Septuagenarian at Doggy Bootcamp

What I want is to get on with my post about satire in which I discuss with my usual clear-eyed insight novels by Jo Nesbo and Martin Amis and short stories by George Saunders. What I want is to finish my post about my new way of cooking rice, which is apparently actually old and Persian.

What I want is to be the 27 year-old second ballerina, I dreamed the other night, with a gorgeous male partner, capable of lifting and protectively holding me.

What I’ve got is 50 more years and doggy bootcamp.

Georgia thinks it’s funny. Georgia says write about that. But she’s just a baby septuagenarian, just barely started, so what does she know? Blake and I have seniority. I’ve known Georgia since I was 6, longer than anyone else still extant, that is to say ‘above ground’. Blake I met when I was 16, so he’s the oldest friend apart from siblings. We have had various septuagenarian adventures together, but this one is a solo. (See under septuagenarians)

The crux of the matter is that Blake has gone walkabout or, more prosaically, flown off to the west coast to see his daughter, who is, coincidentally, my daughter. The thing about children, even adult children, is that they cement you together. So when Blake cast about to see who could dog-sit, I came immediately to mind. Why not? He had taken the measure of my mothering skills some years ago. And I had mothered quite a few dogs as well, notably a big black Newfoundland throughout her long, lumbering life, but also a couple of her playmates including a spaniel. A 7 kilo sheba innu would be no problem.

“She’s a zen dog,” he assured me, alluding to her Japanese origin, “and she only needs to be walked 3 times a day.”

I felt better already.

March in the north -can I call Toronto north?- is unpredictable. Last year temperatures got up to 20 celsius, well into the 70s F. This year not so much. It is below freezing, there are brisk winds, especially from the north and a windchill. Okay, no problem. First walk of the morning: undershirt, merino wool long-sleeved undershirt, short-sleeved wool undershirt, ribbed cotton turtleneck, wool cardigan, vest and long down-filled coat, not to mention wool tights and fur-lined cap with ear flaps that tie. What?! Did I say I’m old? Did I say I was born in an unheated bedroom? Did I say God didn’t hand me an internal thermostat?

Right, we’re ready to head out the door. Despite the gear, I can still bend over enough to put the dog’s collar on. True she immediately starts to retch and gag. I still have something to learn there. Out the door. Well, not quite. We have to stand testing the air first. There could be danger. Down the front walk, turn right. Stop dead. There is a tree here and there are messages on it that have to be carefully ‘read’ by sniffing. Boy dog messages no doubt. ‘I was here. Where the hell were you?’ It isn’t a matter of gently tugging on the leash. Her 4 paws are glommed onto the frozen ground. There is no moving her. The bad news is that there is a tree in front of every house. And I have forgotten much in the last 25 years. A quick stoop to mark is not the same as an actual pee. It will take several walks to teach me this.

The second or afternoon walk is meant to be longer. Typically Blake hikes with the dog along disused rail tracks or up hidden ravines that wind under city streets and emerge miles later in its centre. Then they hike back, I make a foray down the bike path beside the woods in the afternoon. We come upon five robins foraging for worms in puddles that are about to freeze over. Initially, there is a strong smell of skunk, but that  doesn’t concern Ms Zen. She moves on inspecting the leave-strewn margins minutely until, finally, she finds exactly the right spot. It transpires that I have a lot to learn about poop and scoop. Suffice to say, I am glad she is in favour of a quick return. I desperately want to wash my hands.

The rest of the afternoon is devoted to rest and recuperation. Yes, I exercise every day but  I don’t go out in the cold and walk up and down hills. After dinner the wind is roaring and another walk is on. I long for the good old suburban dogs who stood in a writhing heap at the back door. I would open it, they would dash out and one of them would shout when they wanted back in.

And how does Blake even have a life? All I can seem to squeeze in is a short trip for groceries. Tai chi class seems to be out of the question. Gear up,walk, take the gear off, collapse.

Days pass. It becomes clear to me who’s in charge. She chooses the direction or rather her nose chooses the direction. There is absolutely no discussion. If I tug the leash too hard, she throws up. Simple as that. One sunny afternoon, we get as far down the paved path as the mown lawn. Having done her ‘job’, as my grandmother used to say, she stands gazing into the woods. These are the woods where she, Blake and I came upon 3 deer last year. She stands and stands. She gazes and gazes. A twitch on the lead. No response.

“Let’s go,” I say, my voice rising, my best kindergarten teacher voice.

She looks at me balefully, as if to say, ‘that voice!’ She looks back at the woods. She wants the lead off. She wants to run up and down those wooded hillocks, following those hidden paths. And if she were my dog I would let her. If Blake were here he would let her, but not and not. (Dear Blake, The weather is getting warmer. Your house is fine. Your roof hasn’t leaked. No one has stolen your car. Yours truly, Joyce p.s. Your dog is lost.)

It is only when a white-haired man comes down the path that she deigns to move. She thinks it might be Blake.

The first 2 nights she sleeps in her bed in the living room near the front door. Surely, he will return for her! On the third night, she accepts a helping hand onto my bed. I’m not keen on a bedmate but, otherwise, she is just going to stand beside the bed and stare at me. Weekends I sleep in the second best bed (See “Consider the Second Best Bed” ), a narrow bed. I sit her bed beside it. No dice. I drop a quilt there. Well maybe. As a septuagenarian I am acquainted with the night and I observe that she alternates between the bedside and the living room couch. In the morning, I discover a wet spot there.

Now Blake has assured me that this former show dog never has an accident. I believe him. I am familiar with an ‘on-purpose’. My Newfie dog once protested the fact that she was not permitted on the couch while the cats were by emptying her capacious bladder in the middle of my bed. Fortunately, I wasn’t in it.

Okay, no problem. Georgia can tell the story of having to change her entire bed at 4 a.m. because her Springer Spaniel did have an accident.

When Ms Zen arrived 5 days ago, I typically got up bent from the hips and shuffling, your standard septuagenarian gait. Ten minutes of tai chi put the spring back in my step. Now I walk like one of those extreme body builders I used to see in Venice Beach. My thighs are so stiff, they can barely scrape by each other. It takes a long hot shower to limber me up enough to do tai chi to limber me up. On the other hand, once it gets going, this old body seems more balanced and functional.

While it’s true, she eats only home-cooked meals, Blake brought them, frozen for easy ‘heat and serve’.

She’s just rolled her body off my bare feet and gazed at me with what looked like adoration.

2 thoughts on “Septuagenarian at Doggy Bootcamp

    • You thought that was funny?!!!! For the last 2 days she has insisted on scaling the small mountain between here and the bike path in order to find just right spot to poop. THis morning before breakfast!

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