Every evening, starting at about 5:00, our Havanese dog Taffy reminds me to take her for her walk. During the day, she gets intermittent walks around the block; otherwise she goes out whenever she wants, having in-and-out privileges through the back door. She’s a small dog, ten pounds, so she doesn’t have the same 90-minute exercise needs as do many of her peers. Nonetheless, she lives for those evening walks and by 5 p.m, she begins following me around the house with her guilt-trip stare.
So off we go on our regular half-hour route, which she knows by heart. If I sent her off on her own, she’d likely do the circuit and come straight home. Her favourite part of the excursion is our romp through the park, where she connects with her friends and sniffs to her little heart’s desire. Last night, after a stifling hot day, the entire neighbourhood seemed to be walking their dogs at the same time; the park a bustling doggy retreat.
Like a United Nations of canines, it seemed like every breed was represented, with a few mixes and mutts to round out the crowd. There’s Nessy the 40-pound sheepdog puppy, Bernie the Bulldog, and George the Porgie, not to mention the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Wheaten Terrier, and the German Pointer (I can’t remember all their names; name tags might help). When Taffy arrived the dogs ran to greet her as if they’d been waiting for her all day. Oh, to be so popular.
After sniffing each other in salutation they usually run off to play, a new dog bringing fresh excitement to the games. The owners, like their dogs, come in all shapes and sizes, happy to talk and share stories of everyday life. During these 5-20 minute gatherings, we cover topics like the G20, the recent earthquake, the oil spill and the upcoming Canadian Open, which will take place at the golf club just a block away.
Last night a woman told my husband and me that she’d spent the weekend at the cottage, where it was oppressively hot, the bugs were atrocious and the drive home a four-hour traffic jam, taking twice the normal time. “I’m so happy to be back in the city,” she said. “But at least the dog had fun up there.” While we talked, our two dogs seemed to have their own conversation through sniffs and starts and simultaneous rolls in the grass.
Without Taffy, I’d have no idea how friendly our neighbourhood was, given that most people jump in and out of their cars for work, for sport and for play. Always on the go, there is little opportunity to stop and say hello. The dogs slow us down, push us out the door, and force us into social interaction, creating a community that might otherwise stay hidden.
I’ve yet to meet a dog person in our neighbourhood whom I haven’t liked. And if the dog is rude, the owner is quick to apologize. For instance, heading back home after our walk last night, we came across the ugliest dog I have ever seen. Bearing its teeth at Taffy as we passed, the couple graciously smiled and said, “So sorry. He’s friendly, but not toward other dogs.” Perhaps he’d been bullied by the more attractive dogs when he was a pup.
One of my favourites in the neighbourhood is my cousins’ Woodle (Wheaton and Poodle mix). Like a forty-pound teddy bear, Crosbie is a huggable beast. Her way of guarding the house is to jump up with pleasure when she sees you and to throw herself onto her back for a tummy rub. I think it's true that nice people often beget nice dogs.
An old friend, who was visiting from Nova Scotia this weekend, suddenly became the caregiver for two dogs—her daughter's 4-pound teacup Pomeranian and her parents’ 40-pound Golden Retriever. “I can’t believe that, on top of everything else I’ve got going in my life, I now have these dogs to worry about,” she said, as she lovingly showed their pictures. Then she told me that she totes tiny Ella around in her purse.
We love our dogs: they are our babies who don’t grow up. They teach us patience, bring us joy, keep us fit, socialize us, relieve our stress and make us nicer people. They even love us unconditionally—and who really deserves that? Okay, so they cost us a lot of money, but in my mind, a dog in the home is worth all our electronic gadgets put together.
They say “It’s a dog’s life” but, the reality is, “With a dog, it’s a better life.”