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Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Winter's Walk

She walked him on her right side.  And was nervous about slipping.

Less than an inch had fallen, but snow was fluttering again, lightly.  Where homeowners had shoveled the inch, I lost her tracks, so I knew she traveled not long ahead.  

I paused to place my foot into her print.  Her shoes were narrower than my worn-down Merrill hiking boots, and about a big toe-nail longer.  The X-shapes carved into the snow from her tracks were most likely an ice and snow traction device made by Yaktrax.  (I looked it up on the Internet when I got home.)

The unknown woman either abbreviated her stride for increased stability where ice sometimes hid under the snow, or her legs were much shorter than mine.  At first I figured that her dog was small (under 30 pounds), but as I observed Gypsy step along (sniffing at bunny-rabbit or squirrel tracks that wove across the ribbon of sidewalk), I saw that her paw tracks were about the same size, and Gypsy's gait appeared shorter.  Perhaps not so small a dog wandered from right to left, sniffing at tree trunks and fire hydrants.

There!  A yellow mark on a snow pile at the corner of a driveway.

I glanced left at FLD Gus as he lifted his nose, swinging it side to side to scrutinize the air.  Did he smell the snow that drifted lazily down upon us?  I could not tell.  He bounced along in enthusiasm, as if the sidewalk depressed and rebounded with his weight like a trampoline.

It's funny how different my three Future Leader Dogs have been.

Rosie trotted with her head bobbling right to left like a bobble-head doll.  Mike kept his gaze steadily forward, until he dropped his sniffer to investigate this, that, and anything on the ground.  Even at seven-weeks-old, Gus preferred to look about him.

I wonder how the veteran puppy-raisers, who've raised 20 and more puppies, view their charges.  What characteristics stand out in each of them?  The lift of their nose?  What drew their attention? How they enjoyed being petted, or how they avoided?

Rose was not the snuggler that Mike was; and Gus isn't either, although he's surprising me lately.  If I sit on the floor in the evening, he'll carry over a Nylabone to lie down against my leg  Last night he climbed across my legs to chew, but soon his eyelids drifted like a lazy summer sunset, and he fell fast asleep, his heavy head cradled in my arm.

Of course, many things must have been similar, especially within the same breeds.  My Future Leader Dog puppies have all been black labs--passionate eaters who leapt ahead of me when I went to the basement to resupply their food containers, snarfed around for fallen crumbs, twirled and bounded up the stairs in a race to the mat, where they'd twirl again to drop their butt on the mat in a SIT, trembling at the sound of kibble as it hit the stainless steel bowl, but still containing themselves for my OK before they launched to bury their head into their breakfast.  Don't all Labs eat like this?

I lost the tracks of the woman and her dog.  Did we pass a house where she ended her walk?  Did she take a corner turn?

Suddenly, new marks in the snow caught my attention.  Two sets of people-steps, one set of paws, and a curious double slashing in the snow.  What caused that weird design? I wondered.  Pairs of curving arcs like five-feet-long parenthesis arced away to the street-side of the sidewalk, then arced the other direction; at every other house or so, just one long straight slash.  Maybe one of those retractable leashes and the dog ran ahead and then paused to sniff, snapping the leash into the snow?  But the paw prints stayed steady, apparently in a nicely controlled heel on the left.  Hmmmm.....

The ring of my cell phone interrupted my perusal.  My sister Anne. 

"I just have to tell  you what Natalie said this morning," she told me.  "The doctor said she should stay home from school today.  She's not feeling too bad, but she has bronchitis and he thought she should have a nice, long weekend rest.  Well, she was being a little nervous about staying home alone."  (Anne had to work from 11am to 2pm.)  "I was going over all the options with her.  'We could call aunt patti, or Miss Sharon, or Margaret.'  All of a sudden Nat blurted out, 'Hey, I have Rosie!  I'll be just fine, mom, I won't be alone, Rosie's here!'"

I smiled. 

After more than three miles of walking with my dogs on a winter's day, my face felt rosy and warm. 

Or, maybe it was just Rosie.

A regal Rosie in winter.

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