I will miss Daisy. I was paid to care for her, but she really took care of me.
Daisy’s mom contacted me in July, in response to my “DOG WALKER AVAILABLE” sign. We agreed to meet to discuss details, and make sure Daisy and her brother Duke liked me. I liked them from the description their mom gave me over the phone: two elderly Labs: Daisy, black and almost 14; and Duke, yellow and 13. I like dogs, particularly big dogs, ones too big for purses, or to hide under furniture when I arrive to walk them.
Daisy, Duke, and their mom greeted me at the door of their home. The dogs nosed my knees as I walked to the living room. Daisy’s whitened face and stiff gait revealed her age: she was almost 98 in human years, and walked as if on ice because of arthritis. Duke’s fur had hardly any white, and he still had that springy Lab energy. He planted his heft on my feet when I sat on the couch, and Daisy leaned against my legs. They liked me.
It was a typical getting-to-know-you interview, like many others I’ve had over the past year. I asked their mom the routine questions about the dogs’ particulars: Where are the leashes, dog bowls, treats, and towels kept? Do Daisy and Duke have a favorite route? Do they have neighborhood doggie friends and foes? We chatted a bit more about our backgrounds, careers, interests. Then she surprised me.
“So, why do you walk dogs?” she asked.
None of my clients had ever asked. The reasons why I walk dogs are complicated, but the truth is simple: I need the dogs more than they need me. There is a messy tangle of motivations behind that simple sign that says DOG WALKER AVAILABLE. I lost my own dog, my son, my job, and my faith in God in pretty quick succession. My decision to pursue an MFA in fiction seems foolish, impractical, and terrifying when I spend my days reading and writing in isolation. I love dogs and I love to walk. Dog walking forces me out of the house, and gets me in the company of creatures I adore. There is no talking needed with dogs. There is just a love of the moment, of the simple and the essential. Many times, there is just love. Walking other people’s pets gives me the benefit of doggie company without the responsibility. That’s what I tell myself after every walk, when I close the door, and my chest feels heavy – because the freedom doesn’t take away from the reality that, in the end, I’m no one’s mommy.
I knew this was too much information for Daisy and Duke’s mom, so I just answered, “Dog walking gets me away from my desk, and out of the house.”
* * *
Daisy had to be put to sleep right after Thanksgiving. Duke and I took our first walk without her yesterday. When I arrived, he looked at me and barked insistently. He is a good boy and I knew he was telling me Daisy was gone.
Daisy was a good girl, and I need that gentle beauty every day. Like every good dog I’ve had in my life, I miss her and I feel that weight in my heart – but loving her helped make my heart a little stronger. Enough that I believe it won’t break.