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Lucy and I like to get to the beach just ahead of dawn. At the boardwalk, I unclip her leash and she runs the 100 yards to the water's edge, checking back at intervals, satisfied that I am following at my human pace. Lucy is a big Pyrenees/border collie cross with a black spot covering one eye and a troubled past.
A dog? Are you serious?
She's gorgeous … You can say no … Okay, NO. I don't want a dog.
The staff at the Toronto Humane Society told my wife that she was brought down from Timmins, Ont., as a one year old, but they couldn't shed any light on her terror of loud noises. Any bang, slam or beat will put her tail between her legs and her black ears flat against her white head. Predawn on the beach is dead quiet, so I have taken to getting out of bed an hour early for the dog's peace of mind. It's not an altogether awful accommodation, because at this time of day, we are the only two souls on a one-kilometre stretch of sand in a major metropolis in North America. Silence, stillness and space are an exhilarating combination.
We can just make out the dogs with the glow-in-the-dark collars racing toward us. These are the dogs owned by the people who start work early, always walking in darkness, home before the dawn breaks. The dogs sniff each other, tails wagging, then chase down the beach together into the darkness, while the owners approach in silhouette. As we pass, we acknowledge each other with the quiet, muted voices humans always use when speaking in the dark.
That is a big frikking dog! It will need a lot of exercise … it will cost a fortune to feed … it sheds handfuls … and so much for our travel plans. This is going to change our lives.
I wait for Lucy to break off the chase and catch up to me, panting "That was fun!" before stopping abruptly to make her morning deposit on the sand. I pull out my pickup bag of choice, a small clear one from the produce section that once held my wet parsley. The only time on the walk that my pace quickens is when I take this bag to the garbage can. My amble accelerates to stride and, with the toss of the bag, I'm back to amble again. It's in a bag, so what's the rush? Oh, to be walking with Sigmund Freud and his dog. Instead, I chase Lucy through the trees in our own version of hide and seek. With her head low, baring her teeth and giving me a low growl, I can see the predator she once was, before she charges me, tail wagging. I can also see that she is in love with me.
I just don't get it! What is missing in your life it that you feel can be filled by a dog ?
We duck through the underbrush to avoid the small yappy dogs with owners who chastise them in full sentences, as if dogs understand English. On the point where the wind blows fiercest off the lake, I run into the sunny, life affirming lady who has told me the saga of moving her family to a foreign country and returning to Canada a few years later with her kids, but without her cheating husband. I know details of her life story and the names of her two dogs, but as of yet, I don't know her name. Such is the paradox of walking with an almost complete stranger, being pleasant and civil while your dogs cavort in front of you, as if they've known each other all their lives. When Lucy encountered a huge Turkish akbash called Kuma, it was love at first sight, so we have been walking with Kuma and her owner, Roy, whenever our paths cross. We are comfortable with limited conversation, watching the dogs investigating bushes, running after squirrels, chasing each other and then lying side by side, panting. I am moved by my dog's vulnerability. Lucy has kidney problems as a result of being kicked as a puppy. There are lumps on her backbone from where somebody took a stick to her. Such a painful start to her life explains why she is such an anxious soul and Kuma's calming influence on her is a big relief to me.
Who has the flexible schedule? Me! So who will end up walking her for two hours every day?
And what if she doesn't like me?
Approaching the boardwalk, I pull the red leash from my pocket and our return-home ritual begins. She drags behind, like any two year old reluctant to leave the beach, so while I click leash to collar, I tease her by blowing on her forehead, until she licks my face, wagging her tail with such force that her whole back end is brought along for the ride. I consider this the equivalent of joyous laughter. While we wait at the crosswalk, she gently takes my left hand in her big jaws and I hook my fingers around her fangs and tickle her gums. It's just one of those goofy rituals that develops between best friends.
Geoff Bowes lives in Toronto.