For the last nine months our lives have been held hostage by the biggest, most hyper, most destructive puppy dog I’ve ever been around. I love the dog…I do. I just wish she’d get old, slow, and fat like the rest of us.
It’s a crisp, overcast Thursday afternoon, and in about thirty minutes I’m going to take my two dogs out for a walk around the neighborhood. When you read that sentence, you probably ran it through your head with a tone and emotional reaction similar to something like: “Here in a few moments I’m going to donate every dollar in my wallet to charity, offer up my kidney to the donor list free of charge, and take a couple orphaned children to a baseball game.” The image of happy dog-owners walking their equally joyful canines down idyllic sidewalks strikes all of as a Rockwellesque perfect ending to long slug-fest in the office.
But when I tell you that I’m walking my dogs, I really need you to imagine it differently. Forget the sappy grin on said owner’s beaming face. Forget the lazily drooping leash lightly brushing Fido’s front flank, his prominent nose turned upward, his eyes on his owner, with that tongue flopping over that impressive-yet-harmless row of incisors. And no, the dog isn’t smiling, either. Why does everybody insist that their dogs do that?
When I tell you that I’m walking my dogs, think instead that I’m telling you this: “I’m going to pick up a brick and repeatedly smack myself in the forehead until I can successfully recite the alphabet backwards.” It’s not that I hate walking dogs in general. When they trot in front of me like all those dogs I see happily gallivanting in front of their owners around town…yeah, I would love that. In fact, when my oldest dog was young and healthy, our walks actually modeled that picturesque Rockwellian beauty which now seems little more than a wistful fantasy. Back then, Maggie—my miniature goldendoodle—paced briskly darting her eyes the traditional “to and fro” drawing soft “awww’s” and “hello puppy” from passer’s by every half-mile. She was graceful. She was beautiful. Walking her was every bit the therapy dog-walking should be.
Then we got Ruby.
Wendi (my fiancée) and I got the new dog because we thought Maggie was lonely. We would leave her alone in the house all day, and although her aggressive wagging tail suggested there were no hard feelings when we finally came home, we never could shake the sense that if she could, she’d toss us in a solitary confinement cell for nine hours just so we could see how we liked it. Guilt-ridden we discovered a great deal on another doodle—another “Golden” even though this was black-haired—who we were sure would offer Mags the companion she needed to get through her days.
When Ruby was a new puppy (i.e. the same size as Maggie) they were every bit the Mutt and Jeff we thought they’d be. But then Ruby grew…and grew some more…and finally stopped growing eight or nine months later, once she was big enough to scoop up Fay Wray, climb the Empire State Building, and swat down a few military bi-planes along the way. But it wasn’t as much her size which proved problematic as it was her penchant for imitating Mike Singletary with everything: walls, the front door, our legs…and Maggie.
She savaged that little dog. Ran over her. Ran into her. Ran under her, flipping her off her shoulders like a Friday afternoon backpack. We don’t know what happened, but by the time Ruby was halfway to Kong size, Maggie developed a limp, which become a hobble, and eventually an awkward bunny hop. Her diagnosis and treatment is another story, but as her mobility worsened, her activity decreased. As her activity decreased, her weight mushroomed. Months later, with no healing or effective “cure” for her leg, poor little Mags now looks like that small ottoman your great grandmother put in front of her stiff-backed armchair.
So we walk. At first, Mags—tethered to my left arm—holds up. When she can, she puts weight on the bad leg, moves fluidly, flouts a happy tail wag and enjoys that strange ritual of communicating with the other dogs in the neighborhood via pee.
“Fifi was here,” Maggie thinks to herself, her nose buried two inches into a neighboring yard. “She had ham scraps…smells like she was happy…” Ruby—tethered to my right arm—at first walks sedately, too. But that’s only because the half-pound of poop she’s hauling around in her lower intestines is ready to fling forth. She sniffs the ground, too…for different reasons. I tug at her, keeping her out of the neighbors’ yards, mostly out of some sense of respect but also because picking up dog poop with a plastic bag is brutal when it’s buried in long strands of bluegrass and clover. She finally drops into her power-squat. Her tail juts out with a weird bend in it. It looks like she’s squatting with a tiny, furry, recurve archer’s bow stuck up her ass. The poops comes. It’s never as solid as I want it to be, and it smells worse than I ever imagined it could. Despite bagging it quickly a whiff of odor escapes the bag and hooks onto my nose, where it will linger for the rest of the walk.
Now cleaned out and free to run wild, Ruby spots a brown maple leaf fluttering across Windemere Drive, and the only thing she wants to do is charge it, smell it, and eat it. I don’t actually feel the dislocation of my elbow when she pulls me off my feet, I’m too busy reacting to the sharp pain stemming from the shoulder separation to notice that. But by the next morning, I’ll know it happened.
For the next mile or so, we stutter step down the street. Ruby yanking my right arm to Plastic Man lengths because she spotted an inchworm, or a broken bungee strap, or septuagenarian retiree power-walking in spandex. And Maggie…? She’s at a dead stop, determined to get a sniff of Spot’s urine sample along the mailbox post of 555 West Bludgeonme Avenue. Her front legs are locked, the leash—pulling on the collar which folding the back skin of her head over her face—runs taught to my hand. The tug of war is on, and I’m the rope.
Having having spent most of her “walk” Thumper-hopping from house-to-house, Maggie is gassed out. She needs a rest, and then another lap because those fat-rolls are real. But on my other arm hangs Ruby. Her eyes wide and pupils dilated, she hops on all fours, contorted explosions of raw power. The warm-up walk has triggered her adrenaline rush, and she’s ready for another six, or eleven, or seventy-two loops. And even though she’ll be a little easier to manage with both hands on the leash, if another leaf lazily flutters in front of us, I’m going to be face-first in the pavement. Contemplating my next move, my nose twitches. Instinctively I pull up the hand feeling the least tension to scratch it, and…I catch another deep waft of Ruby’s poop. Call it official. I’ve had enough. It’s time to go inside and catch a moment’s peace because tomorrow, I have to pick up another heavy brick and do it all over again.
About Donovan Wheeler
Wheeler proudly teaches AP Literature and AP Language to some bright and lovably obnoxious kids in a small college town. He is the senior editor for the craft beer website Indiana on Tap and writes for ISU’s STATE Magazine. Since putting in a pool he can now dive in head first (with goggles), and he has mostly stopped throwing golf clubs, but he still hates to fly.