Letting the Dogs Out

My back is still bothering me a bit and my cold is just on the verge of disappearing, so I thought I would take it easy today. I dinked around with some presses this afternoon, sets of 50, 60 and 70 pounds. Nothing serious, although I felt really weak — not surprising considering the lung pudding I’ve been fighting for the last week.

Tonight I went outside just as the sun was going down and I impulsively decided to take the dogs for a walk. It was probably the most beautiful fall day we’ve had — I love fall — and I’ve been feeling really guilty about not taking the dogs out much this summer. They LIVE for our walks. Well, Beetle lives for the walks, Gus not so much. He’s kind of like me at the beginning of a CrossFit workout: this will be great, this will be easy! Then he’s also like me at the end of a CrossFit workout: this sucks, move over so I can lie down. 

Beetle is twelve years old and her age is really starting to show this fall. She’s almost stone deaf and she doesn’t have the energy she used to. She’s a black Lab/Irish Setter cross and she used to be like the Energizer Bunny, on the go all the time. She’s a great dog, and it’s really sad to see her decline. She’s what the writer Jon Katz calls a “soul dog”, one of those dogs you bond with emotionally. I also agree with Jon in that you can have more than one soul dog. I’ve had three: Shep, a great collie dog that died when I was five or six years old; Buster, an old mutt of a hound dog that I had until I was in college; and my Beetle girl. I’ve had lots of other dogs too, and I liked them, probably even loved some of them, but they weren’t soul dogs.

I grew up on a ranch 30 miles from town, an only child, and very lonely. My parents were great and I never wanted for anything, but they worked most of the time. My best friend in the world was Shep. I have very vivid memories of playing outside with him all day long, and curling up in a pile of leaves for a nap with my head snuggled in his fur. He even saved my life once. I was outside the fenced in yard for some reason, and an orphaned calf pinned me against the fence and was bashing me against the wall and crushing my chest. I called for Mom, called for Dad, to no avail. So I called for Shep and he came flying over the gate and saved my bacon. Good dog.

Buster (or Bubba, as we sometimes called him) was my steadfast buddy throughout junior high and high school, hard years for me. I’d always ask him how he was and he’d put his head down and just howl mournfully. I knew how he felt. 

I got Beetle my last year of college. My cousin, my grandma and I went to the Humane Society and picked her out. She was standing with all four feet in the water dish, looking around like she desperately wanted to be somewhere else. I thought, that’s the dog for me. We had an 85 mile drive home and I was in the back seat with her. She was very calm and was playing it cool, but she slowly kept inching over to me and by the time we got home she was up on my lap. She’s been my buddy ever since.

I don’t know what makes a soul dog. Certainly not the breed, Shep was a purebred and Buster and Beetle mutts. Maybe emotional need, if dogs have emotions to reciprocate. I don’t know that either. I just know that I’ve had them, and lost them, and will hopefully have more. And they’ve made my life all the richer.


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