Barney came to our family just over 10 years ago when my wine drinking was at its peak. While I was relieved to have that special animal energy around once again, I was also overwhelmed by yet another responsibility. I had pretty much given up on carving out exercise time for myself as the demands of family life, a full-time teaching career and a masters program seemed to be quite enough. More than enough. Something had to give so my own exercise it was.
Bouncy, energetic, trouble-finding puppy energy changed all of that. Suddenly the choice was no longer mine to make. I knew that Barney needed a walk or he was going to create more havoc than he already was by engaging in his puppy deeds. So walking we went. Rain. Shine. Snow. Dark. Light. I believed it was all about him.
He got bigger and my schedule grew tighter. We ran the loop to get done faster, quicker so that I could get going to the next thing. I began to notice that I was feeling better. More energy… Better thinking… I wanted to do two loops… My dog and I became running partners, a match made in heaven and a new, healthier way to manage some of my stress. I could force a hangover to feel better by running 8 or 10 kms with my running partner. If I had to run at night because of schedules, I felt safer having my 85 pound dog with me. It was a way to sort out my monkey mind and slow it down. During this era I quit wine many, many times. The clarity running provided gave me the courage to try. And then try again.
About five years ago we were out on our run when Barney simply stopped midway. He. would. not. run. another. step. Frustrated, I called my husband to come and pick him up. Walking seemed like a total waste of time. I tried a couple of more times to do our run but Barney was having none of it. I had been long aware of deep nagging pain in my hip and sometimes my IT band following a run. It would result in a deep limp after sitting for a while. In my heart I knew the distances I was running would not serve me well over the long term. But still I tried running a few times without Barney not wanting to give up the unexpected benefits. The guilt I felt as he watched me lace up my shoes and then leave him behind was too much to endure.
Once again, taking Barney’s lead, we began a new routine. A walking routine. This dog has literally walked me back to myself. First he got me out of the house, then he got me running and for the past five years he has walked with me as I have made the most important changes of my life: addressing my stress, spending more time in nature, quitting wine, literally slowing my pace down. We would walk together and I would listen to podcasts or music or the sounds of nature. I would leave the house, often not wanting to go but knowing that my furry friend desperately needed the exercise… It became obvious that no matter whether I wanted to go or not, I ALWAYS returned grounded, peaceful and glad to have spent the hour walking. I also felt like a great human for my dog – taking him for a daily walk because “he” needed it. It was the right thing to do…
This past Thursday Barney and I took our last walk together. He was slow but he wanted to go. It was more of a meander. Two days later we knew that it was the end of his life. I could feel my grief drowning me. I knew I had to walk. My body was screaming for me to walk out the intense pain I was feeling. How could I possibly go without him? He was resting comfortably and had not moved for hours. With tears streaming down my face and sobs bubbling up from my heart, I walked our route alone. It was so sad. It is still so sad. Yesterday we spent the day holding him and then we said our farewell to our dear friend. Fittingly, it rained the whole day. As night fell, I knew what I had to do. And I walked our walk alone. He continues to inspire me to walk even after he has departed. I walk because I know that I will feel better for having gone when I get back. Thank you Barney Dog for dragging me out for 1000s of walks over these past years. What a great teacher and friend you have been…
This photo was taken moments after we had completed our last walk together: