Category Archives: Walking the Dog

Again, Sunny Spots for (Cat) Naps


After four days of leaden skies and drizzle, followed by the false promise of snow, which disappointed and infuriated my daughter, the sun finally made an appearance.  Kiko and I were both relieved to be out in a dryer, more colorful world, and we walked longer than usual this morning.  The sunshine was accompanied by icy breezes, and once home, it took a while to warm up.  Kiko seemed to be overwhelmed by the sudden abundance of cozy, sunny patches for napping.  He tried out several of his usual spots  in the playroom before wandering off to the living room.  The sun was shining like a spotlight on a red upholstered chair.  I’ve never seen Kiko even consider hopping up on that chair.  But it clearly summoned him today, and his eyes were closed before he had put his head down.  Further support was offered for my husband’s claim that we share our home with a cat rather than a dog.   

Our cat-dog at rest in the sun.


Cold, Miserable Rainy-Day Dog-Walking

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The recent cold, rainy weather here in Virginia has been the sort that tests even the most dedicated dog walker. The mornings have brought no pastel watercolor skies, no evidence, really, at all, of the existence of a distant, light and life-giving golden orb. There is only a gradual diminishing of the steely gray darkness. The atmosphere of pervasive gloom is not lessened as the day progresses. It’s hard to look on the bright side when no bright side is visible.

On dreary wet mornings like this one, Kiko’s enthusiasm for the first outing of the day is, thankfully, muted. If the sound of rain is loud and continuous, he might remain curled in his bed, small and fox-like, for several hours. We have postponed that initial walk as late as 11:00 AM on some rainy days. I was hoping this would be the case today, but unfortunately it was not. I was able to delay him for about an hour, but no longer.

I cannot complain of being poorly equipped for dog walking in inclement weather. Prompted either by tender familial devotion or a determination that none of us would have an excuse for not walking the dog on wet days, my husband has outfitted the whole family with extensive rain gear. In addition to hooded, high-tech jackets, we have waterproof boots and pants. If it’s pouring rain, and if I can locate my rain pants (that’s a big if), I’m glad to pull them on over my jeans. More typically, I decide that the rain isn’t steady or strong enough to warrant leg protection. I usually regret this decision, as I did today.

Rain seems to bring out the absolute worst in Kiko’s on-leash behavior. You’d never know he is a Puppy Obedience School grad. (But we have the photo of him, looking ridiculous in a mortarboard hat, to prove it.) The wet weather apparently enhances the depth and variety of earthy smells, so Kiko dawdles excessively, his nose working furiously. Rainy-day walks seem to be, for my dog, the equivalent of science labs. Unless I tug him unmercifully, we inch along. Every clump of grass beckons, begging to be sniffed and sampled, its delicate taste evidently heightened by the rain. Every messy smudge on the road asks to be examined and identified. Dangerous human snacks like bony chicken wings are more likely to be discovered on rainy days, and I must fish them out of his mouth with my fingers. At least Kiko has outgrown his taste for earthworms. If he finds nothing of interest directly in front of him, he tends to stand transfixed, a model of indecision, checking the air for enticing aromas nearby. Finally, there’s what I call his fake-out marking, more prevalent in the rain. He smells a spot lingeringly and intently; he pauses, looks up, almost lifts his leg, yet decides against it.

The more impatient and miserable I become during these rainy walks, the slower Kiko moves. This morning I opted against bringing an umbrella. No matter how often I tugged my hood forward, it kept slipping back, letting rain drop into my eyes, ears and hair. Water trickled into the gap at my wrist between jacket and glove. My gloves were soon heavy and cumbersome. My formerly watertight boots have recently developed a leak, and the first puddle admitted a small flood. One foot was immediately drenched.

The final part of the walk is the worst, along a narrow county road that winds along by the stream bed. It’s picturesque, but treacherous. The nearly nonexistent shoulder is muddy, rutted and overgrown. I’m continually amazed at the cars that fly by, mere inches from my shoulder. I have been known, I admit, to shake my head slowly from side to side, or even to gesture forcefully, if not specifically, in hopes that some may think to slow down, or perhaps, when there is no oncoming traffic, to move closer to the center line. If I ever turn up in the “Public Safety Notes” of our free local paper, I predict it will be due to my encounter with some driver along this stretch of road. I hope it will involve no bodily harm to either party. I expect it will mention something like a “heated verbal exchange.”

