8. Doggone Excuses

8. Doggone Excuses

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Doggone Excuses

Always do what you are afraid to do.
 ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

If there was a way to avoid exercise, I found it. Aerobics? Bad knees. Personal trainer? Too expensive. Treadmill? No room.

“There’s one exercise I bet you can’t dismiss,” my husband challenged. “Walking. It’s free, easy, and you don’t need any special equipment.”

But I had an excuse: fear.

I used to take walks. Lacing up my sneakers and hitching a leash to my spunky little spaniel’s collar, we’d hit the pavement together. Kelly’s tail waved like a banner, her nose lifted high taking in the mossy green scent of spring or the crisp autumn air. Walking with my dog, exercise was actually enjoyable.

Until one day when Kelly and I were strolling through a park adjoining my neighborhood. She wandered at the end of her leash along a bank that sloped down toward a river. Watching her curious exploration, I didn’t notice anyone else around us until an alarming, hulking shape appeared: a dog big enough to eclipse the sun, ears flat, teeth bared.

I’m not usually afraid of dogs. But when I saw that huge, vicious-looking creature barreling straight toward us, I almost jumped in the river.

In the large, grassy openness there wasn’t even a scrawny sapling to shield us. My grip tightened on Kelly’s leash, my mind filled with fear that my pampered pooch would soon serve as an appetizer for the lunging behemoth. The dog bore down. I froze in terror. But Kelly yanked ahead, her fur standing on end all the way from her neck to the tip of her long, feathery tail. She wasn’t afraid at all. She thought she could take that bad boy.

Then, in the distance, a young man wearing a hoodie sweatshirt whistled. The dog hesitated, turned and bolted back to its owner.

I was safely home in my easy chair before my breathing returned to normal. If dangerous dogs roamed the park, they could be anywhere. Loose dogs in the alleys, behind the railroad tracks. Even on my own street I’d noticed a burly dog dragging a broken length of chain. What about those stories of mistreated, mishandled fighting dogs? I lifted Kelly protectively onto my lap. “No more walks for us, girl.” With that, I’d found an excuse to avoid exercise again.

Over the next few weeks I attempted a workout DVD, but plopped back down on the couch before working up a sweat. Those lithe ladies didn’t inspire me to get moving. Before long my clothes started to feel tight again. While Kelly could run around in the backyard, that didn’t solve my fitness needs. Maybe walking was the best exercise, but I was too afraid to face the prospect of another loose dog.

One Saturday as I sat working at my desk, Kelly lounged with her head propped up on the sofa arm, staring wistfully out the window. Was she missing the walks, the change of scenery, the enticing scents? I got up and joined her at the window. Neighborhood children scampered off a school bus. A woman with a stroller passed by. The scene didn’t look as threatening as I imagined.

Day after day Kelly continued to stare, heaving heavy sighs, legs sprawled over the edge of the couch. I felt as lethargic as she looked. Although I didn’t relish exercise, my body began to feel the effects of immobility. Heavy. Tired. Sluggish. I glanced at the door. Something in Kelly’s deep, brown eyes urged me to get outside, for myself as much as for her. Maybe we’d try a short walk again.

Kelly jumped like a toy on a spring as I snapped on her leash. I looked up and down the street twice before venturing out the door. “Just one spin around the block,” I said as Kelly marched beside me.

Peering between houses and behind parked cars, I listened for threatening snarls. White knuckles clenched the leash. This is no way to walk, I thought, ready to turn back. Kelly, however, trotted eagerly ahead, pulling me along behind her, unconcerned about what might lie around the corner. She wasn’t letting that close call in the park prevent her from enjoying her walk. In fact, when we had encountered that huge dog she’d faced it bravely, ready to use whatever strength she had to run him off. Didn’t I have at least as much might and courage as my fearless spaniel? I loosened my grip and moved ahead. Staying alert to my surroundings, I could spot a potential situation before a problem arose. If need be, I could change directions or cross the street. I even could grab my cell phone if I really needed help.

Then, from behind, I heard the scratching of paws on the pavement. A raspy snort; a menacing warning. Every muscle in my body tensed, my fear realized. A loose dog—coming right at us.

I spun around. The terrifying canine stood about ankle high. Long, caramel fur fell from a red bow on the top of its head, around its pushed-in nose and dainty ears. A little rhinestone-studded collar surrounded its neck. Four tiny paws scampered at our feet. “Yip!” it barked.

Fear quickly evaporated as I laughed out loud. Kelly casually sniffed the miniature dog. The pup gave one last yip and left, and we continued on our way.

When we got home I hung the leash in the hall, and Kelly stared up at me with her soft, wide eyes. “We’ll go out again tomorrow,” I promised, patting her head. Maybe I was still wary of loose dogs, but that wouldn’t stop me from taking our walk. With exercise, just like in life, hurdles may appear larger than they truly are. And, although I may be expecting an obstacle the size of a Great Dane, often I find it’s only the size of a Pomeranian.

~Peggy Frezon

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