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River Dog

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When the Machine Breaks Down

2013-06-20 13.30.13

The only predictable thing about having a dog is the complete unpredictability of it. Every time I think I know her, every time I am positive her recall is at 100%, or that her personality has finally mellowed out, or that her ability, nay, her desire, to stick close and never stray too far from my side has finally turned her into a completely trustworthy dog, she turns it all on its head.

By now I have a pretty solid handle on her personality quirks–what makes her tick, what makes her uncomfortable, what she loves. She hates crowds, so doggy related marathons and the like are out, but she loves the woods, so we take lots of hikes. I work with her, remember she is a dog, try to stay mindful of others in public places, and respect city dog rules and regs. And I manage to, most of the time, keep both her and me safe, happy, and stress-free.

But then there are moments when the machine breaks down–when the pieces fall off, oily, jagged, scorched and blackened. Recently on a marathon errand-running day, dog in tow, I decided to make a pit stop at my old neighborhood dog park. Before buying our house in our far-flung Portland neighborhood, we lived across the street from a popular park with an unfenced off-leash dog area. Ingrid knows this park well–we’ve explored every corner of the park on leash, from the tennis courts scavenging for balls to the duck pond and back. The dog section moves seasonally to allow for grass re-growth, and on this hot spring day it was in its summer location, smack dab in the middle of the park, a short jog to everything, including the pond. But I wasn’t terribly worried about the pond, obviously, or I never would have let her off leash to throw the ball around before making our way over to the grocery-shopping portion of our errand running. So I started to throw the ball, once, twice, maybe half a dozen times, with Ingrid fleet-footed and sure, running at break neck speed to return the ever errant ball to my feet. Until she decided the day was far too hot for such endeavors, and she’d much rather be soaking in the environmentally protected, but easily accessed duck pond that she knew existed just over there. And that’s when my voice meant nothing, her name forgotten, all training broke down, and I was just another body holding a useless Chuck-it in the dog park. And oh, the embarrassment of being that person, whose dog finally comes back to them dripping wet, tongue lolling, and perfectly content. So I didn’t yell at her, because really, what was the point? The deed was done, she had returned. Instead I just leashed her up as fellow park-goers shook their heads at me, and later, when I wasn’t angry anymore, or embarrassed, I laughed about it. And laughed and laughed. Because really, it was pretty funny.

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