For those of you, who, like me, are out there with your dog on dismal mornings, I commiserate with you. And for those who have no dog that requires walking, be sure to count this today as one of your blessings!

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He looks so sweet–why can’t he sleep all day long? 

A January Dawn

In my last post, I was dwelling on the dying of the day, on the quick and early onset of the January evening, to be faced without benefit of Christmas candles.  This morning, as Kiko and I set out on our walk, I realized it had been a while since I paid close attention to the onset of the day.  This winter sunrise, I would be observant.  I was not disappointed.

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The morning didn’t appear especially promising as we began.  The sky was stubbornly gray, the land dull and shadowy.  The possibility of further light seemed unlikely.  But before long, real signs of sunrise became evident.  Soon the bare tree branches were silhouetted in inky black, as in a Magritte painting, against a sky that shaded from rose to lavender.  A bright crescent moon hung, jewel-like. 

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These trees seem to lean in towards one another for company as they await the light.

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I hadn’t planned on venturing into the woods, but Kiko was determined.  Despite the difficulties of negotiating the brambles and unruly profusion of vines while being tugged along by my headstrong dog, I was glad he insisted.  A perfect-looking January morning should be snow-covered, in my opinion.  In the absence of the white fluffy stuff, a heavy frost is the next-best adornment.  The tangled weeds along the banks of the creek were dressed up with a pearly iridescent coating.  The woods and sky glowed with the same pale, elegant luminosity.  Such winter mornings are among the early-rising dog-walkers’ best rewards; I’m glad I didn’t miss this one. 

Frosty December Morning

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A beautiful frost covered the ground during my early-morning walk today with Kiko.  My little dog was especially frisky, evidently invigorated by the chill in the air and the intriguing sensation of the frost.  He tends to paw daintily and delicately at the icy grass, then exhaust himself by running through it in wild and exuberant circles.  I was struck by the muted yet luminous colors that had descended upon our ordinary neighborhood.  Lawns were glazed blue-green, and bright red nandina foliage had paled to a shimmery rose, like the sky above (although that eluded my camera).  The world looked like one of those sparkling holiday centerpieces of red and green grapes dipped in egg whites and sugar.  I’ve never made that sort of frosted fruit, but I’m thinking I will have to give it a try this Christmas season. 

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November Woods

While there is no denying the bright glory of mid-October foliage, I find the muted palette of November equally beautiful in its own way.  After most of the leaves have fallen, our neighborhood woods wear their subtle winter tones of gray, beige and brown.  The few remaining autumn dashes of orange, flame-red and green stand out like colorful stitching on a sensible tan tweed jacket.  On this day, the leaves were so deep that the familiar path was hidden.  Kiko, however, our sure-footed guide, knew the way by smell. 

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I like the star-like shape formed by the core of this fallen tree’s roots. 

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D and Kiko on the banks of the hidden lake.

Foggy Morning


We woke up to a morning fog that reduced the spring colors
to black, white and shades of silver-gray.


A bit later, green and blue tones begin to emerge.
The street sign, appropriately, reads Misty Pond.


This oak is evidently in no hurry to welcome spring.


I can see the painter George Inness capturing this scene.


A locust tree beginning to flower.


The dampness seems to heighten all the attractive smells.
Kiko had much to attend to this morning.


The scrubby foliage by the pond was dotted with dew-covered spider webs.


A lone mallard on the pond.

At Long Last, Our Puppy

It took a while, but I found an experienced breeder of Shiba Inus in our area. Debbie has been in the Shiba-breeding business for nearly twenty years, and her integrity and knowledge are evident. We made a couple of preliminary trips to her kennel to see the dogs and, I hoped, to persuade her that we were a Shiba-worthy family. Debbie values quality over quantity; her puppies are precious and few. There had been none for a while, but in mid-August, a litter of five was born, and we were on track for a male. We had been approved!


We first saw the puppies when they were just over a month old and past the point at which they are susceptible to human germs. A tiny Shiba pup can hardly be surpassed for cuteness: a roly-poly bundle of red fur, soft as mink, with a face resembling that of the ideal Teddy Bear. The short muzzle is dramatically dark, and the ears, which will point straight up in a few weeks, still flop over at the tips. The tail is a little thing that could fit on a chipmunk, a far cry from the bushy doughnut-like shape it will take on. So new to the world, the puppies appeared meek and uncertain when we arrived. Four became increasingly active during our visit. They explored the limits of their small home with growing boldness and persistence, while the fifth snoozed soundly. Cuddling a furry bunch of pure sweetness the color of brown sugar, I didn’t mind (too much) when I realized it had peed on my shirt. (We’re pretty sure this was our boy-to-be).

