93: The Strength of Two

93: The Strength of Two

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

The Strength of Two

Fun fact: Malamutes were developed by an Inuit tribe called the Mahlemuts in western Alaska. They were trained and bred to pull sleds and endure harsh weather.

As a professional dog-care provider, I am often delighted by the behavior of my furry clients. I feel pretty lucky to spend my days being greeted with wags, kisses and happy spirits as I go about my job.

I walk a big, beautiful fur ball named Harper three times a week. He is a pure white Malamute-Shepherd mix with piercing yellow eyes. His greatest loves are squirrels, peeing on the world, and impressing the rest of us with his girth. Harper’s personality is, thank God, relatively calm. When other dogs yap around him, he merely gazes at them from his height as if to say, “Of course, you’re impressed, Little One.” He seems to have little need to prove anything further. And he’s right. He is mighty, and he owns it.

When I first started this walking job, Harper’s parents told me he might be distracted by small furry things running about the streets. They supplied me with little peanut-butter treats to carry in my pocket to distract him from the furry creatures. The snacks actually work well except when Harper hears the bag crumple in my pocket as we walk, and he begins to think about the glories of peanut-butter snacks. Sometimes, just the thought of them makes him crazy, and we have to stop our walk to partake in these tasty Bits of Wonderful, squirrels or no squirrels.

Harper and I had been walking together and munching on peanut-butter snacks three times a week for some time when a relationship I was in ended in a shocking and hurtful way. Though I was very sad, and it was hard for me to find the energy to go to work, I found myself at Harper’s door, ready for a walk, the first day immediately after the breakup.

Usually, when I arrive for a walk with one of my furry clients, I greet him or her happily and am greeted happily back. However, this day I was quiet. My energy level was low and sad, and when I let Harper out of his kennel, his intense eyes raised immediately to mine in concern. As I clipped the leash onto his collar, he continued to look into my face intently, but I could only look back wordlessly. And in this fashion, we set off into the snowy, gray day.

Harper’s gait is a long trot, and even for me, a woman of five feet, eleven inches, it’s hard to keep up with him. It’s a half-hour cardiac workout with a dog that weighs very nearly what I do! Naturally, at that pace, when his nose gets to working on something and he decides to stop and take a prolonged sniff, he can yank very hard. I’ve come down on the ice more than once after he has made a quick U-turn to get a good sniff of something, so I try to walk very mindfully with him, watching his movements so I can preempt sudden jerks in the opposite direction.

This day, however, he walked much more calmly by my side, glancing up at me as we went, as if to make sure I wasn’t crumbling before his eyes. Truly, we walked that half-hour together as if in solidarity, the cold Minnesota wind penetrating my winter gear while delighting Harper, who never blinked an eye, even in below-zero weather. We tromped along through snowdrifts and across ice, my boots crunching along and his nails clicking against the frozen streets. And as we walked, he stayed near me, his attention not on the squirrels or the bag of peanut butter treats crinkling in my pocket, but on me. His silent companionship seemed the most real thing in the world at the time, for his sense of animal spirit strength was solid, and I found comfort in his presence and purity.

When we got home, I let Harper off his leash and encouraged him to drink some water while I wrote his parents’ daily note to let them know how the walk went. Harper lay down next to me and waited calmly, keeping an eye on me as I moved about. I grabbed a cookie for him and asked him to get in his kennel, as I always did. It was our habit each day, and Harper always went into his kennel without prodding or complaint, focused on his cookie. This day, though, as I stood by the kennel and waited for him, he leaned up against my leg and stood there with me, the pressure of his head against me like a giant, hairy, it’s-going-to-be-okay bear hug.

We stood like that for a while, our souls connected. My hand rested in his long and fluffy fur, his warmth against me.

“Thank you, Buddy,” I said. I put my arms around his big neck and hugged him. I swear he winked at me before he moved inside his kennel.

The Big Guy got an extra cookie that day.

~Heidi FitzGerald

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