I wasn't ready for children, but I wanted a dog. A little dog to fit in our little house. A little dog to sit on my lap and keep me company when John worked late. After seven years of marriage, when we finally had a house with a backyard and a gate, I drove 90 minutes to get our first puppy. She was a mutt, the last in her litter and feisty. But she was also adorable and interacted with (bit) me. So I paid the $225, put her in a cardboard box with a pink newborn blanket and drove 90 minutes home. She vomited on the way, several times. Turns out, she hates car rides. She loves to run and chase balls. We named her Maisy.
A few days after we bought Maisy, we decided she needed company. John and I both worked long days and didn't think it was fair for her to be alone the whole time. So I drove for an hour and found Bart. His owners pointed him out as the "calm one" of the litter. At first, I was ready to turn around and go home. He wasn't exactly what I was looking for. Too much Schnauzer X, not enough Lhasa Apso. But then his personality wooed me. He was not the most assertive or interactive, but he had a sweet, shy demeanor. His two front feet stuck out like a ballerina in first position, and he had a little tuft of wispy hair on top of his head. I paid $100 for him, and drove home. He didn't like the car ride either.
After work and a stop at the gym, I would come home each night and walk the dogs about a mile around the neighborhood. They pulled me along and I tugged back. They had their favorite houses to visit, and they barked and fussed at dogs who would surely eat them if the fences gave way.
Two years later, I became pregnant. Bart would sit on my lap and watch TV with me, and Maisy would bark out the window to protect us from potential intruders. I took them for a walk just hours before heading to the hospital for my first delivery.
When my first son, Aaron, was born, our walk schedule changed. We still went every day, but the walks were different. I would stuff Aaron into the Baby Bjorn and walk the mile, but toward the end, he would cry, and then scream, and then scream even louder. Our walks got shorter to prevent baby meltdowns, and then they got longer to encourage naps. We stopped going across the street to throw balls for Maisy. Aaron had taken Bart's place on my lap. Both dogs endured far too many episodes of The Wiggles.
And then I was pregnant again. I am sure the dogs believed it was way too soon, but then, who didn't? Little Sam was born and I hardly had time to breathe, or sleep, or eat, let alone take walks. I hired a babysitter a couple of hours a week, and when I didn't use the time to collapse on my bed, I scrounged up the leashes. As soon as they were harnessed, Bart and Maisy took off running to visit the dog friends and the smells they had missed. Occasionally, John and I would walk the whole family on a Saturday afternoon, but it never became a regular habit.
And then we said goodbye to our house, and our neighborhood, and the neighborhood mutts my dogs loved to hate. We said goodbye to the cooler summer weather and moved back home to Arizona.
Aaron was 2 now, and he could walk with me around the block. He always begged to hold a leash, and sometimes I would let him. But he was too small for their excitement and lack of training. So we held the leash together while I carried Sammy in a backpack.
Two years later, I had my third boy. Now there were three boys and two dogs. I gave up. I cried to John that I wouldn't be able to walk the dogs anymore. I felt guilty, but it was just too much. So we played in the front yard every afternoon. The dogs ran up and down the front gate and chased the lucky dogs on leashes, and the boys and I drew chalk figures on the sidewalk.
Sometimes, I would try to walk with all five, and then regret it. One time I turned around to encourage the older boys to "keep up!" and my feet got tangled in the leashes. While a concerned (and possibly amused) neighbor looked on, I fell onto the sidewalk with 1-year-old Andrew in my backpack. We all survived the fall unscathed, but that was the last attempt at dog-walking for a while.
A year later, six-month-old Ruby appeared in our yard without any identification. She was cute, young and tiny; perfect for little arms to love. She stole all of the attention. Now there were three dogs and three boys. One boy for each leash!
But then one boy got cancer. Walks ceased completely.
All three boys are in school now, and I am back to walking the dogs by myself. But the walks are slower; the walks are shorter. Bart lost his front leg to synovial sarcoma. Maisy coughs when she runs too fast. They are both 14.
Today, I walked two dogs and carried the third. Bart sniffed from above, looked down at the neighbors and settled into my arms where he rarely finds the space anymore. Maisy made sure to warn us of any strangers in the area. Ruby pranced along beside us.
Every morning as I put on my shoes, Maisy looks up at me, wags her tail, and pleads without speaking, "Are we going on a walk today, Mom? Are we going?"