Kiko (in center) and his two brothers, at four weeks.

Because the “pick of the litter” male and female had been reserved for buyers in the dog-show world, we couldn’t simply choose a puppy. Debbie was evaluating the pups during their first two months, to determine which would make the best show dogs. In our eyes, only very subtle markings set the five apart, and they all looked perfect. The dog show circuit was not for us. One of the males was somewhat darker that the others. He had inherited his father’s rich red coloring. This would turn out to be our Kiko.

Our daughter in the puppy pen with the litter at four weeks.

When we visited again in two weeks, the puppies had grown considerably and blossomed in personality. Their bodies were sturdier, their ears stood up, their tails were furrier. This time we went out with them into the enclosed yard, where they exhibited a wildly exuberant fierceness. They ran, they tumbled, they attacked a big stuffed bear. And they assaulted one another (and us) repeatedly with their teeny sharp puppy teeth and toenails. The two females were especially aggressive, often leaving their brothers reeling with bewilderment. Not without good reason are female dogs called bitches. One of the males latched onto our daughter’s hair and clung on tenaciously. Again, this would be our Kiko. During his first weeks at home he periodically treated human hair as his own special toy.

One of the pups, at six weeks, attacks the bear.
Another pup at six weeks.

At eight weeks we could bring our puppy home. We had brought the travel crate, but we couldn’t bear to put Kiko in it. D was eight and still in her booster seat, so she got settled and took the puppy in her lap. He was understandably anxious, having just been wrenched from Mama and his pack. Clearly he wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else, and D couldn’t hold the slippery, wriggly, strong-willed little guy. When I leaned back to get him, he looked up at me with such sorrow and confusion I almost cried. Debbie had given us a stuffed fox that had been in the kennel with the pups and had the smell of home. (Foxy is still Kiko’s favorite toy. I have re-stitched her seams several times.) I tried to cuddle Kiko and Foxy together, but the puppy was inconsolable. His instinct was to escape. He was determined to climb up the sides of the car, onto the dash, even onto H’s lap as he drove.

Once home and out on the porch in the sunshine, exhausted from the anxiety of the ride, Kiko promptly fell into a deep sleep in D’s lap. That night, Kiko endeared himself to H by sleeping on his foot as we sat on the sofa. All was peaceful. I marveled that this small fuzzy four-legged creature was with us in our home. I noticed that his little tummy was freckled and nearly hairless.  He looked vulnerable and defenseless.  Already I loved him so much. But some tough days of puppyhood lay ahead, for all of us.

Kiko getting used to his new home, a few days later.

Prelude to a Puppy (Part II)

Now that the question of dog or no dog had been settled in the affirmative, my husband asked for only one consideration: a dog without excessive fluff.

At first this saddened and irritated me, because I love the fluff. While there are many short-haired, sleekly handsome dogs, my personal tactile preference is for thick, luxurious fur into which I can sink my face and fingers. I had envisioned a cuddly mixed breed puppy, perhaps with Chow Chow, American Eskimo Dog or Keeshond parentage. Or maybe we could find a black and white Popi look-a-like. (His full name had been Potpourri, to reflect his mixed heritage of Chow and Cocker Spaniel.) But when it hit me that I would be an adult instead of the child in this dog-human relationship, I began to see the housekeeping advantage of less fluff.  I would be the primary wielder of vacuum, Swiffer and dust-cloth. Still, I needed a dog with substantial fur.

Early on in our dog-decision process, I assumed we’d simply look for an appealing mutt at the Humane Society, likely the best place to discover a potential Popi II.  But as I considered my childhood dog’s personality in a less nostalgia-tinged light, I began to second guess both the shelter and the Popi aspects of the plan.  My beloved dog’s loyal devotion to my parents and me was a big plus. We were all the pack he needed. He had little interest in other humans or in his fellow dogs. He didn’t require doggie play-dates (an unheard-of concept then). We saw him as highly intelligent, discerning, unwilling to waste affection on strangers. These positive points had their corresponding negatives. Popi didn’t suffer fools; he didn’t take crap from anyone. On a number of occasions, when provoked, he bit people, usually children. He wasn’t vicious; he never bit without due cause, and he rarely broke the skin.  During those less litigious times, such behavior was more frequently seen as justified. Parents now tend to think a dog has no business biting their child, even if the kid does sneak up and roughly wrap a belt around the dog’s neck or try to stuff the dog into a box. I realized that while I still appreciated Popi’s aloofness, I didn’t want to deal with a biting dog, no matter how justified.

