Good Boy

Alfie used to be my personal trainer. While I was unemployed from January 2009 to May 2010, he nudged me out the door twice a day and gave structure to my shapeless life as an unemployed person. I squeezed the job search and resume tailoring between our walks and I arranged interviews so as not to conflict with our regimen.

In March 2009, Alfie arrived in our family at 15 weeks old, a four-and-a-half pound Jack Russell-Maltese Terrier-Toy Poodle muddle. By the time the snow melted and the salt and grit had washed off the sidewalks in late April, he’d grown to six pounds with legs generously measuring five inches long. He walked as though spring-loaded. Over the next year, he whipped me into walking shape and our outings extended from fifteen to forty minutes. Alfie stopped and sniffed often but he always resumed his jaunty, invigorating pace.

When I rejoined the nine to five workforce in late May, 2010, the training pattern shifted. With a new human schedule to follow and rush hour traffic to avoid, I became impatient in the morning. I yanked Alfie from intense investigation of every blade of grass from root to tip and back. I glanced at my watch every few minutes, anxious to get the walk over so I could dash to work. But there was no hurrying Alfie. I swear he walked into sticker grass deliberately seeking burrs. Stepping into one, he’d hold up a paw, his black eyes beseeching relief, while I kneeled down to twist the Velcro-like balls from his soft white hair. After I’d finished pulling the pieces from between his paw pads, he licked my hand. Filled with remorse at rushing him, I’d let him circumnavigate thick maple tree trunks as he sprinkled his canine benedictions. As we walked home along our well-traveled Sawmill Creek path, I’d look up through the green-arched tree canopy and my anxious heart calmed.

The job I took was hectic and stressful. I joined a team of skilled event planners in a large, medical non-profit organization. We delivered medical education events to academic physicians and residents. I had switched from a slow-motion life of making lunches for my three children and organizing birthday parties, to a high-stakes job among a super-smart, well-educated clientele. Any mistake I made was visible and immediately identifiable as mine. Early in my tenure, I instructed registration staff for a pre-conference seminar sponsored to arrive at the same time as the desk was to open. This resulted in a long line-up of international medical luminaries waiting while the staff turned on computers, hauled out tables and chairs, and generally made themselves presentable. It was as though you’d been invited to a Broadway play and ushered into the actors’ change rooms while they put on their costumes and make-up. I was not fired but I burned with embarrassment and when I left the building later I wanted to keep going and never return.

At home Alfie greeted me, his tail wagging wildly. When I bent to pat him he licked me like I was a raw pork chop. That evening, we walked our usual route along the creek path where he poked his muzzle into mounds of leaves, happy as a truffle pig. Around us the September wind twirled orange leaves, geese honked in the creek, and I slowly released my humiliation.

I’m now retired and like Alfie, I’ve slowed down. We both have gimpy knees and he sometimes needs a lift from one level to the next in our three-story townhouse but he’s still game to walk twice a day, and so am I. Like Alfie, I have some physical limitations – bursitis in both hips and a chronically pinched nerve in my right foot. Fool that I am, I am eager to walk more than I should, and when I do, my foot burns and my hips throb. They remind me that Alfie might be in pain, too. He takes his time when called to walk pulling himself from his bed by the door, slowly dropping his chest to the floor, stretching out his front legs, sending his hips and two back legs up in the air. In yoga, this is the “downward dog”. My physiotherapist has suggested many yoga stretches over the years, but observing Alfie’s approach to his daily exercise encouraged me to adopt his practice. Alfie may have   surpassed my age in dog years but he’s still my personal trainer.

After our walks, Alfie trots to his bed for a rest. I unroll my yoga mat, turn on YouTube for my favourite yoga video, and get down to the business of relaxing. At the end, Alfie joins me on the floor in savasana – corpse pose – and he gently licks my nose. I’m pretty sure he’s saying “good girl.”

