The Walk

Island Life

378

It didn’t really start out as a walk. As it was, our rescue Pitbull, who is known at different times as Elle, Ellington, Miss Bugs or Furious E, and doesn’t reliably respond to any of them, had had surgery on her back legs and was required to slow down and do controlled walks while healing. This daily, solo excursion made her feel special, and pissed off the other two dogs to no end. The walk entailed a simple out and back to the end of the driveway which turns out to be close to a half mile in total. It was always a battle to get out the door with a singular dog, and a tussle nearly always broke out with the other two inside dogs left barking and howling as the privileged one strutted at a moderate pace out our front path to the parking lot and the drive beyond.

It was a generally uneventful trip up to the highway and back, with lots of sniffing and gazing back and forth across the landscape as we went along our way. There soon came to be certain landmarks that we always had to pause at just because- I have one friend who calls that “checking the peemail” of the other dogs on the lane. There were other times when Elle would stop in a random spot and plug her snout to the ground. If I happened to be mindlessly walking and staring at the clouds and missed the cue that what she was investigating was really important, the leash would go taught and a series of snorts would come from the four-legged anchor, standing her ground at the other end until all had been thoroughly checked out and cleared through official channels.

Upon our return to the house we could see steamed up glass window panes on the door with gazing, jealous eyes piercing through the window fog. Once we hit the top of the steps on the front porch, the barking and sniping would start and only increase as we tried to push our way through the door that was partly being held closed by leaping, snarling hell hounds from within. It soon became clear that something was going to have to be done in the equity department so that all parties came out of this feeling not left out. And so it was not so brilliantly decided by me that we would individually walk each dog consecutively, which kind of helped, but tripled the recurring dog riot and greeting party as each participant finished walkies on the front porch- something clearly had to change.

Up until this point I had been wary of the three-beast, gang walk. I had, after all, previously experienced attempts at a three-dog, leashed walk to the car for the coveted car ride, after finding that simply releasing the hounds on their own recognizance and trusting that in all the excitement they would actually stop at the car and wait to get in was never meant to be a reality with this group. The first, and I think the only time they were allowed to see themselves out to the car, they all took off at a gallop and realized perhaps part way down the front path that this galloping in a group thing was fun, and they proceeded on past the car and were only deterred in their flight when they decided to check in on the neighbors’ dog while flying past. I don’t recall if we just put them back in the house once they all had been corralled, or if it was the car that was the enticement to get them all back. After that, everyone was on a leash when we were going somewhere in the car, at least till we got them all safely out to the car and loaded into the back seat.

So the dreaded three-in-hand dog walk remained a non-event until I finally got tired of the time it took for all three solo walks, as well as the repetitive-bark, departure and greeting actions of the single dog sojourns. By now, any walk was considered a mandatory daily occurrence. If it didn’t look like it was just about to happen right now and Elle was ready for it, she would do the four square Pitbull sit on her haunches while planting herself right in your way until it looked liked you were ready to concede and the vest, hat and watch (of course, to record the steps) were all being donned and the leashes were being retrieved and readied for the adventure. One could tell by how easily and ruckus free we passed through these initial steps how the walk might proceed from there. Generally there was some sort of scuffle to determine who would get their collar and leash on first. The ferocity of this competition often would lead to my threatening a cancellation of that days perambulation. This rarely had the desired effect of calming things down through threat of deprivation. The second stage of these threats came as we approached the door and again depended on a certain hoped for orderliness in order for the process to proceed through the front door. This was as pragmatic as it was disciplinary, since many times it was nearly impossible to open the door inwards whilst the whirling canine maelstrom was leaping at it and pushing it back closed. Again the threats would come along with the request to SIT, which mostly distracted things long enough that the open door exit strategy allowed us to proceed onto the porch.

Once the door was closed behind us, the next challenge was to get down the three steps off the front porch without the lunging actions of one or more of the pack causing me to plummet uncontrolled to my doom or untold injury. This porch phase also required a calming , sitting exercise, along with leash untangling and light coiling, so that as we headed down the stairs most of the tugging and lunging actions could be released through unfurling leashes, rather than attempting to restrain all three in their full-on, pathway mad-dashery. As the path from the front door to the parking lot is narrow, it does not allow three abreast, dog passage, so varied leash lengths need to be monitored here as well so as to not cause further mayhem and entanglement. It is often at this point that the largest dog- Homer, a flat coated retriever mix- will often emit these sharp, yiping sounds that seem to have no real purpose other than to rile the Pitbull up. If she happens to succumb and take the bait while we are still on the front path, another timeout session may be called to dial back too much enthusiasm that has been known to result in spontaneous dog riots. Depending on my patience and tolerance for lunacy, at this point the decision is made as to whether we proceed or return to base. It should be noted that Bini (Bee-Nee)- the third of the bunch- is mostly the voice of reason throughout all of this, and being the most empathetic of the three, always is the most disappointed if we happen to abort the walk because the two other members of the chaos club could just not follow the simple rules.

For the most part, I am making this sound a lot worse than it actually is, at least nowadays. Getting out the door as of late has been a relative breeze,  and getting down the steps has been equally uneventful. I had hoped that as we got out on a regular basis, our public personae would mellow and conform to the norms. For some reason  though, we have not mastered the driveway encounter, either with vehicles or with people, although we are showing a slight bit of improvement in both cases, even if it doesn’t quite look like it. What tends to happen in either case is that once the “intruder” has been detected, either Homer will attack Elle or vice versa. This is more of a tussle than a life or death struggle although it might not look or sound that way. If I happen to detect an inevitable encounter soon enough, I can grab and shorten both their leashes and restrain them from mortal combat. This has been working pretty well as of late. We also go through the sit drill here, but often the excitement and agitation is too much till the vehicle has passed. With people, they tend to jump around a bit and mostly chill to a bored indifference if I stop to talk with whomever comes along for more than a couple minutes.

And then there is the cat who is now demanding walks multiple times a day. Unlike the dogs, who actually have a fenced acre or so in the back yard with woods and open space and a pond to run through, the cat is the sole survivor of a pair of gray tabbies whose brother I memorialized here last year after the coyotes made short work of him. At that point we sealed off the portals I’d made in the dog fencing so the cats would continue to have the outside access that they’d had prior to the dog fencing. In spite of that, Sylvain has found a way to continue to get out, and so it is that when he wants to go out the front door I tend to walk with him to the edge of the parking lot circle and back. On our morning walk a few weeks ago I did see a coyote cross the driveway about 100 yards away, and with the dog walks I have seen regular fresh coyote scat nearly the entire length of the driveway. And so, when Sylvain meows and squawks about wanting to go out, I generally walk with him because if I didn’t, he’d find his way out anyway, and then show up back on the front porch to show that he had gone out on his own. His asking for an escort tells me he is aware of the danger, but some of his reckless actions say otherwise.  As it is though, these days these walks are about the only thing I’m doing involving something beyond sitting on my butt in front of a computer monitor. And so, we walk, and hopefully it is for the good of all of us.