A friend of mine was put in charge of his young grandson while the boy's mother went to do whatever was necessary before the birth of her new little daughter. ``Well, Granddad,'' said the sprightly four-year-old, ``What can we do?'' ``We could take a walk,'' his Granddad suggested. ``OK,'' said the lad, and -- hand in hand -- off they went. A few moments later, the little fellow cocked his head and looked way up into his Granddad's serene face, so high there above those towering shoulders. ``Granddad,'' he asked, ``are we walking?'' ``Welllll -- yes,'' the elder replied, almost questioning the question. After another few steps, the little voice said, ``Well then, could we run?''
I used to run. I remember distinctly the time I embarked on a regular jogging program. But soon I found that more often than not my question was ``Do I want to do it today, or could I skip it just this once?'' So I gave it up for good.
A friend of ours visited us for a few days of skiing the Rockies. When he arrived in Colorado, he said, ``I was really out of shape for skiing this year, but I exercised before I flew here -- I ran to catch the plane!''
That had also been about the extent of my running for the past few years. Until Mixie. Mixie bounded into my experience one day while I was working in a reading room. She was a very lost, very frightened little dog, almost getting hit by cars and trucks on the busiest street in our town. I invited her into the reading room and she more than willingly came. She had no tags or collar. I looked for her owner, posted signs up and down the plaza, and finally, at closing time, took her to our home. Calls to all the dog shelters, ads in all the newspapers, signs in all the stores, failed to bring forth her owner. Mixie adopted us immediately and was not dismayed that everyone who called said, ``No, that's not my little lost dog.'' Of course she wasn't a lost dog -- she was surely a found dog.
She ran around our big backyard with joy and exuberance from the first day on. I walked. It was wintertime and the snow was deep, so I made a track around the perimeter of the yard with my big heavy boots, and I walked. Mixie walked behind me at first, then she ran ahead of me, and on the second day out there, she not only ran ahead of me but lapped me and met me again from the rear.
Dogs have a beautiful way of running, and snow has a beautiful way of melting. As both these things progressed day by day, I began to take Mixie for ``walks'' on a 20-foot rope leash. I remembered that with Woody, so many years ago, I had tried over and over to teach him to walk on a short leash, and we were both unhappy.
I knew that one should be very strict about making a dog heel when on a short leash, never allowing him to pull his owner along, but Woody seemed not to want to know this. This time, I read in one of the many dog books I took out of the library that for variety a very long leash could be used occasionally to allow a young pup some freedom and yet be available to yank him if he ventured into the street. It worked.
Within 20 feet of me there were always enough interesting smells so that Mixie never ran past the slack in the rope before being arrested by some odoriferous enticement. So we walked -- or rather I walked and she darted. She became so good at staying within 20 feet of me that one day, in the park, I let her off the leash. She ran round and round, ecstatic to be relieved of the leash bumping against her legs.
And I found myself running, too. Not running after her, but running away from her to get her interested in coming my way again. And it was FUN. She looked so beautiful with her floppy ears flying back hard in the breeze as she raced this way and that. I almost thought I looked beautiful, too. Here I was, for the first time in years, running around and loving it. Just like the third-graders in the schoolyard across the street from the park.
Neither the children, nor the dog, nor I was going to record our jogging in a log book, and none of us was going to feel guilty if we couldn't run tomorrow. And the next time we would run, we were going to love it all over again -- fresh and new.
There's something special about running with a dog just for the fun of it. Something so unplanned, so spontaneous, so immediate. When I say to Mixie, ``Do you want to go for a walk?'' she arf-arfs with such pleasure that I can hear her thoughts -- ``Yes, let's go, and well then -- could we run?''