.
For a while, I walked them separately. I would walk three or four miles with my Springer and come home to switch dogs so that my rescue girl could have her turn. She has a lot of anxiety issues, though, and she would end up unhappy after only about a block or two. Three blocks, if I was lucky and she was having a really great day. It felt so uneven, with one dog getting a forty to fifty-minute walk and the other one getting barely ten minutes. And so, I thought the leash splitter was the answer to all my problems. In some ways, it is. I am still trying to get back to my previous activity level after the car accident I was in way back in June. I’m still having back and hip problems from it, which annoys me to no end. I’m ready to be done with all of that and back to my previous activity level.
At any rate, I now walk both dogs about thirty or forty minutes. It’s much better for my rescue girl, because she actually gets a decent walk. She has no choice, because my springer boy is one of those dogs who must move forward at all costs. He would walk and walk and walk until he, literally, dropped to the ground from exhaustion. He has a huge personality packed into his little, furry body, and he doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. Clearly, I am not very good at training my dogs (something my mother continually mentions while she is visiting my house), because he also doesn’t know the meaning of the word NO. Well, that’s not totally true. He understands NO sometimes. But not when he’s walking. And pulling. And walking. And pulling some more. I had to buy a very sturdy harness for him because he kept choking himself. I was afraid he would damage his throat. He also loves to bark at the people we see on our daily walks. Old people … young people … people on bicycles … people wearing hats (he hates hats with pom-poms on top) … people on motor scooters … little kids … It doesn’t matter. He barks at them. With prejudice.
My rescue girl is sweet and timid and dainty. It doesn’t matter how many times we walk the same exact route, she always has this reaction of doom and gloom. She always thinks she is now the farthest she has ever been from home and that she will never, ever, EVER get to go home again. EVER. And when this realization hits home for her … Well, she Can’t Even. Whenever my springer pauses his forward motion to sniff at stuff or look at stuff or pee on stuff, my rescue girl takes the opportunity to spin around and try to head back home. Forcefully. It becomes a ridiculous, delicate dance between forward motion and backward longing. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere, but I’ve yet to find it. My rescue girl never pulls at the leash as we are walking away from home. She pulls on the way back, which means that I now have about 100 pounds of dog pulling me along at a brisk pace. Negotiating traffic with 100 pounds of unruly dog trying to tug you in two directions at once can really make you question your life decisions.
Sometimes, I see other people out walking their dogs, too. They always seem to be happy, smiling or texting or talking on their phones. They are having a good time, out in the fresh air with their dogs. They have a sort of smugly content aura about them. Their dogs meander gently along at their sides, sometimes stopping to sniff at a blade of grass or to look at a blowing leaf. But never pulling them along or barking at fellow pedestrians or acting like they will eat the next small child that wanders across their path. (My dogs don’t eat small children, by the way. This is hyperbole. Or a metaphor. Or … something.)
The thing is, I’m so jealous of those other dog-walking people. They all seem to have their proverbial shit together. I mean, maybe their lives are one big mess. But, from the dog walking perspective, they have it going on. I look at them, calmly walking along with their perfectly reasonable dogs, and it makes me realize how completely and utterly ridiculous I must seem: a pudgy, middle-aged woman who is sweating buckets even on the coldest day and is red in the face … my hair flying all over the place … speed-walking behind two dogs who want to go in different directions … all the while cursing under my breath and regretting my life choices. And I think to myself, “Self, clearly, we are doing something wrong.” Clearly.