There are moments during my walks with Lucy I love beyond all others. I love her jump out of the Jeep. I love the shake that rolls her body from side to side. I love when the speed of our steps is in sync. I love when Lucy forgets I am holding her by a leash.
Lucy spends hours slouched against the cold cement block wall at the back of her cage. The diamond pattern fencing makes it difficult to see out but Lucy uses what is available to understand what’s happening around her. The rushing sound of water mixed with chlorine tells Lucy she will be moved to the outside kennel while Staff cleans. Constant barking mixed with urine means a new dog. The rapid smacking of a tailbone on concrete and blood cries a long-term resident is fighting hard to stay sane. Coughing, retching and antibiotics warn Lucy she is in danger of falling ill. The slam of the heavy metal door and perspiration announces People on the floor. The rubbing of nylon against nylon and peanut butter screams a walk.
The whole kennel is excited. Lucy stands on her hind legs, leaning her entire body into her cage door, pressing her cheek against the cold, straining to see. I will not disappoint Lucy; she is going for a walk.
It is a short ride to the quiet, stillness of the soft clay trail. I hold open the Jeep’s rear hatch for Lucy to get out. She jumps quickly to the ground, and I almost miss her beautiful muscled body fully extended. It must be an extraordinary release to finally be able to spread out without touching anything.
Lucy bolts out in front of me, pivots, and runs straight into my knees. She puts her front paws on my hip, and bends backwards as if trying to touch her nose to her tail. She acts very happy! She is happy, but the wrinkles in her brow tell me she is worried, too.
The walk begins with a friendly struggle as we figure out speed and direction. Lucy has to adjust for being faster and more agile than me. Because she has few choices in the kennel, I let go of my compulsion to walk in a straight line. I hold the leash lightly, and Lucy methodically zig-zags across the path. She paws at damp leaves, and delicately picks up a rancid decaying glob with her front teeth, keeping her eyes on me. I look at the ground to say, “Do what you want.” Lucy tosses the glob into the air, pounces then prances onward. She eats grass. She finds a plastic bag filled with empty beer cans, a wet Sunday newspaper, and a flattened black snake. Lucy suddenly freezes then violently shakes until her body is soft, her mouth is relaxed, and the shelter is forgotten. When she swings her head around to look at me, her forehead is smooth.
We walk in silence. We have found our rhythm. Lucy pushes her nose along the ground through the wild grasses following a scent. She moves her head slightly side to side avoiding stray branches. When she hears a rustle, her ears perk up. She brushes past sticker bushes whose thorns pull at her chest. Her movements are surprisingly elegant.
Lucy has stopped glancing back at me. She no longer feels tied to me. Lucy was carefully bred to be independent. Under the green hostas and ferns, Lucy examines a clump of tiny white heart-shaped flowers. She walks around puddles of water only to plunge into the creek under the bridge. Lucy’s feet don’t seem to be bothered by the sharp rocks and pieces of debris from the stone bridge. She is uninterested in the deer standing only a few feet away and continues tracking up the mossy bank.
Back at the Jeep, Lucy tilts her head upwards. I run my thumbs along her muzzle, over her closed eyes, and out the length of her long ears.