35 thoughts on “Good Boy

  1. I LOVE this story. The first line hooked me. I miss my dog to no end as she also kept me moving in spite of a serious illness. I could easily have languished in my bed but she also insisted on walking twice a day even through snow and rain. They are our saviors. I’m glad you still have Alfie and I get the need to be on a single floor. I’m finding even a few stairs are hard and they don’t seem to make one level condos. If they had them, I’d be in one. .

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    • Yes, the stairs. Right now they are navigable and that’s good. And I agree that pets can be our saviours, our secret keepers and our best friends – the silent strong types. Best to you today Marlene. Thanks for reading!

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  2. Susanne – like a few readers here…..I was wondering if….thank God! I read a beautiful line recently and I quote ” being in the presence of a sleeping dog is nearest to being with God”. I love dogs. Our son and daughter in law have a gorgeous and gentle and most loving Groodle

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      • “What a privilege it is, to have an animal – an entirely different species to you, in a home with no other species like itself – trust you” – you’ll like this one too Susanne! My bad that when I write such quotes in my diary I sometimes forget to write the author’s name. Yes Groodle – Mum is Golden Retriever and Dad is Poodle – very child friendly

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  3. Oh, what a sweet and kind and inspiring little best friend. I love this tribute to him slash story of your own work life and aging. My Pear Blossom is my best friend like that, only I don’t take her on walks. I lie on the couch with her now hahaha.

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  4. I loved reading about little Alphie, such a sweet and relatable story. Took me back to walks with my own sweet dog before she passed. Walks were never walks, more stops and goes and stops again. But they teach such great lessons, to stop and investigate the small miracles in front of our noses, the ones we pass on too quickly most of the time. Thanks so much for sharing this.

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    • Yes, its those stops and pauses that I’ve learned to enjoy walking with Alfie. I’ve spotted more birds waiting for him and heard more songs than I would have otherwise noticed.

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  5. You know, of course, how much I love a good dog story. Your story of Alfie reminds me so much of my best friends through the years.
    I have to say I admire your living in a three-story townhouse. When Pretty and I lived at Canterbury in our two-story house, our only bedrooms were upstairs as was my office so no way of avoiding the daily trips up and down the stairs. Eventually our dogs wouldn’t be able to make the climb so we carried them…which might help to explain our bionic knees. Regardless, be thankful for Alfie every day you have him.
    Good girl.

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    • I do wonder how much longer we can live in our townhouse with its 28 stairs and all the bedrooms on the top floor. Alfie’s just a wee thing so carrying him up and down is no problem but should either hubby or I need new hips or knees it could be an issue. I do enjoy the good boy so much, Sheila. He is the tiny perfect dog.

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      • I have found in my life with tiny dogs, medium size dogs, large dogs (20 in 75 years) there were no imperfect dogs. People, on the other hand, quite a different story. Give Alfie an extra hug for me and smile as you carry him up the stairs.

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    • I’m doing my darnedest to post stuff about the thing that shall not be named. I can’t read anymore about it and I think of blogging as a form of entertainment. What I crave is escapism and eschew realism. And Alfie thanks you for the hug. 😀

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  6. There’s nothing like a dog to bring you back to the really real world of staying in the moment. And what actually matters in life. My personal trainer has been gone for 5 years now, and coincidentally I dreamed of her last night. I hope my living situation allows for another dog again soon.
    Great post…thank you, Susanne.

    Deb

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  7. Aw, what a sweet tribute to a well-loved pet friend! Dogs do keep us real, don’t they? No human humiliation smarts as much after a good licking or a chance to contemplate the clouds on a walk. Hope that Alfie (which was also the name of one of our family dogs by the way) lives out many long days as your personal trainer!

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    • Thanks, MEL. Alfie is 12 and is in good health possibly because he takes so many walks to keep me sane. Its one of the “normal” things we still do and it is a joy to meet other dog owners on the path and pass a few minutes of pleasantries and watch the dogs play. Apparently the pandemic has contributed to a jump in dog companions as people discover the happiness dogs bring.

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