While this winter has been largely snow-less in upstate New York (and I am not complaining to that fact), we have had our fair share of very windy days and nights. Our front lawn is home to several old silver maple trees, majestic in the summer, stunning in the fall, but prone to breakage in those frigid winter winds.
Last week after one particularly windy night, I noticed some branches down in the front lawn. As I stepped onto the lawn to retrieve them, I realized I did not need to watch out for dog poop. I looked over to the neighbor’s lawn, and realized that there, too, I did not need to watch my step.
No poop? It brought tears to my eyes.
The neighbor’s dog died last summer. Ours passed at the beginning of November.
The nostalgia is palpable. On my drive into work, I watch people out walking their dogs in the morning, knowing they probably are worrying about getting home, dressed and out the door to start the day. On the particularly cold days, I quietly say “what a good owner you are” to those still smiling through their walks. There’s always an affectionate aside to the dog, too. “Cute ears!” “What a sweetie you are!”
There is a certain freedom without a dog: we can choose to go out after work, getting home whenever we get home. We can drive up to the camp, and stop for dinner on the way, not having to worry that it’s too hot or too cold in the car for our sweet pooch. We don’t have to vacuum up dog hair, or to be honest, gather it up in our hands from the corners where it tends to clump up with dust bunnies.
But the price for that freedom? Glaringly absent: a joyful greeting each and every time you walk in the door. Even if you just went out to get the mail 30 seconds ago. Absent, too, is a reason to get out for a long walk every day. Then there are the goofy individual traits in dogs – our Sierra would try to WILL us to give her a treat, staring at us, then dragging her gaze to the top of the refrigerator where her treats and rawhides were stored. “Please please please”, said the puppy eyes after. She would do “happy rolls”, sometimes at 4 am, rolling, scratching, digging dog hair into the carpet, always smiling. She did smile often.
Increasingly, I recognize that dogs not only bring joy into a home, they also represent stability and predictability.
Which is why we cannot have a dog right now. We are in transition, and cannot provide a dog with a consistent schedule of exercise, meals and play.
I’m not sure I will ever walk across a lawn and not look for poop. I’m not sure I want to lose that sensibility. In the meantime, I will be looking longingly at your dog, probably with a tear in my eye.