I am not new to dog ownership, as evidenced by the ages of my companions, Roubin (14) and Freckles (11).
However, we are, all of us, new to the etiquette of walking in town, which requires leashes and poop bags and moving in tight, linear formation along sidewalks and nature trails.
I should also disclaim here that I was not born a 'dog person' -- I had to grow into the persona, heavily encouraged all these years by my husband, who grew up with dogs of the 'brown' variety (see photo) lolling in bed with him and his brothers, invariably under the covers, luxuriating in a doggy-breathed cocoon. He cannot imagine a home without shed hair and milky little dried paw prints everywhere.
And so, at my arm's length of one-time detachment, I find dog-walking an entertaining case-study -- especially in winter, with the great hustle and jostle at the door, with the snapping of leashes to collars and jamming of hands and feet into mittens and boots and fumbling with a pocketful of pre-opened plastic poop bags.
None of this happens particularly quickly, despite the frenzy of anticipation. There's stepping on each other's feet, noses to crotch, noses pressed to interior door, then noses pressed to glass of storm door, then -- JOY! -- entanglement as we maneuver down the front steps. It's a wonder we get to the sidewalk at all. I secretly harbor a desire to film it with a helmet-, or stocking-cap, cam.
Anyway, it gives me a lot of time to look and listen and busy my brain, so I thought I'd offer my hard-earned advice on urban dog management.
USEFUL TIP # 1: Do not wait until you must juggle shed mittens and multiple leashes to wriggle open one of the commercially available filmy doggy poop bags. Owners, you know what I'm talking about. It's SO MUCH EASIER to open each one in the warmth of your home than to scritch with frozen fingers at the unyielding edge of the baggie while out in the elements.
As I set out yesterday, in Lion/Witch/Wardrobe snowfall, my mind whirled around what I thought must be a patentable idea: Why not just make a mitten with multiple layers of doggy poop bags already smoothed open over the fingertips, like a cap? Just reach, scoop and tie off the outermost baggie. Simple!
So I tested this: I put my three available baggies over my mitten and marched proudly down three snowy blocks, mittened fingers clenching my invention. Mind you, my baggies were hot pink, gray and kelly green, respectively. Throw in a knot of fuchsia and bluest-blue leashes, and you get the picture.
Brown Dog: "Attention! Approaching neighbor-dog's favorite tree-marking spot. Prepare to engage at 45 degrees, starboard!"
Gray Dog: "Huh? No way. The squirrel at 10 o'clock is much more interesting. I'll be right back...."
JOINK! [Tension of leashes over-extended, with equal and opposite recoiling effect.]
Brown Dog [dribbling]: "I say! How many times must I pee on your leash for you to notice when I've STOPPED?"
Gray Dog: "Oh, right. If you'd look up from your little tap-tap-dancing deck side, you'd see what you're missing."
DUMBTY DUMPTY DUM.
[Insert miracle of falling back into formation.]
Within another 20 feet, Brown Dog sniffs and begins a stiff-legged foxtrot in the snow just off the shoveled sidewalk, then assumes full kangaroo pose, eyeballs shifting with embarrassment to meet mine every few seconds. Oh, to suffer the scrutiny!
I can't look away. Watching the detritus squelch upon the snow, I'm able to determine:
Gray Dog: "I don't know why you do that. [Rolls eyes.] I can still totally see it."
Brown Dog: "Yes? Well let's see you keep a tidy kitty then. Gopher lumps, you leave!"
With everyone aligned again on the sidewalk, I ready my baggie paw and scoop.
Success! One deposit, tied off in one baggie. Two baggies still intact on mitten.
But now my baggie-mittened hand is occupied with the clutching of leashes, the baggies beginning to slither and slide over each other, while the now-used baggie occupies the other hand.
USEFUL TIP #2 If walking two dogs, tether both leashes with one hand, held between hip-level and chest. This keeps leashes taut enough that dogs cannot step over them, catching them up under their bellies and hobbling them like.....hobbles. Also, do not attempt to walk two dogs together who are not each restrainable with the strength of one arm only. If bodyweight is required, well, you're going to need a lot bigger baggies for the fallout.
When Gray Dog halts on the next block, I can see where this is headed. Two dogs + two baggies + field-testing of Baggie Paw = too much. I pin the leashes underfoot, lay unmentionables to the side, swaddle my mittens between my knees and make short, if chilly, work of the remaining waste management.
When I reassemble my costume and turn ever so slightly in the direction of home, Brown Dog, wizened by years of winter in a climate too cold for his short pelt, rockets past me with breathtaking speed.
Gray Dog: "What?! Already? Not the Poor-freezing-Me bit again?"
Brown Dog: "I'llll hhhave yyyou kknow ttthat mmmy thhreee yyyears onnn yyyyou ammmount tto sssixttteen wwwinters of thhis hhhoooeeey. Nnnow mmmarch!"
We lurch back down our street, one dog straining, the other braiding trouble between her leash and my load, but finally we're clattering onto the porch.
At the door, I no longer have to hold the leashes. Both will stand and wait for me to unsnap their leads, dust the snow from their backs and thunk the snow out of their soles, one foot at at time. This takes longer with furry Gray Dog, whose snowshoe-like rafts can harbor whole icebergs.
Brown Dog: "Ha ha! This -- this is the one great advantage of my sleek red coat!"
Gray Dog: "Awww, hush up, you. We both know I'm still going to beat you to the couch!"
And in they go, leaving me, still baggie-mittened, to pry the lid off the canister in the alley and let fly with the spoils of our adventure.
By the time this clever blog post title begins crystalizing in my mind, both are snoring, a friendly little puddle forming on the floor where Gray Dog's paws loll off the cushions.
USEFUL TIP #3 Write about your dogs. Or your cat. Or your alpaca -- whatever life you're sharing yours with. They won't be around forever, and neither will you. Might as well have some good dirt to show for it.
Here's to you, my (yes, my) pups!
ps: Brown Dog would like it known that he does not in fact speak with a British accent. (I made that up for effect.) The sentiment, however, remains.
I have 15 years experience as a professional writer and editor, including magazine, Web media, technical and grant writing, and all aspects of small-business management.