Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ode to Marshmallow

Dog-sitting is a tricky business. I purposely borrowed our good friends, The Gospers', dog, a sweet cocker spaniel named Marshmallow, to determine if in fact The Thompsons should take the plunge. A few days in, I'm still unclear on what to do, am beginning to think maybe dog-sharing is the best thing for now, but one thing is perfectly clear: I have a lot to learn about my own fears and need for control. Marshmallow gets a gold star for forcing me to face them!

It all crystalized on our morning walk yesterday, as Marshmallow took off running down the sidewalk, me trying in vain to keep up and not yank on her leash. Once in the park, I knew she wanted to run free, could according to the rules, but I kept her leashed.

As I passed another woman with her own little dog, off her leash, free, I explained guiltily, defensively, "She's not my dog, I'm afraid to let her off the leash..."

The woman smiled. "Well," she said, "this is my dog, and I'm afraid to her off the leash too." She shrugged. Clearly, she was beating back her demons for the sake of the dog. Good for her.

I commended her. "You're a braver woman than I," I said.

I followed Marshmallow's lead to the water, pulling her back and away from her potential new puppy friend diving in happily. I didn't want to have to deal with a wet dog, to deal with how she and the puppy might interact. I couldn't always control her. She seemed to have her own mind about other dogs, to sniff them and then, sometimes, antagonize. Could I trust her? It was hard to tell.

The other dogs swirled around freely, off leash. Finally, a man, crouched down in the field next to the pond, encouraged me. "Come on," he said, "it'll be fine."

It was all I needed. I felt bad for Marshmallow, knew what I was doing was wrong and, still, it was hard to give myself that extra push. This man's calm, confident voice did that for me.

I smiled, "Ok, Ok..." I said, crouching down myself to unhook the lead.

As we watched Marshmallow run free, tail wagging, tongue lolling happily to the side, I looked at the man.

"Thank you," I said. "I wanted not to be worried but..."

He waved me off. "I don't usually say anything..."

"You could tell I'd be receptive," I said. He nodded.

Soon, of course, Marshmallow was swimming and then out, rolling around in the dirt.

"Oh, yeah, now I remember why I didn't want her off the leash..." I said, laughing. I looked at the man, my new mentor. "Don't worry, I won't blame you."

Marshmallow played a while, nicely, getting the excercise she needed. Then, with a wave to our new friends, she and I set off onto the trails I usually travail alone. I could feel my heart sink deeper into my chest every time she would take off running, out of sight. But, then, I would call her, squeeze her little squeaky toy, and she was back, running full speed ahead straight for me. Every time, I would think to myself, 'A little trust goes a long, long way.'

It is a good lesson for dog-ownership surely, for parenting too, for life: you can't always control a situation. You have to let go, and believe.

Thanks Marshy Marsh, my new furry friend, and other brave owners of urban dogs, for helping me see how much work I have yet to do, how hard, still, always, I have to try!

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