Life, Off the Leash

Walking his dog, a man learns to love the simple pleasures

| March-April 2011

  • Life-off-the-Leash-Hi-Res

    Wacso /

  • Life-off-the-Leash-Hi-Res

In the beginning, I walked around the block. Or a couple of blocks. It didn’t seem to matter. That it didn’t matter was in itself novel. It had been a long time since I had gone out without any particular destination or direction, without knowing whether I was going to turn left or right at the end of the front walk.

I had no idea where all this was leading, though I like to think that even then I felt something tugging below the surface, the way a fisherman feels vibrations on a taut line and wonders whether something’s biting or it’s just the weight brushing at the bottom.

The simple aimlessness of it made me feel like a kid again. Back then, I was always out, had to be out, couldn’t bear not being out. Home from school, I shed books and disappeared, the parental refrain of “be home in time for dinner” trailing behind me.

Pete, with his boundless enthusiasm for the outside world, was like the reincarnation of that juvenile self. We’d hit the sidewalk and, like two kids with nothing special to do, spend a half hour meandering about. We were suburban vagabonds. In the mornings, with the whole world rushing to get somewhere, there was something almost subversive about roaming around with a companion who had no responsibilities.

And every once in a while, there’d be a night when the simple act of going away from the house and not coming back was like a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life. I remember one snowy night. This was one of those times when I really didn’t want to go out with the dog. There had been a party, I was a little tipsy, the house was warm, my bed beckoned. I had practically forgotten that we had a dog until I heard Pete’s desperate reminder, a single yip, issued from the direction of the front door.

I felt put upon. What was the story with this animal, this beast with its primitive needs? How could it continually rely on me to provide this escort service? Was it my fault that dogs hadn’t kept up with their evolutionary development? Where did this sense of entitlement come from? Was there a clause in some ancient contract between people and dogs?