19 April 2010

Adventures in dog walking

I scheduled a minor surgical procedure recently and was told to refrain from exercise for two weeks afterwards. Of course I had to ask if dog walking really counts as exercise (especially when it involves Toni, who prefers to move forward as slowly as possible to avoid missing any tiny smelly bits of scent from a dog who walked the same path six weeks ago). “Well,” said my doctor, mostly likely with visions of puggles dancing in his head, “it’s not like you have two Dobermans, right?” Ummm, no. Two pit bulls. “Absolutely not.”

Because I work from home, our use of dog services is based on choice rather than necessity. We do like our dogs to socialize in safe, supervised environments. Because dog parks do not count as safe or supervised in our opinions, T2 go to a pit-friendly dog daycare on Mondays. We occasionally go out of town for short or long periods of time, during which our daycare becomes sleepover camp. This is a better option for us than dogsitters given that our dogs are excessively pampered in terms of the amount of time they are used to having a human at home with them (usually me) and given their unique personality quirks. We have also never had a dog walker—we go the old fashioned route and walk them ourselves (easy to manage even during the week with the home office situation).

It turns out dog walking services are a bit tough to come by if you a) have two pit bulls, and b) only want to use up a high value timeslot in the middle of the day for just two weeks. I was lamenting our situation to our friend Sara one day. I was really just sharing a “gosh, what are we going to do now; I hope we figure it out” kind of story. Really; no subliminal messages involved. But Sara is the kind of person who is really there for her people, no matter how inconvenient to her own life it may be. So “of course,” Sara offered to run over to our place on her lunch hour every day to help walk the dogs. (My doctor only said I couldn’t walk two pit bulls; I’m sure if I had asked about walking just one, he would have said it was a fabulous idea.) Let me give you a little background on Sara: Sara is generally uncomfortable around most dogs, regardless of shape, size or temperament. T2 may be the only exceptions. Sara once nearly had a heart attack right in front of me when a Great Dane came out of a door we were standing next to, whereas I wanted to fling myself onto its back and give it a giant bear hug…and then maybe go for a ride. Sara also once woke up on a friend’s couch in the middle of the night with a pit bull, we’ll call him Cujo for the sake of this anecdote, approximately three inches from her face. Cujo was staring intently at her and growling that low, slow warning noise that dogs will give you when they are about to turn you into prey. Though Sara is not fluent in Dog, she is high on self-preservation instincts. She spent the rest of that night in a locked bedroom with moving boxes stacked against the door for added protection. So really, for Sara to make an offer to help walk T2 for a week or so was beyond thoughtful. And when I realized I had no other options and would have to accept, it made me appreciate her even more than usual (which is saying a lot). It also prompted me to promise to send her back to her office with lunch every day, courtesy of the kitchen at Chez Julie (that’d be me).

Fast forward to our first day of tag team dog walking. Sara arrived as planned…sick as a…um, forgive the pun, sick as a dog and sore from some serious heavy lifting over the weekend. This did not bode well. Téa realized we were about to go out of the condo for some reason and began her little hop-skip-jump dance. Toni realized we were about to go out of the condo for some reason, but that the routine was off-kilter because we had a spare person going with us and promptly sat herself down to indicate that there was absolutely no way she was participating in this shady adventure, which was sure to end in disaster. Off we went anyway, Sara with Téa in hand and me with Toni reluctantly in tow. We arrived at the stairway/elevator lobby of our floor. Shall we take the stairs? No, we can’t—Toni doesn’t like those stairs. We think it’s because of the red paint. We took the elevator to the lobby, where Sara and Téa turned expectantly and reasonably toward the front door. Oh wait, we have to use the weird side entrance near the garage because Toni won’t go out the front door at lunch time. A minor delay ensued as Toni sat down again just before we exited the building, reiterating her concerns regarding our outing (which she expresses daily, though no one has ever once decided she’s right and that we should just go back to the condo). I employed my shepherding techniques and we were off.

Téa quickly realized she had a mere amateur at the other end of her leash and took the opportunity to practice her zigzagging technique, sling-shoting  from curb to building and back again at the expense of Sara’s equilibrium, Toni’s comfort zone and my patience. She also decided that if the walker was an amateur, she shouldn’t show off what a good dog she’s become on a leash, she should instead revert back to the days when she was an amateur on a leash herself. She demonstrated this by pulling forward as quickly as possible, as hard as possible, accenting it all with a combination of choking and squeaky squeals. Sudden lunges were also part of the routine, and while Sara is athletic and can normally hold her own, I’d say she was yanked up and over two feet or so at least a dozen times each walk. Sara is also aware that Téa is leash aggressive, which may have been the part of this set-up that had us both worried the most. Luckily, we have a routine down that allows us to randomly cross the street about 30 feet before we cross paths with other dogs, so though there was a lot of unexpected street crossing, there were no incidents to report involving Téa maiming any small animals.

There was one man and his pit mix, though, who seemed to be crossing the street toward us in order to take advantage of the trash bin we were about to pass (we assumed this because he looked to be holding a full bag of dog poop). So the four of us stepped to the curb to cross in the opposite direction; but the man and his dog froze. So we waited, during which time Téa began to launch her unworldly howls while Sara and I simultaneously muttered, “Come on, cross the damned street already.” But he didn’t. So finally I asked what his plan was. Turns out he likes to introduce his little brindle to other pit bulls he happens on. She has a habit, only with other pits, of doing a little play bow and then locking arms with them in a way that looks like a cross between a bear fight and a waltz. You can image the horrible images that went through our heads as we envisioned what would happen if we let Téa get involved in that sort of scenario, but I was more than happy to run across with Toni, who appreciated the play bow but appeared to think the waltz part was a bit too much on a hot day. After Toni and I parted ways with the man and his little brindle, we looked around for Sara and Téa. Nothing. Weird. What in heaven’s name could Téa have done to Sara in such a short time? We only had out backs turned for a minute! Her dad is going to kill me when he finds out we lost Sara. Funnily enough, as soon as Toni and I crossed the street, we found them. Though I hadn’t told her, Sara knew enough to take Téa out of the line of vision of us engaging with, horror of horrors, another dog. They were crouched down in the shade, neatly blocked by a sedan parked in front of them. It led me to suspect that Sara might actually be a little bit of a dog person after all…or maybe it was just those self-preservation instincts kicking in again.

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