Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Learning New Tricks from an Old Dog

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Out of necessity we developed a puppy peeing protocol pretty quickly.  As soon as the alarm went off, one person was positioned next to the dog’s crate in the bedroom, gently assuring her she was going to be able to go outside in just a moment.  The other was at the ready at the front door; hand on the door-knob ready to throw it open.  After shouting confirmations across the apartment, both doors were released and both humans cried, “Go! Go! Go!”  Molly—little more than an orange blur through the bedroom, then the hallway, and finally the living room—would typically make it until she reached the front doorstep, at which point she would abandon her self-control.  A pitcher of water was ceremoniously dumped on the porch, and we would pat ourselves on the back for coming one step closer to house-breaking our beloved dog.

The walk itself was an exercise in physical and mental fortitude.  Her powerful chest strained against her harness as she lunged down the sidewalk, while her human companion flexed legs, back and shoulders to keep her in check. Peripheral vision was critical in order to spot squirrels in advance of the puppy noticing them; one had only nanoseconds to prepare or run the risk of a dislocated shoulder or skinned knee.

As a puppy, Molly taught us patience, unconditional love, and the value of owning a steam cleaner.

These days she groggily meanders from her bed (memory foam, covered with synthetic sheepskin and her name embroidered on it, naturally) into the living room, usually around the time that both her humans are well into their first cup of coffee.  She nods to us, allows us to scratch her ears, and then settles onto the couch to drift back to sleep.  Some time later we gently wake her, and suggest that if she’s amenable perhaps she would enjoy a walk? Whereas she once forged ahead, dragging her human behind like some sort of flailing animated anchor, she’s now often bringing up the rear.  If she used to require at least a quarter of a mile between her and her house to even consider taking her poop, she’s now frequently happy to go no further than the front yard. And yet, all these years later she continues to teach me valuable life lessons.

When you’re moving slowly you have the chance to really pay attention to your surroundings. On our strolls I have learned the call and response of our local birds and can follow the progress of hawk hatchlings by the change in their cries. I know precisely when the frogs start singing, and on occasion catch a glimpse of deer leaping through the underbrush. I now recognize subtle differences in the sound of my own footsteps; there is a distinction between the way that twigs crackle underfoot on the dirt path, the murmur of shoes on fine cinder paths, and the robust crunch of walking on gravel.   
I watch fiddlehead ferns unfurl and tiny yellow flowers bloom on the forest floor. I examine home renovations in the neighborhood and assess their aesthetic value like some sort of architectural peeping tom.

I’ve also learned interpersonal skills.  Molly has shown me that if you are feeling tired or overwhelmed, slowing down and visiting with people is both a chance to rest and to broaden your social circle.  Taking the same route each day is not a reflection of being stuck in a rut, but an opportunity to see familiar faces and to check in with acquaintances.  And if you approach a person eagerly with a broad smile, they will more than likely stop to talk to you and possibly even share a biscuit from their pocket. 

And sometimes leaving home isn’t even the cure for whatever ails you.  Sometimes what you really need is to roll around in the grass and enjoy the sunshine on your belly.

Thanks, Molly, for giving me the chance for lifelong learning.

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