Zoe’s molten eyes flick in my direction, alert, picking up an unconscious signal: the movement of my gaze, my posture or breathing. And with a thump of her tail she knows. It’s time for a walk. Up, up, and stretching. Front legs extend outward, claws grip the floor, butt high in the air. She gives herself a refreshing little shake and follows me into the kitchen.
The leash rack is overflowing: an old too small harness, training leash, fancy leash, everyday leash, treat pouch, portable water bowl, hats, poop bags. I disentangle our trusty everyday walking leash from the mess and turn to Zoe.
“Go for a walk?!”
Her eyes say, “Yes! But first let me just give you a little bit of a hard time…”
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I walk to the front door and wait for Zoe to join me and after a few triumphant circuits of the living room she does. As we step out onto the porch I watch her nose come to life. Twitching, sniffing, tasting. She opens her mouth, letting her tongue loll out to really drink in today’s scents. I wonder about what she learns from this morning sniff: a deer and fawn passed through the yard in the night, the neighbor’s yappy dog got loose again, a rabbit pooped by the walkway just moments before we came out!? But these suppositions are limited by my own experience. Perhaps Zoe smells the evaporating dew on the grass or the passage of sunlight through the air. Impossible to imagine.
We make our way onto the street and so begins our first neighborhood inspection of the day. I like to imagine that Zoe fashions herself the Sheriff of Cedar Ave and its environs. Monitoring the street and its residents, human and animal, is an essential duty. Next Door Lady let the cat out; she leaves a brief message by the big smelly Pine tree--just reminding the cat who’s in charge! You can never be too cautious or prepared when it comes to cats. Wonderful Milkbone Man mowed his lawn! I watch her snout bob upward inspecting the air around his house smelling the man’s springy scent, the gas from the mower, the grass...or more likely desperately trying to detect the presence of treats.
“Not today, girl,” I placate, tugging her leash past the well-groomed lawn.
She only looks back three times before focusing on the path ahead. We turn onto the wooded trail that runs behind the houses. In the afternoons we hear the sound of dirt bikes and ATVs back here, but this morning we have it to ourselves. The black soil of the path stains my sneakers and the pads of Zoe’s paws. The mosquitos are blessedly dormant at this early hour. Zoe trots beside me plunging her nose into the ferns periodically. I enjoy the view: verdant leaves backlit by golden sunlight, a small stream at the bottom of a shallow ravine bearded with weeds and young pine trees. I smile with the simple delight of being out in nature with my friend.
I spend a large part of my work day cooped up in a climate controlled building sitting behind a computer screen. It is a gift to start my days with the brush of wind against my skin, the freckling of sunlight on the trail ahead and the happy panting of my dog beside me.
We’re about to turn back for home when Zoe’s head pivots to one side and I see the focused interest in her eyes. I follow her gaze but it takes a minute for my eyes to catch up with her nose. Then I see it: the rigid form of a white-tailed deer frozen by the stream below us. I catch my breath and Zoe stands still beside me. We watch for a dazzling moment before the deer leaps into a prancing retreat, her snowy tail swishing behind her. I feel the momentary tension in the leash as Zoe watches the animal disappear. I look at her and she looks at me. Can you believe it? And then we turn back for home.