Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Walking With a Friend.

Sunday morning, a morning of sunshine after weeks of rain, a morning full of birdsong and warm air and a meadow full of wild flowers.
My friend and I walk 'here', a fascinating place with a rich history as a military hospital, a pioneering psychiatric hospital, and now a nature reserve.

My friend  and I have a great deal in common. We like a lot of the same things, although she has something of a penchant for poking her nose into other people's business, a trait I do not share.
She is younger than I am, and blonde, and probably has a more illustrious family tree. Her name is Hannah, and you may have realised by now that she is a Labrador Retriever.

We wander along the paths through the woodlands and over the meadows. She is sometimes just ahead, sometimes just behind, but never far away.
She likes to greet people, but not necessarily their dogs, whom she tolerates politely. She is not very keen on children, and will often take a detour to avoid them. People wearing sun-glasses make her uncomfortable, and I remember  my deaf friends telling me how difficult it is to lip read people wearing sun-glasses. Dogs need to read whole facial expression, too.
There are some parts of the woodland where Hannah feels uneasy. As we approach she goes slightly stiff legged and walks carefully behind me, allowing me to encounter any dangers first.
Hannah is not a guard dog.

This beautiful plot of land has known great sadness.
People have suffered here, and there are parts of the woodland where the hairs rise on the back of Hannah's neck and all along her spine, so that she looks like a Rhodesian Ridgeback. She sticks close to my heels, looking to neither right nor left.
This is the site of the old hospital mortuary. Hannah picks up some sort of vibe and just wants to get past the place, not to linger for even the most interesting scent.
I feel sad too. A sense of gloom hangs over this stretch of woodland, but Hannah's behaviour emphasises my own feeling. Which comes first - the dog's reaction or my own?

We both step briskly out of the woodland and through the gate into the meadow where she bounds and pirouettes with joy - instant transformation in the open sunlight.

She knows what is coming, but bounces and grins and waits for permission to go.
There is water ahead, usually a stream with shallow pools, and she can hurl herself into it with the sort of abandon that occurs when a happy Labrador senses water. She can hit the water and flop down into it, then race through it, biting at it, laughing at it, revelling in it, a joy as infectious as the gloom of ten minutes ago.

I can share her enjoyment, the enjoyment of sunshine, an open space, freedom, the view of the hills. I do not need to join her in the water, although she would clearly like me to do so, and cannot quite understand my reluctance. She comes and shakes herself close to me, demonstrating that water is good, wetness is great, a damp car is going to smell heavenly.

Hannah is not my dog. She is a friend, and a much valued friend because whenever I have the urge to go and find myself another dog to rescue I call on Hannah. She reminds me, in the best possible way, that owning a dog is a great big responsibility, a great big expense. It involves limitations and forward planning, and I've done all that for many years. I must not do it again, because I have other important commitments. If you take on a dog it has to come very high indeed on your agenda, especially when you live alone.

So Hannah and I walk together.
And I'm also very grateful to another good friend who happens to be Hannah's owner.


Jenny Woolf said...

The final line was a bit of a punch line - liked it!
I am really fascinated that Hannah can pick up the atmosphere of the mortuary. That's so strange, and yet I believe dogs can sometimes have a form of ESP.

marigold jam said...

Another lovely post - there was me thinking you were walking with a ,maybe the owner of the dog in the photo, and there you were describing the dog! I wouldn't mind having the loan of a dog now and then but as you say they are such a tie and an expense to own and you will soon have other things to occupy you when your grandchild makes his or her appearance. Maybe you can take the dog and the buggy for a walk soon!

Relatively Retiring said...

Jenny:I really wonder if she is picking up my feeling, or I am picking up hers, or if we are both aware of a strange melancholy in that area. I experienced all this before I realised it was the site of the mortuary.
Marigold: a borrowed walking companion is ideal, but this one really doesn't like children. Perhaps she was dropped as a puppy, or else she doesn't approve of the noise and general confusion that children can create. So no buggy strolls for Hannah!

Zhoen said...

Dogs are very smart about mood, not surprizing, really. It's always good to have such a friend.

Annette said...

Having a yellow lab, I could so easily picture the picture you painted so well. The part about Hannah swimming, in particular, made me smile. Labs and water... they just go together. Our Kersey isn't very brave either but she is as sweet as they come. Which is better, I think.

Relatively Retiring said...

Zhoen: yes, dogs (and cats) read body language so much better than humans can do, so much more observant.

Annette: I'm glad this rang bells with you. Sweet is better than brave any day! While walking the other day H and I met a lady with a Chocolate Lab who told us that Choc Labs don't like water. Interesting?

Jee said...

We frequently fight the urge to have another dog, as you know. I hold to the idea that a time might come when I can get up and go from home any time I feel like it and I resist the ties an animal would bring - but it is a shame with so much good walking country here.

Molly said...

Labradors make the very best friends! I'm sure Hannah is as happy to be friends with you as you are to be friends with her!with her

Relatively Retiring said...

Jee: yes, sometimes I feel guilty, living here and not giving a dog a home, but then I take a neighbour or two out for a walk instead.
The responsibility of dog ownership is very heavy.

Molly: thank you - it's lovely to have friends of all shapes and sizes.

Leslee said...

Oh,how lovely to have a dog friend to go walking with! What a lovely post. I used to have my own dogs, who I loved but they did come with so many expenses and obligations however offset with the joys they brought. After my last dog died, I had housemates who were veterinary students and then I had the benefit of dog company with none of the obligations and that was even better! I do wish I could find another such friend. Meanwhile, I just enjoy watching the romping dogs on the playing grounds near my home, or the leashed city dogs I see on weekends in Boston.

Relatively Retiring said...

Leslee: Hannah is a great friend, always ready for a walk, always delighted to see me, never complains, always cheerful, but not popular at home at the moment because she's encrusted in fox excrement. However, you have to accept every aspect in a true friendship (just really happy that I don't have to deal with that one!).

Mouse said...

ah yes, the dog's needs often come before my own, witness the smart new haircut he's just had at the grooming parlour and my own rather lop-sided DIY bob because I couldn't afford for both of us to go to the salon :-)

and as for picking up on one's mood, my dog is almost a mirror image of my emotions and when he gets anxious and nervy I know I need to relax, slow down and smell a few more roses

Anne said...

Hannah is your friend, and lucky you are to have such a friend. If you owned her she would be your child as well (sigh) I know, because I have 2 child-dog-friends. I wouldn't give them up, but if they go before I do I may have to borrow a friend's child-dog-friend as you do. I'm not sure I could take on another.

A lovely post.

Relatively Retiring said...

Mouse: I usually found appointments at the vet took priority over those at the GP's (and were often more punctual). The mood detection is interesting, I'm sure animals can read body language and facial expression far better than we appreciate.

Ann: That's a really interesting distinction, the child-dog and the friend-dog. I must be sure to stick to friend-dog from now on. Another child-dog, even if it's an old 'child' is a great responsibility when you get older.