Monday, February 28, 2011
The house guest
I stood on the road a few feet from my driveway beneath a picture perfect blue sky that felt like it could go on forever. Its vibrant colour deepened as it leapt the width of the road, crossing the stretch of open space between pointed tops of evergreens iced with glittering, fresh snow. With a leash in each hand, I inhaled the crisp wintry air, fixed my eyes on the trail at the end of our road and tried to ignore the butterflies flitting about in my stomach.
One leash hung loose at my side. It left my mittened hand and travelled through an easy arc, ending at Murdoch’s collar. He stood a few feet away, alert and tall, waiting for me to start walking. The other leash pulled taut, straining and trembling with tension at the end of my outstretched right arm, making a perfect line from my shoulder straight to the collar of Titus, our house guest.
He arrived the night before, a 10-year-old Rottweiler who acts like a puppy. Stalky and barrel-chested like Bear, but with a bigger head, Titus has the power of two Murdochs. When Morgan returned home with him I scrambled into my boots and jacket and dashed out to meet them.
“Hi Titus!” I said to the gentle giant with the face of a teddy bear while he leapt in circles sniffing the snowbanks, the car, the trees, individual snowflakes. Morgan handed me his leash and I started enthusiastically for the house. After Murdoch I figured I could handle any dog.
“He pulls way harder than Murdoch!” I called to Morgan as I planted my feet against the bull I was now trying to herd. My excited spirits sank a bit as I realized walking Titus and Murdoch together wasn’t going to be the rollicking, fun adventure I had envisioned.
The next day, with a dog secured by a tightly gripped leash in each hand, I stumbled and tripped along the path through the trees to the driveway, stopping every other step as Titus powered ahead. I was already flustered by the time we reached the road - the very long road that seemed twice the distance that day.
Murdoch was surprisingly good, he stood beside me, eager to go but waiting while Titus manically sniffed the ground and jerked my arm this way and that. I snapped the leash and Titus loosened his pull then tightened it again before I could praise him. I looked back at the house and considered calling off the walk but I knew if I could just get Titus to the trail he would relax. I was about to take a step and commit to our morning outdoors when Jack appeared on the road ahead. His excited trot came to a dead stop when he saw the strange, hulking black dog.
“Titus,” I said sharply, but his focus was already locked on Jack's slightly raised hackles, I could tell by the set of his shoulders. Titus began to walk slowly in Jack’s direction and with my arm already hyper-extended I couldn’t give the leash a good yank. I steeled myself and tried to be an immovable rock. It didn’t work. Beneath the fresh layer of snow the road was pure ice and with each step, Titus pulled me almost effortlessly behind him. I looked down as my feet began to slide forward and with bent knees I tried to dig in my heels. If Murdoch bolted then I would have been careening down the road, completely out of control, picking up speed as I went. I imagined the neighbours looking out their window as I flew past, “Oh look,” they’d say. “Heather’s taking the dogs for a walk.”
That thought flared up and then dissolved in an instant as I realized Murdoch still stood by my side, waiting. I barely had time to question his uncharacteristic moment of sanity when Jack’s retreat for home caused Titus to falter. I yanked his leash with all my strength, hauling him back a few steps and when he stopped for a moment to glance over his shoulder at me, I plunged into our walk.
When we returned three hours later, after a sufficiently rollicking and fun adventure, everyone was walking much more sedately.