“What the hell is our dog walker doing?” said Tinkerbell, Tess, Boy, Atty and Dewie. That’s what they would have said if they could talk. The five dogs watched me, their professional dog walker, stumble down a fifty-foot hill in San Francisco’s Presidio with such heightened intensity and curiosity I didn’t even have to tie them up.
“Oh just sliding down on my rear to rescue my stupid Golden Retriever Bentley, who managed to get himself stuck in deep, thick, quick-sand like mud,” I wanted to shout up to them, but the only words they knew were “cookie,” “ball” and “dinner,” and I didn’t talk dog.
I grabbed branches from the Pine trees growing along the hillside, using them to balance myself as I descended the hill. The ground was moist from the rains the night before. It was covered in wet leaves, grass and ivy. My mind racing back to what my sensible and level-headed husband Milo had told me less than a week ago about dog walking, “Do not chase the dogs down hills or get yourself into a situation where you might fall again. The dogs will come back and be fine. It’s not worth the risk.”
My neurologist’s voice swirled around in my head, “You cannot get another concussion. Dog walking might be too risky as you could easily fall or trip, causing another jolt to your brain.” 18 months prior, I got a little aggressive with our kitchen cabinets and hit my head on the over hang of our stove.
The doctor told me I had experienced one to many concussions from riding horses, being thrown into jumps, into walls, being hit in the head by a few fat-headed labradors, accidentally head-butting my son as we both reached down to pick up the baseball, running into tree branches on foot and on horse, and several times walking into parking meters while talking to a friend. My concussion card was used up and “one more hit to the head would change me forever,” the doctor told me. I was like Dale Earnhardt Jr, but without the millions sensible Milo liked to remind me. But I loved dogs. They are always happy to see you and full of unconditional love no matter what you wear, say or do. Plus they never get mad at you when you forget their birthday.
I couldn’t just sit there watching Bentley, my thick-skulled, but beloved, Golden, sink to his death. The mud seemed to be swallowing him up as he struggled to walk deeper and deeper into the swamp. I debated for about twenty seconds, which felt more like twenty minutes, as my anxiety raced through my veins because I was playing with his life. Logically I knew he would eventually return after he got bored of the mud, but my “what ifs” took hold of any sort of rational thinking.
Suddenly, I slipped and fell hard on my ass, skidding about five yards down like I was on one of those “Slip and Slides.” My head started to hurt. I felt dizzy. Everything seemed a bit delayed and blurry. I shouldn’t have worn my Treetorns!
I hollered at my dog audience, “stay!” They weren’t moving and glued to the drama like little kids watching their favorite cartoon on Sunday mornings.
When I reached the bottom and edge of the mud pond, Bentley tried playing keep away, moving slightly to the left and right, acting like I was a dog, trying to engage me in a game of chase.
“Are you frickin kidding me Bentley? I am not a dog! Come now!” I shouted at him, furious I may have gotten another jolt to the brain. My patience had run out. The neurologist was right and I shouldn’t be dog walking. I thought about my kids and how they deserved a mother who had all her marbles in tact. Life was short and I am pushing fifty-three years old. Half my life was over already! Why did I risk another fall all for this Golden covered head to toe in thick, smelly mud? The worry made me more dizzy and light headed.
Bentley panted and wagged his tail as he backed up away from me, still trying to enlist me in a game of chase. I threw cookies on the ground near the edge of the pond. Bentley paused for a moment as if debating whether the cookies were worth leaving his glorious mud pond. Panicked as I watched him sink deeper, I grabbed a fist full of treats from my pocket and launched them towards him. Curiosity got the better of him, as he came close enough for me to grab him. I threw a leash on him like I was lassoing a horse. I hoisted him up and out of the deep thick mud.
He immediately threw himself to the ground and rolled, refusing to get up. He tossed and turned in all the weeds, sticks and dry grass, gathering as much stuff on his coat as he could. He was like one giant velcro dog.
After five minutes, I managed to get him up to the top of the hill. The other dogs jumped around with excitement from the show. They charged around, tackling each other and wrestling like kids on double espresso shots.
When the dogs finally calmed down, I headed back to the car, passing by a group of kids who were giggling at the mud, stick, grass and leaf covered Golden Retriever. A petite woman wearing kakis and a straw hat that covered most of her pointy small face said with a sweet southern draw, “honey, I have to say your dogs are so well-behaved. I just ran into another dog walker whose dogs were out of control and wouldn’t listen to her. Good for you to have such a nice group.”
I smiled and didn’t respond.