My Walking Buddy

My Walking Buddy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body!

My Walking Buddy

“Why don’t you take Buddy?” my husband suggested.

I looked at him like he was crazy. He just didn’t get it. “Buddy’s a dog. I’m talking about a human walking companion.”

“Try it. He’d enjoy it,” he persisted.

It wasn’t the dog’s enjoyment I cared about. Truth was, I felt like a slug. I’d been complaining about losing the walking companion I’d had before we got married and moved away. I remembered how happy I’d been to finally find someone to walk with, when I first began an early morning walking routine the previous year. At the age of fifty-six, my metabolism was slow, and I needed a kick-start first thing in the morning to get my blood flowing. It was hard to push myself out the door, but the first month I began walking, I’d lost ten pounds and felt much more energetic. Finding a walking companion had kept me on track.

However, in the three months since our marriage, I was eating more and moving less. I felt heavier, slower, and out of shape. I wanted someone to talk with while I walked, knowing conversation made the exercise go faster. Plus, I needed a person to keep me accountable. I had hoped my husband would be my new walking partner, but his work schedule prohibited it. There was no one in our new neighborhood who could walk with me either.

Buddy was my husband’s dog, a big, black, flat-coated retriever. We had taken him for walks a few times together and let him run loose through the woods, but not for a walk around the neighborhood.

A dog walking partner wasn’t what I had in mind. I won’t call myself a “cat person,” because I’ve always had both cats and dogs, but I must admit I thought cats were easier to manage. They were independent (which dog-lovers dislike), they took care of their personal needs by themselves, and all I had to do was feed them or pet them. I’d lived in houses with large, fenced-in back yards, where the dogs we’d had could “walk” themselves. The few times I’d attempted to take them for walks proved unpleasant for both of us. They either balked at the leash and I had to drag them, or they continually went off in the wrong direction. No, I didn’t need a dog. I needed a person. Someone with whom I could talk. Someone who would encourage me.

I tried taking walks by myself, but was very inconsistent, as I often got distracted by things around the house before I set out and then didn’t have time for a walk. One thing that was consistent however, was Buddy’s reaction. Each time I went for a walk, I could hear him barking behind me as he watched me leave.

Finally I decided to give it a try. I walked over to the place where we hung the dog leash and picked it up. When I started towards Buddy with it, he got really excited and started prancing around, eager to go.

“Okay, okay. We’ll see how this works,” I told him.

I opened the front door and Buddy shot out, running down the driveway and almost jerking the leash out of my hand. He paused to briefly sniff the mailbox, before I pulled him away and we were off.

And so we pressed on, Buddy trotting obediently beside me most of the time. There were a few times, however, that he stopped to check out some inviting aroma, and I continued on unaware until I ran out the length of the leash and almost pulled my arm out of the socket. So much for exercise. Despite the stops, however, it still felt better to get out of the house and move, rather than do no exercise at all.

When I told my husband that evening about the arm-jerking experience, he explained to me that Buddy, who was trained to walk on a leash, could be encouraged to continue by saying, “Let’s go,” or just tugging on the leash a little when he tried to stop.

Okay, maybe it was worth another try. The next time went better than the first, and Buddy did a better job of keeping pace with me. In fact, with his long legs, I could jog while he barely trotted. Of course, there were still a couple of times that Buddy found some scent simply irresistible, and I was forced to wait until he was ready to move on again. Overall, though, the experience was not so bad.

I decided that I would take him occasionally, and other times go it alone. However, anytime I put on my tennis shoes, Buddy started getting excited and expected to go for a walk. Guilt attacked my conscience when I went without him and let him down. Buddy started coming into the bedroom as soon as I got up, eagerly imploring me with his eyes, “Are we going for a walk this morning?” Of course, I had to take him; he was so eager to go.

And so it began — Buddy “dogging” my steps every morning until I took him for a walk. Pretty soon we had a routine. Together we explored the neighborhood, discovering interesting trails. Buddy met other dogs and their people, and I learned to enjoy the scenery, observing birds and flowers along the path, especially when Buddy stopped to check out a fascinating new scent.

I discovered other things to enjoy, too, like singing (when we were alone in the woods and I wouldn’t frighten anyone). I also found that I could spend the time meditating and praying. And occasionally, I talked to Buddy, who never argued or disagreed.

Buddy became my walking companion, keeping me consistent and re-establishing my exercise routine. Both of us benefited, as neither of us was getting any younger. Buddy, age fourteen, needed the exercise to keep his joints from stiffening up, and I needed the exercise for my mental and physical health. And so I found a new walking buddy to help me stay in shape. And he’s not a bad listener, either.

~ Marilyn Turk ~

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