Another problem with choosing a shelter dog is our family’s soft-heartedness for animals. What if we saw a dog that tugged at our heart strings but somehow wasn’t suitable? I was afraid we’d be haunted by the memory. I still remember a dog that looked plaintively at me twenty years ago when I happened to walk past it at an adoption event at a shopping center. I was a student; I had no permanent address; I couldn’t get a dog. But I can’t forget that face begging for love. D and H are similarly inclined.

Gradually, I realized we should consider a purebred dog. I had been a lifelong champion of mutts, so this took some getting used to. With a purebred we could avoid the problems of uncertain temperament that can result from a mixed breed’s unknown parentage. The best path, we concluded, was to decide on a breed that fit our needs, then locate a reputable breeder. We would be more likely to get a non-aggressive dog. We would have a higher chance of getting a puppy. And we could better avoid the heartache of having to refuse a dog that wasn’t a good fit.

It took us a while to settle on a breed. Most were too large or too small, too clumsy or too yippy, too shaggy or too sleek, too friendly or not friendly enough. My daughter and I were watching the Westminster Dog Show when we spotted an unfamiliar breed, the Shiba Inu, of Japanese origin, a smaller relative of the Akita. This fox-like dog has a jaunty walk, proud bearing, pointed ears, bright slanting eyes, a tail curled to resemble a bagel, and red velvety fur that is thick but decidedly not fluffy. D and I were entranced. We felt sure we’d hit upon a dog that even H could love, or at least abide, especially when the announcer referred to the Shiba as very neat, clean and intelligent, “a big dog in a small dog’s body.”

The more I learned about the breed, the better it sounded. The Shiba tends to be reserved around other dogs, but not aggressive toward people. Maybe we could get a touch of Popi’s aloofness but none of his bitey-ness. D and I were excited; we could sense our dog dream becoming a reality.

Me with my little puppy Popi, around 8 weeks old. It was time to see my daughter with her own puppy!

Prelude to a Puppy (Part I)

After seeing Kiko again with Beau, his playmate from puppy days, I’ve been thinking about the protracted process through which we became a family with a dog. Popi, my childhood dog, was with me from second grade until after I finished college. I have felt his absence ever since. But our family doesn’t acquire dogs lightly. The time was not right, and so the years passed by, dogless.

My daughter began campaigning for a dog nearly as soon as she could talk. She was, no doubt, at least partially motivated by the Popi stories I had been telling her since she was born: how he once boarded the bus to Grant Park, as though seeking out his roots, his utter lack of fear, his unshakable self-confidence, his delight in the little stocking Santa filled for him each Christmas, his talents for hide-and-seek and squirrel scattering, his noble loyalty to family. Popi had become a legend, for me and my daughter. But the time still wasn’t right. My husband was traveling four days a week, and I could all too easily envision the complications of being an often-single parent raising a young child and a puppy. (I know my limits, and they are low.) Thinking back on my experience, I told D that I would be ready for a dog when she reached second grade.

H, however, was very firmly not in favor of a dog. He had grown up with a menagerie of pets: rabbits, birds, guinea pigs and a box turtle that lives with us still.  But no dog.  D and I set forth every possible justification: a dog is a surrogate sibling for an only child, a dog is an effective security system, a dog offers a unique, transforming love, difficult to comprehend until you’ve experienced it. By this point, my wish for a dog had morphed into a full-blown ache, and it wasn’t going away. I had now loved the dead Popi far longer than the living Popi. For me, the time was right, and getting more urgently right with every passing day. H worked longer hours and tried not to hear. (He would probably say this is an unfair assessment). Second grade came and went, and there was no dog for us. D continued to end her nightly prayers unfailingly with the words, “and dear God, please let us get a dog.”

H had one final defense to which he clung fixedly: he was convinced that his allergy to cats extended to dogs. And he was pretty sure that his daughter, so like him in many ways, would prove to be allergic, also. I had D allergy-tested. She had no animal allergies (not even to cats). At long last, H reluctantly agreed to testing. Unfortunately for him, he showed no allergy to dogs. Had he been a less honorable man, he would have tried to rig the test. He was out of ammunition, he had lost the battle. D and I were jubilant: we would be getting a dog.

