Ash was a wild child. Her first owners must have named her Ashley because of her coloring, because it does not suit her personality. She was about eight months old and sixty pounds of pure energy when my ex-husband brought her home to me. I’d seriously wanted a dog. Ash is a great dog, but she’s never been very interested in people. She just wanted to run and fetch. If she’d been lucky, she’d have lived on a farm and run amok. Instead, she had just a yard and walks around the neighborhood. She’d later get many great long hikes and swims and adventures, but first we had to teach her how to heel.
I tried. I took her to obedience school. I carried a baggie full of bacon. But I was never as interesting as the world out there beyond the leash. My then-husband told me I wasn’t allowed to walk her anymore because I wasn’t forceful enough with her. His strategy was to sit on her, on the sidewalk, if she didn’t obey. It’s probably goes without saying that I thought that was fucking ridiculous. I did still try to enforce proper sidewalk etiquette, but the second I unclipped her leash, she would jump onto my seat on the sofa.
Youth are so disrespectful.
Then for eleven years, I walked Ash and Indigo together. My ex-husband’s strategy of dominance failed totally with Indigo – she’d cower and hide at so much as a raised voice. But she was very attentive towards me. Even when I didn’t have bacon, she’d look to see what I wanted and try to comply, unless she got scared. Once, when she was at her highest weight of ninety pounds, I had to spend half an hour pleading and bribing her to get into the car, because she’d decided it was dangerous and wouldn’t jump in anymore. But otherwise, she took all her cues from Ash. I still don’t know how I managed to have a (mostly) Labrador puppy and not have my whole house chewed apart, other than she learned from Ash.
We walked basically every day for eleven years. In Spokane, I mostly sought out quiet trails where I could let them off leash. The tangling of their leashes was annoying, and sometimes dangerous. But we also took walks around town on leash. Who’s walking who? people laughed. I didn’t care who was walking who. The point was we were walking together.
Gradually, the girls lost speed. Living in California, the opportunities to run off leash were rare, so I was happy that it didn’t require serious mileage to get them enough exercise. Ash developed stiffness in her hind legs, so our pace slowed dramatically. This made it less obvious that Indigo was also losing energy, but to cancer, because she was still in the lead for the past few years. No, no, I’m not resting, Ash seems to say. I just have never smelled a shrub quite like this one before. And this pole! Wow! Indigo always waited patiently, never pulling ahead. Keeping the group together was always a top priority for her. A distance of ten feet was too far. Well, seventeen feet to be exact – two six foot leashes with my arms fully extended. That was ok, but no further.
Today it was just me and Ash again. Not once did I get tangled up, or have to untangle a dog paw. The leash I used to pull with all my might hung from one finger. Ash kept up the pace pretty well, staying right by my side the entire way. I was dragging quite a bit up the last hill, but there’s nothing to do but walk on.