Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Walking with Friends

Tybee holds the end of his leash while on a walk.
Lately, I've been walking with James Herriot.

I'm following a course through the old streets of this small Colorado town, my iPhone weighing in my pocket, my earbuds plugged in, as the voice of narrator Christopher Timothy brings the life of a Yorkshire vet into clear focus in my mind. I'm listening to the audiobook version of All Things Bright and Beautiful, and as I pass familiar houses, fence-lined yards, and early 20th century homes at the foothills of the Rockies, I'm seeing gray stone walls threading through green fields, Yorkshire farmers and their animals, and James Herriot's cast of affable characters.

Today, my 2-year-old Weimaraner, Tybee, walks along with me as I listen to the story of Herriot walking with his own dog. I understand the comfortable companionship the country vet feels with a dog at his side.

Herriot's real name was James Alfred (Alf) Wight, born in 1916. I was probably in junior high when I first picked up All Creatures Great and Small and entered the warmly painted world he recorded. He would have been a practicing vet at the time, halfway around the world, but near enough in imagination for me to feel the cobblestones beneath my feet and the warmth of equine muscle beneath my fingertips. I could see the expressions of animals and owners he described, and it was as if I rode along on his farm calls through the dales.

As an adult, I've re-read the series, and watched the BBC shows on DVD. And I've discovered the audiobook versions. You would think I'd get tired of the stories, since I've heard them before. But they are like those much loved family tales that re-surface around the Christmas dinner table and still make everyone laugh. I know how they'll end, but it's in the telling of them that I am captured and transported. I remember the budgies and the beagles and the shorthorn bulls; Tristan and Siegfried, and many of the clients he works with.

I walk with Tybee, and the air is cold, snow flitting from gray skies. Tybee was found somewhere in Kansas by animal control when he was about 5 months old. He was severely underweight, sick with canine influenza, and fleeing a cat with great sorrowful yelps. He gratefully jumped into the officer's van, then, through two foster homes and Mile High Weimaraner Rescue, found his way to us.

I would not say we have always walked in the most companionable way. He has tripped me more than once while walking or running. He's busy looking around, pondering the scenery, and he steps in front of me with uncanny timing, sending me sprawling across the asphalt, then looking at me as if he's wondering what I'm doing on the ground. A new game? An opportunity for play?

I've learned more body awareness when walking with Tybee. With Kipper, our Dalmatian, there are no worries. He's arrow straight in his gait and attitude. Tybee, on the other hand, wiggles and waggles his way along the road. He once ran into a parked car because he was so busy gawking at a stone lion in someone's yard.

We have ironed things out pretty well after a year of walks, and while he still gapes and meanders, I have grown accustomed to his ways, and he seems to stay out of my path more than he used to. It might be simpler to walk without him, but walks and runs would seem so one dimensional without a dog.

After our two Goldens became too old to accompany me, I felt a bit lost without them. It was lonely along the roads and sidewalks, and I missed their pure pleasure in the outing.

My dogs help keep me moving. If they don't get out, they get loony. If I don't get out I get cranky. When I get the leashes out to take Tybee or Kipper, Tybee bounces up and down and is completely unable to contain his enthusiasm. He'll try very hard to sit, then explodes into wildly goofy bounces before attempting to contain himself and sit. Which again lasts for about two seconds.

When we at last walk out the door and through our gate, there is a happy bounce to his walk. He watches cats, squirrels, and other dogs, notices people and strange statues in yards. The first time he saw a snowman, he shrunk away, backed up, and barked and growled at it. It is impossible to be in bad humor while walking with Tybee.

As we walked yesterday, I listened to James Herriot's description of walking with his dogs:

"This was the real Yorkshire with the clean limestone wall riding the hill's edge and the path cutting brilliant green through the crowding heather. And, walking face on to the scented breeze, I felt the old tingle of wonder at being alone on the wide moorland where nothing stirred and the spreading miles of purple blossom and green turf reached away until it met the hazy blue of the sky.

"But I wasn't really alone. There was Sam, and he made all the difference... He was to be my faithful companion, my car dog, my friend who sat by my side through the lonely hours of driving. He was the first of a series of cherished dogs whose comradeship have warmed and lightened my working life."

At that moment, I looked down at Tybee, who was clipping along in his characteristic long, disorganized, floppy strides, tongue lolling, ears up, expression open and happy. This dog that went unwanted early in life, hadn't had an easy beginning. He bears a nasty scar on one ear, and we have no idea how long he wandered the streets. Now he walks familiar streets with me, and has a soft bed and warm house. He has enriched and lightened my walks and runs, and I am glad for it. 


  1. i love me some Herriot, seems like i have a book or two somewhere amongst my menagarie, and oh how I would love to get the series of shows on DVD, many years ago, before VCRs and such I would be up and getting ready for work and it would be on Tv seems like around 4 or 5 in the morning, me , the early bird i am would hurry to be ready for work so i could watch. thanx for the memories and and the dog walks oh my. I think back to some of my first Labradors, now its a wiley full of life yellowlab/rhodesian ridgeback mix i call MilaMonster for short.
    thanx again, Im really enjoying your blog. while mine simmers,

  2. We had a chocolate lab for 13 years -- that was quite a dog :-) MilaMonster sounds like a handful!

  3. I enjoyed your story about walking with Tybee. I too have a weim (from Mile High rescue) with the same name as James Herriot's devoted companion SAM. I capitalize his name on purpose as he is quite the character sounding a bit like your Tybee. I agree walks are not the same without out our dogs!