Paws Treading Lightly


Growing up, we never took our dog on vacation with us. Long-suffering Reggie was the king of “staycations.” He was a
regal-looking, tiny cocker spaniel a neighbor left to us when she moved. For the life of me, I can’t remember what we did with Reggie when we went on vacation. It doesn’t seem that doggie resorts and boarding facilities were much of a thing back when I was a child. My guess is that my dog-loving aunt took care of him.

Thinking about him now, I doubt Reggie would have enjoyed vacations all that much; he always looked just a little worried. If Reggie had been a human on vacation, he’d need the first three days to loosen his tie and ditch his laptop. My mother and I made the mistake of taking him to a local lake one summer afternoon. We tethered him to the dock and swam out several yards.

Reggie was immediately anxious, pacing the dock and crying. When it was obvious that he wouldn’t calm down, upon swimming to shore, we unhooked his leash and coaxed him into the water. We hoped he’d swim with us or explore the water’s edge, but he tried to retrieve us instead. Doggie-paddling away, his breath puffed out the sides of his black-lipped muzzle. Even when we held and comforted him, the little front legs kept pawing and the back legs kept paddling.

Clearly, relaxation was not enjoyable to Reggie. We never forced it on him again.

Years later, I was a mother with two children and a dog. Hope was a rescue mutt – part pit bull and part whippet, with many other parts of who-knows-what. Soon after we got her, we took her with us on a day trip to Saugatuck, Michigan. It was obvious as soon as Hope saw the lake that she had no concept of  “a day at the beach.”

With us on one end of the leash and the dog on the other, we attempted to ease Hope toward the water. But Hope, who was thin but also all muscle, planted her feet in the sand and wouldn’t budge. Her long front legs extended like sinewy stilts before her. We never did get her in the water. And, because there was no dock or anything else to tether her to, we had to take turns sitting with her, all day long.

Hope died last spring and recently, we got a new dog: a collie puppy named Kirsch. So far, Kirsch’s water adventures have been limited to baths in the backyard. I think we’ll keep it that way for now.

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