Dog days

November 3rd, 2008

Exercise – they say dog-owners get more of it and are healthier as a result. Ha! I used to get long, healthy walks in the river valley. Then I got a dog.

“We’re going for a walk, Whiffle,” I say to our 12-pound conniption of black fur, who promptly does that dog thing of double back-flips. It’s like trying to get into the car with the entire Chinese circus.

We head to my favourite part of the river valley, Louise McKinney Park behind the convention centre. There’s a path that goes down through banks of hardy roses to the footbridge. From there you can hike for miles along the trails.

Lemme at it, says Whiffle, leaping from the car door. And we’re off, my arm stretched out as she swings from side to side, so that I look like a water diviner with a particularly willful wand.

Rabbit…Dog A … Dog B … she snuffles. Dog A again … rabbit … rabbit … Whoa! what’s that? And I’m spun like a compass needle.

It’s time to assert dominance. “Sit,” I say loudly. She looks doubtfully up at me and then at the muddy path. You really want me to sit on this?

“SIT,” I growl again and she lowers her bum like a Victorian lady with a bustle. I align myself with the leash held to match the diagram in the obedience manual, then order “Walk.” For a few yards we manage a sedate pace that wouldn’t flutter an centenarian’s pulse.

But by the first switchback through the rose garden, Whiffle is once again hull-down on the trail of rapture. She’s desperate to take the turn-off to one of the flat lawns that punctuate the headlong slope of the river valley.

Please, please, please, she gasps, just this side of strangulation.

Now one of the things I like about Louise McKinney Park is that it’s often very quiet. I look around – there’s no one here. Yes, I know it’s not an off-leash area, but she’s just a little dog.

“If I let you off the lead, will you come right back when I tell you to?”

Her eyes express the puppy equivalent of Honest, cross my heart, hope to die.

I take another furtive look towards the ramparts of Jasper Avenue at the top of the valley. All clear. “Okay, just for a minute,” I tell her.

Off she flies, and almost immediately I look up to see a man on the path above me in a peaked cap that looks ominously official. My brain flashes to Edmonton’s $100 fine for letting dogs run loose in parks. I have to get that wretched dog back before we’re both shipped off to the pound.

But Whiffle’s already on the far side of the lawn. I scuttle after her, whispering, “Whiffle, come.” It’s hardly the masterful sound I need to get her attention.

“Come!” A squawk like an anguished magpie. I look nervously up at the hat. Has he noticed?

Whiffle hasn’t. Rabbit, Dog C … she’s dancing out of reach. The hat is strolling down the first switchback. Desperation lends authority to my final croaked “Come!”

Oh, if you make a point of it. Whiffle lets me reconnect the lead and we skulk off to the stairs at the far end of the lawn so I won’t have to make eye contact with the man in the hat.

Back in the car, Whiffle licks my nose. Wasn’t that fun!

“Fun!” I tell her bitterly. “I’ve had the cardiac workout of a goldfish in a teacup, and you’ve got burrs in your ears.”

But I needed the exercise, she says.

“You need exercise, you go to the gym,” I tell her. “I’m taking a walk by myself.”


Originally published in Avenue magazine

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