There seem to be more dogs getting walked these days – or are we just doing it all at the same time? Dog walking, I would argue, is important for both physical and mental health. We have been committed dog walkers from graduate school days when we dog-sat a Newfoundland and a Labrador. Our first dog, Taffy, a Welsh terrier, was a present to my Dad on his seventieth birthday in the hope that he would take more walks to help his heart condition. When my Dad’s heart gave out two years later, we took over the naughty and ill-trained dog from my unable-to-cope mother. Taffy returned to my mother five years later – a bit calmer – when we went overseas on study leave. When we came back, we saw how that naughty dog had enhanced my mother’s life. Those walks around her neighbourhood kept her fit and brought her new friends. At home he was great company. There was no way Taffy was coming back to us.
Our next dog was acquired when our young sons convinced a babysitter that a trip to the SPCA pound would be a good diversion. Heart-rending tales of the cutest dog in the world came home and soon Scruffles was saved from death row. The boys’ enthusiasm for walks diminished quite quickly but I found those walks gave me essential thinking time. When it rained, I donned my father’s rain pants and my father-in-law’s LL Bean Jacket, wrapping myself in my forebears as I braved inclement weather. Problems that seemed insoluble, writing tasks that were blocked, difficult interpersonal relations – all became easier when pondered in the fresh air. After fourteen years Scruff passed on and we acquired our first puppy, Scout. Nearly six, he remains full of beans and addicted to chasing a ball. I have regular dog-walk dates.
One of the delights of dog ownership is the friends you make while dog-walking. Dogs encourage exercise, and also conversation. Often people greet the dog before greeting me. My regular dog-walk dates are, of course, off at present and I miss my weekly catch up with good friends. The phone isn’t quite the same. But there are the accidental meetings which help compensate. I’ve become friends with a local nurse. We ‘bump’ into each other (two metres apart), according to her shift schedule. Her swift dog inevitably steals the ball I’ve thrown for my dog to chase. He’s good at dropping it when commanded to. My nurse friend is confident they’ve got good procedures currently to protect themselves at the hospital. When she is on night shift, her husband walks the dog. He is doing an essential job, working in a building all on his own. It must be eerie and lonely. Then there’s the ninety plus dog walker – I try and keep more metres between us since he’s no doubt vulnerable. We catch up on the latest news of the world and he tells me his daughter is dropping off the groceries so he’s well looked after. And what an unexpected delight it was to meet the neighbor, dog-less but out for walk in the sun. Lots to catch up on since that dinner which seems a lifetime, not just ten days, ago. From his window, another neighbour tells me he was stopped by the police for dawdling – one must walk with purpose in these Covid times. Two other people tell me they were yelled at for being out at all. We agree that exercise is necessary to keep us sane.
I was delighted to find that it is now possible to walk one’s dog (on a leash) in the nearby Southern cemetery. It is particularly stunning at this time of year as the leaves turn. There I’m reminded of the everyday nineteenth century losses: children dying in quick succession. But mostly I’m delighted by the infinite varieties of green, the different textures of tree bark, the sound of the birds and the unexpected finds. You never know what a dog walk might bring. Once, a few years ago, my dog walk led me to meet Sam Cooke and prompted this musing:
Finding Sam Cooke while walking the dog
The black vinyl stood out on the green grass
Maybe a frisbee now? Released from the turntable
Slicing the air
An American love song, on RCA
Victor label, a 45, ‘That’s where it’s at’
The perfect moment
1963 in Los Angeles, 32 takes,
The total of his years. One more to go
Next year released
Crossing over the continent
Over the Pacific, Radio Corporation of New Zealand
It’s at Down Under
We can now meet on YouTube
Mr Cooke, what a delight. The song still works its magic
Title, singer, and oh, that voice.
Barbara Brookes is co-editor of Corpus.