Life with a dog

Almost every weekday morning for most of my adult life, I’ve been getting up and going to work. For the last five months, I’ve been taking our new puppy Frodo out for a walk first. I hadn’t thought about how that would affect my life when we decided to get a dog.

(Side note: my spell check, until moments ago, thought that Frodo was misspelled and perhaps I meant Rodolfo. Of course! I’ll quit calling him Frodo immediately. How could I be so silly?)

I knew it was going to be a big investment in time and energy; obviously the schedule of my day, weekend, life was going to be tied to caring for and spending time with the dog in a way that it simply isn’t for cats. You can leave a cat alone for a day and it hardly notices; a dog will go neurotic if it’s treated like that (even leaving aside the food and elimination questions).

I’ve lived with a dog before, though not as the primary caretaker, so I knew roughly what I could expect to get in return for care and feeding: a happy and devoted companion with simple needs and an endlessly big heart. In so many words, though – it had been a long time, and I didn’t really have any internal feeling for how that was going to go; only that I had enjoyed it then and it would be worth the effort now.

Enter Frodo.

Frodo is a Papillon, a breed noted for intelligence, agility, luxurious silky fur, and big ears. He is small, but not tiny – he’s a bit over eight pounds right now, and he might get to ten or even eleven pounds. He has a protective streak and doesn’t like to hear anyone yelling at anyone else, but he’ll make friends with anyone or anything (including those squirrels, if he ever manages to catch one). He’s clever and observant, a bit needy, and tries very hard to be a good boy when he remembers to.

Nothing I knew about living with a dog prepared me for how profoundly it affected me to own one. Sure, the responsibility for an animal; I’m used to that, having owned taken care of cats for many years now. I had forgotten the pleasure and joy in coming home to a wagging tail and excited paws, no matter how tired the puppy is. However, I had not even thought about how taking him on walks every morning would affect me.

I enjoy getting up in the morning now.

It’s not that I hated it before. I wasn’t a morning person for most of my life, and getting up was a struggle, but I was always too groggy to care much. When that changed abruptly a few years ago and I started getting up at 6:30 every day, it was just a fact; I had a few extra hours in the morning, shifted over from the evening. I didn’t enjoy it, but I didn’t enjoy putting on my shoes, either; it’s just part of the day. Now, though, I feel like something is missing if I don’t get up and walk the dog.

It’s not precisely a meditation thing. The solitude is arbitrary, subject to interruption, and quite limited, and there isn’t much silence unless there was a heavy snowfall. It’s probably not about exercise; adding a thirty minute walk to my morning is nice, but not a huge plateau. It isn’t even the consistency of the ritual, really; I’ve had many morning rituals that I’ve enjoyed for years on end, and none of them have made me feel as good about getting up in the morning as this. It’s not even because he’s such a joy to walk; often he is, but just as often he’s alternating dragging his heels with charging off into the sunset.

I think it’s more likely that it’s reminding me to look at things with simple wonder now and then. Frodo isn’t complicated (he’s picky! but not complicated); he loves to go outside and smell things and look at things and walk around, and it doesn’t matter much where we go or what we do. He adores meeting people on his walks, and he loves to get to play with other dogs, but he’s just as happy to take a solitary turn around the block and go home to his comfy bed.

Being out there with him every morning helps me remember to see things the same way – enjoy the world for what it is and where I am. Look for opportunities, but don’t miss what I have for what I might have. Take every chance to spend time with friends, and make new ones when I can.

I’ll leave the whole “licking myself in the middle of the park” thing to Frodo, though.