I have cultivated the habit of visiting a local park first thing in the morning, to give Miss Pup some essential start-of-the-day exercise.
For several months, shortly after we welcomed her into our family, we despaired at her persistent reluctance to leave the safety of our garden or back driveway; her enthusiasm has improved tenfold, but walking can still present a challenge on occasion.
She demonstrates her innate wariness through high-alert surveillance as we tramp the streets: ears twitching at the slightest sound, head whipping from side to side, eyes wide and watchful, tail at a sombre height.
Her increasing bulk and strength oblige me to stick with level-ground outings – which restricts the range of the journey rather severely in this town of seven hills. Walking uphill isn’t an issue – in fact, it’s quite lovely; I just hold tight to the lead that is tethered to Miss Pup’s chest harness and let her forge ahead.
Descending hills, though, is another matter entirely: the puppy’s relentless, powerful stride – barely checked by my desperate clinging to the lead, which is extended to an impressive tension – renders the battle between restraining her and either running involuntarily or falling over utterly exhausting (though I suspect its comedic currency may be priceless for anyone who catches sight of us).
When the park proves problematic on rainy school-day mornings, I am devoid of choice; thus, it’s always with profound relief that I wake to clear skies and dry pavements, the prospect of canine joy when Miss Pup suspects we are heading out enough to propel me from my cosy bed into a new dawn.
Lately, she has effected a morning ritual all her own; she seems to sense when my husband – whose working day begins long before mine – is preparing to leave the house, and trots downstairs before he exits, usually disturbing me as she departs.
Once Nature’s call has been answered, she returns to the bedroom, approaching my side of the bed to check my wakefulness. Eyes resolutely shut, I feign sleep for a few minutes more, awaiting the alarm’s siren call, whilst she flops herself down on the bed, emitting deep and doleful sighs.
As soon as I stir, she launches into a frenzy of kicking and rolling, demanding my attention before I rise. Her excitement mounts when she catches sight of me donning wellies – always a promising sign.
I dress hurriedly, her enthusiasm growing, and as we cross the kitchen and I reach for the leash she becomes virtually demonic with ecstasy; emitting piteous whimpers, tail thrashing maniacally, her slender, flailing frame is barely able to contain the enormity of her happiness.
Thankfully (for both of us), the park is a mere two-minute walk from the house and once we are safely inside its barricades, I can set her free. Her instinctive trepidation regarding the wider world means that liberating her is always tinged with an element of concern – should another dog enter the vicinity, she may become anxious and distressed; but when the grass stretches out so invitingly and there is no other soul in sight, watching her run at full tilt across the field, tail helicoptering and tongue lolling, brings me a surfeit of joy.
She thunders around the park like a streak of black lightning, chasing birds, searching for sticks, and sniffing all the strange and wonderful outdoor scents. She keeps a weather eye on me at all times as I amble aimlessly around the perimeter, trotting to my side periodically to make sure all is well, and gazing at the gates from time to time to detect any alien manifestation.
If another dog and owner enter, she will stray closer to me, though each party tends to maintain a respectful distance. During one recent excursion, two small dogs announced their noisy arrival inside the gate, and one immediately approached Miss Pup, yapping frantically.
Terrified, despite being approximately six times its size, my puppy tucked her tail between her legs and flung herself across the green at top speed. There followed a frenzied game of chase (in which I suspect Miss Pup wasn’t a willing participant) that was briefly bisected by a brave episode of mutual sniffing before being resumed at high velocity once again.
No lasting damage was done; in any case, I long for our puppy to foster affable relationships with other dogs, who, in contravention of Miss Pup’s territorial pretensions, clearly have an equal right to be in public places, and who usually just want to socialise.
I dream of arranging canine play dates and civilised coffees with friends; until that happy moment arrives, I will gladly put up with our early morning parklife. There are far worse ways to start the day.
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