I am not, by nature, a physically “active” person. If I make it to the gym, it’s more out of guilt than interest, and the idea of hiking has always struck me as more of a punishment than a pastime. Nor am I particularly “outdoorsy” – if I had my way, entire summers would be spent in an air-conditioned mall, winters in cozy restaurants. It was only a year and half ago, when I adopted Ringo, that I truly experienced the beauty outside my front door, the neighborhood, and others who embraced their dog walks with the same pleasure that I now know.
That’s right. I actually walk around now. Outside. Like, for a while, not just to the mailbox and back. Sometimes I even journey uphill, without using my car. How did this happen? Life is different now. I have company.
I never expected to become someone who walks. In fact, when I first made the decision to get a dog, I asked my sister (a long-time pack leader) if I really had to do the walking thing or if I could just let the dog out in a yard for relief a few times a day.
“No, you should walk your dog at least twice a day. Somewhere around a half an hour at a time, depending on the kind of dog.”
Honestly, I think my reaction was, “Ugh.”
My tune changed after my first meeting with Ringo. Our introduction included a one-on-one walk around the block, at the advice of his foster mom. I remember vividly looking down at how little he was, and how unsure he seemed of me. I held the leash firmly as he moved in a wiggly line, never looking at me but looking everywhere else.
I don’t think he cared for me at all, but I had fallen in love with him. The next evening, he was delivered to me for a week of trial adoption. That following Sunday morning marked the longest voluntary walk I had ever taken up to that point in my life. Ringo and I walked for forty-five minutes, up and down the hills of Glendale, California in the warm spring sun, and when we returned to my couch, he fell asleep on my chest. There would be more occasions to win his trust, but I can honestly say that our first long walk was also our first truly bonding experience.
These days, Ringo and I still walk twice a day. Schedule permitting, the duration varies, but I know we really get our health benefits when we stay out close to half an hour. I’m still human, and I’m still me; I’ve been known to dread having to take Ringo out but, just like when I go to the gym, I’m fine once we’re there.
In addition to giving us the outdoors and the world around us, the walk itself continues to define who we are to each other. I’ve never believed in owning an animal just because it’s cute, or just as a companion, or just to have something to feed and pet once in a while. I believe having a dog is a chance to create a relationship that serves both of us. I’ve spent countless hours training him to walk beside me, to stay calm when we stop at crosswalks, to not freak out when we encounter other dogs, as well as countless hours training myself to manage him correctly.
The air and flowers and grass and sunshine are a bonus (and yes, he does have a raincoat). I now actually know people in my neighborhood who smile and wave at me and Ringo as we walk by their houses. We’ve met other dogs who like to play and say Hello with a friendly sniff. And as Ringo gets good, hearty exercise, so do I. Over the years, the gym has seemed to migrate farther and farther out of my consciousness, and now the walks do their part to address my fitness. Significantly.
No matter how many walks we take, he never tires of them. As soon as I grab the leash off of its peg in the kitchen, Ringo’s tail wags excitedly. He just can’t wait to get out there. He sees a beautiful world when we venture beyond our front door.
I’m so grateful he showed it to me.