For a dog owner the daily walk can be the most soul-enriching part of the day, or so Frankie and Leo, my two Mutt-bradores, want me to believe as I nudge their staring heads out of the way so I can turn on SportsCenter.
Really, I love walking them, but around here (my neighborhood, behind Agees on Broad) we can never just go for a walk. First we have to go for a drive.
In every place else we’ve lived I could always walk them around the neighborhood, and when we first moved to this house that’s exactly what we did. We’d go trotting out the front door without a care in the world, but we quickly learned that unleashed dogs roam as freely around here as the squirrels. Trotting with purpose along the side of the road, they’re as confident of their right to be there as the joggers and bicycle riders. If they had hands I’m positive they’d return a wave.
These free roaming dogs can be irksome, but I can usually spot them in time to create a safe route around them. The real problems are the dogs which use their yards merely as hiding places. The people of my neighborhood fail to understand that a fence is meant to prevent their pets from chasing and attacking other dog walkers, not provide a hiding place. All it takes is one jangle of an approaching leash and they’re out of their yards, leaping over, scurrying under, or wriggling through their ineffective, too short fences. It’s like being caught up in my own personal tornado. One second we’re strolling through the neighborhood, peacefully enjoying our exercise, and the next we’re in a street fight.
It got to where I was so certain of an altercation that scanning my living room in search of a make-shift weapon became part of our pre-walk routine. I went on more than one walk with a Yankee Candle tucked under my coat.
Eventually it was just too much. I got tired of our walks ending with adrenaline blasting sprints to my front porch, and after getting into a slap boxing match with an overly friendly German Shepard and having to kick a relentless Dalmatian out of the air in the same week, I decided enough was enough. The field, woods, and office park at the edge our neighborhood become our new venue for walking.
When we arrive they fall to the ground like discovered eavesdroppers. Without streets or sidewalks to guide us, we take a different route almost every visit. Some days I let their maniacally sniffing noses choose which way we go, which must create a confusing site to anyone who sees us. Dragged forward by the leashes, seemingly against my will, it looks as if they’ve captured me and are now marching me back to their camp.
In the beginning I believed the purpose of our walks was to get some exercise, breathe some fresh air, and spend time together. But I’ve come to learn that for them it’s strictly about claiming territory, and they want to claim everything. Dogs are territorial, and their territory is Earth. Not having thumbs stops them from carrying and planting actual flags, but that doesn’t stop them, as urination is 9/10th of canine law.
Leo is both methodical and enthusiastic in his quest to own all the land near the corner of Glenside and Broad. Most dogs when relieving themselves will casually lift a leg and continue on their way, but Leo, consumed by the spirit of Manifest Destiny, likes to make a one-man show of it—a show with a dramatic, gasp-inducing final scene.
Dog meets shrub.
Dog harmlessly sniffs shrub.
Dog sashays past shrub, as if he’s inviting the shrub to join us on our walk.
Dog abruptly spins, as if shocked at something the shrub has said.
Dog walks back to shrub, karate kicks his leg into the air, and pees all over shrub.
While Leo terrorizes the land, Frankie takes it upon herself to clean it up. She’s constantly picking up trash and burying it. This was cute at first, but I learned there’s a limit to how long she’ll hold wadded up paper or empty cigarette boxes in her mouth. After a minute or so she’ll grow tired of searching for acceptably soft dirt and just swallow whatever is in her mouth, creating another odd scene for anyone watching us—man smiling proudly at his community-minded dog one second, and in the next he’s on the ground, shoving his hand down her throat, attempting snare whatever dumpster flotsam she’s attempting to consume.
When enough land has been claimed and enough trash buried (or eaten) we walk back to the truck. I open their door and they hop into the backseat. The ride home is always quiet. Frankie is content, as disinterested in what’s outside as a child with a video game. Leo’s pushes his head out the window, surfing his face against the wind, lamenting all the unclaimed land. Sometimes I hear him whine a hello to a wandering neighborhood dog.