What is Our Dog Walker Doing?

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“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.

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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.

 

ALL FOR THE LOVE OF DOGS

     “You need to get that dog on leash! All dogs must be under voice control!”  The officer barked at me as his horse pranced around like he was doing a bad version of the Irish Jig. The officer was a tall, heavy-set man.  He had large hands, a tire of fat circling his mid section ready to burst through his tightly buttoned kaki colored shirt.  His face was hardened and unfriendly with exaggerated pudgy features.  As soon as he opened his mouth, I knew he was bit of a blowhard when it came to his job. It was 1996 and I had been a professional dog walker for one year. I had come to know the locals, the rules, the regulations and how to manage six dogs off-leash.  To outsiders, it may have looked like a storm of out of control dogs but to me, it was just another day at the office.

      “Yes I am trying to get him now but he found a DEAD RAT!” I managed to get out as if this was all his fault since park management weren’t doing a good job keeping the beach rat free.  Buddy, a wild-eyed Labrador Retriever, had found a dead rat the size of Godzilla. Buddy had good intentions but was a little over enthusiastic about life.  A mere glance towards his way sent him into hysterics like a five-year-old boy after consuming one pound of expresso! Buddy reminded me of my childhood friend Brad Ellington. Brad was that kid who never turned down a dare. He once stuck his head in a toilet for the grand prize of a Tootsie Roll, earning him the neighborhood nickname of “toilet face.”

     “Get that dog now!!!”  He shouted.

     My brain went from zero to sixty fast forwarding through my worst case scenarios.  What if he arrests me? What will I tell my clients? What will happen to the dogs? What if I can’t get Buddy?

      In another development, Willard and Tucker, a heavy set Labrador and a thin gangly Golden Retriever, were attempting to procreate.

            “Are those your dogs too?” He bellowed at me.

            “Yes they are,” I nervously admitted.

            “Well you really need to get control of them and that dog with the rat in it’s mouth.”  I let out a defeated sigh. I watched Tucker try to mount Willard and thought “Why won’t his dad neuter him?”  Tucker’s owner was a young male who seemed to think snipping Tucker might threaten his manhood too.

            Louise, my bitchy Cocker Spaniel from New York, was busy nipping at annoying humans who thought she might be lost. Louise didn’t want anything to do with dogs, me or a dog walk.  Her parents often left me notes saying, “Louise is being a bitch, feel free to not walk her today.”  I often thought of getting her a tag that said, “Fuck-off!  I’m not lost!”

            Sigmund Freud once said that as humans we try to re-enact scenarios from our past in hopes that we will finally get it right. He called it “repetition compulsion.”  Maybe I was a compulsive chaos junky trying to repeat my childhood pandemonium. There was nothing ordinary, regulated or controlled about my childhood.  I didn’t like disarray but for some reason I found myself surrounded by it in my life.  I blame my mother.  She was a ball of lawlessness and discord.  Our house was a hurricane of animals, living cage-free in Darien, Connecticut which was an upper middle class suburb of New York City and not Oklahoma. My mother was Norma Rey trying to save the world and my father was a combination of Bob Newhart and Woody Allen, consumed with worry and focusing on his dissertation in Philosophy.

                  “His mother told me he had impeccable recall and normally he is very good.”  I lied.  I don’t know why I fibbed.  I wanted it to be someone else’s fault.  I wanted to be taken seriously ever since I was a little girl.  A small crowd had gathered. Some were shaking their head in disapproval and a few laughing at the spectacle of the dog walker and her out of control posse of dogs.  I wondered if they saw through my disguise.  The caper was up. I was not capable of being a professional dog walker. This officer was going to arrest me and throw me in jail.  Up to this point, I had relied on sheer luck and that luck had run out.  I could lose my business.  It wasn’t about the money, although paying rent was a concern.  It was more about about success and making my father proud of me.

                 Walking up the beach was a woman with a Hermes scarf draped around her head wearing large Channel sun glasses that were too big for her bird like face.  She had a Joan Didion look to her.  She stood watching the explosion of Buddy and the dead rat fly by her with a scowl on her face like she had just bit into a sour lemon.  I wondered if my anxiety was as apparent as her disapproval.  She was holding her white fluffy cockapoo, who wore a bright pink bow on top of it’s head, tightly against her chest.  I guessed she wouldn’t be asking me for my business card.

               Low on options and quietly hysterical, I threw cookies at Buddy.  For a brief moment, he dropped the rat, inhaled the cookies and in less than ten seconds flat, had snatched the dead rat again before I could grab him.  Buddy had me beat with swiftness and speed.

               “Mam, you have two more minutes! Get that dog now!”

              Finally, Buddy came close enough for me to grab his collar.  Buddy still had the dead rat in his mouth. I leashed him and could hear the police officer hollering, “I am going to ticket you for that dog.  He is out of control!”  At this point, it was all background noise, as Buddy was in custody, but was showing no signs of disgorging the rat.

            As we approached the car, Buddy dropped the rat.  I loaded up all the sandy wet dogs into the car as they shook inside, splattering my windows with water and sand.  I didn’t care, I just wanted to get home.  I felt defeated, exhausted and beat up from this job.  I realized that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this type of work and they were right I should not be walking six dogs who have questionable recall or none at all.

               As I was driving away, I looked in the back at all the dogs passed out. Buddy lifted his wet soggy head and thumped his tail on the floor.  Willard, who was seated in the passenger seat, leaned over and put his sandy, wet, head on my lap, bringing me back to the moment and the reason I become a dog walker, for the love of these goofy, out of control, funny animals.  The dogs loved me with all my imperfections.  After all there are no bad dogs, just misunderstood dogs.