Popi on Christmas morning in 1970, with his stocking. My gifts in the background include the Game of Life, Mystery Date, and a Madame Alexander Alice-in-Wonderland doll.


A Puppy-Days Delayed Replay

Kiko and Beau in their younger days: a moment of rest during playtime.

Kiko had a reunion this week with an old pal, Beau the Boston Terrier. Their friendship was sealed the day they met in the neighborhood, nearly four years ago, when Kiko peed on Beau’s head. During their puppyhood they were best buddies, frequent companions for walks and exuberant doggie play-dates. The question “Kiko, Want to go see Beau?” was answered by an especially enthusiastic tilt of the head. Celeste, Beau’s owner, is a lovely, easy-going woman (she laughed when Beau was sprayed by Kiko), and I liked her instantly. Twice a week, for an hour or so, she and I would talk and watch our dogs tear around her spacious, fenced back yard. We had no fence at our house then, and running free was a great luxury for Kiko. Beau is highly proficient at Frisbee-catching and tennis ball retrieval. Kiko does not excel at these pursuits; he cannot grasp the concept of running away from the object as it’s thrown. But he is fast. He used to be lightning-fast. He could turn on a dime, reverse directions in a flash, and leap like a deer. He very nearly flew, and it was exhilarating to watch him.

Our dogs’ lively play-dates were cut short when Beau required knee surgery. Several months later, his leg had healed, but before we could meet again, Kiko was injured, in our own newly refurbished yard. When we moved in, the area behind our house was not a yard but an expanse of cracked concrete that might surround an aging gas station; there was considerable room for improvement. By this time we were almost finished with the renovation. We had our wrought-iron fence, a grassy area, stone patio and a new porch that still lacked screens and railings. Kiko and I had returned from a walk with two friends and their dogs, and I invited them in for a short off-leash run. This was the very first time Kiko had played with guests in our new yard.

He appeared thrilled at the opportunity to impress his large lady friends, a Lab and a Doberman. He sped around crazily, a blur of red fur. When he could run no further, he paused, panting mightily, to survey his domain from the porch. Then, going for the big finish, he leaped off into the grass. He must have landed wrong. Kiko is tough, and he didn’t whine or cry. But he was hurt. He sat down at once, holding up his hind leg gingerly. He flattened his ears against his head, looking up at me imploringly and pitifully.

At this point, my mind launched into the absurd, frustrating routine I think of as the “If Only” game. I try to rewind recent unfortunate events. If only I could move time backwards and not let the dogs play. If only I could keep Kiko from taking that jump.  If only, etc., etc., until I feel like screaming.

Had Kiko simply broken his leg it might have been easier. Instead, the injury was ambiguous, perhaps a micro-tear in the Achilles tendon, perhaps something else. A complicated surgery was a possibility, but because the outcome was uncertain we didn’t seriously consider it. For six weeks he wore a bright green splint. Tight and itchy, of course he hated it. The splint was to be kept dry. We were given an I.V. bag to tie around the splint during rainy-day walks. This was not a good solution. He had only to kick his leg a bit to send the bag flying. Duct tape and plastic wrap were no more effective. Sometimes I didn’t notice the missing bag for a while, until I turned to see it lying in a distant puddle. When this happened, all I could do was carry my dog home. On many occasions I could be seen trudging through the wet leaves, Kiko in my arms, the rain pouring down my face. I felt like an actor in a made-for-TV post-Apocalypse drama.

It’s been two years now since Kiko’s fateful jump. On most days he seems fine, but he has lost some of his amazing speed. And he will probably always run a little strangely. His back legs tend to move simultaneously. We don’t encourage him to run for long periods, but since he’s older, he tires more quickly anyway. There is always the chance that he could re-injure his leg.

This week marked the first time Kiko and Beau have played in our yard. Kiko looked elated to see his buddy, and he showed him that he can still move. They ran together with something close to their former energy and speed, but only for a short while. Celeste and I leashed them and went for a walk. By then they were subdued. As a puppy, the excitement of being out with Beau often incited Kiko to bursts of frenzied circuitous sprinting. If Celeste and I weren’t vigilant, we’d be tangled up in a pretzel-like configuration of leashes, dogs, mailboxes, shrubbery and bystanders. This time there was no such juvenile behavior. Our dogs are young adults. How quickly they grow up!