A few years back some newlyweds moved in down the street. You know the type. They were the kind of couple that frustrates unloved people because they are so doting, so nose-to-nose, as they bob in a bubbly beaming kind of love.
They got themselves the cutest little puppy. He wasn’t too sure-footed, but he made up for a lack of direction in enthusiasm. Their morning walks past my house looked like their conversations sounded, zipping from over here to over there for no apparent reason, but every minute of travel was full of life as he tangled the two together with his leash. I saw this little tableau play out every single morning at 6:00am.
After they had lived there a couple of years, their walk had switched to match the dog’s. Now it was a bit after 6:00am when they went by, although that worked because they could move faster thanks to the dog walking in a straight line while they just held hands and talked. Sometimes you could tell one had an early morning or a late night, because one or the other of them would go by alone with the dog, which worked, because by then the dog was less trouble in that he was much more predictable by then.
Within a couple years after that people saw them together far less often. Their appearances grew less youthful and more professional. They walked and talked more professionally too, even to each other. By now they were almost ignoring the dog the walk was so predictable.
By about seven years in, he’s usually walking the dog alone, and if it’s not him alone it’s her. Whoever it is is now on the phone more than they pay attention to the dog. As we age we get jobs that demand more, our days start often earlier. Even the dog was starting to walk more slowly by then.
Over the next few years you saw them together and apart, but even when they were together it definitely seemed like the warmth had worn off. They’d go by, bundled up in winter clothes, never holding hands, often on their phones in separate virtual locations. I’d see the dog run around in the field chasing the ball, but no one was watching it, and they only looked for the ball after the dog was waiting for another throw, no more pride in him just finding it all.
I found it a bit sad to watch, because it had always been a good and loyal dog. But now he was slowing down and his running days were numbered and he seemed more anxious than ever to access his inner puppy. Mostly his excitement just frustrated them as they worked to calm him down.
Eventually the owner was waiting for the dog as it limped along. It just sat in the field now and watched the other dogs run, wishing it still could too. And so it would sit there, alone in the cold, while whoever was walking him checked their work messages before dragging him back to the house.
Of course eventually the dog died, as did the relationship. In fact, the track of their walks is very similar to the journey most relationships take, from focus and appreciation to assumption and demands. With each slightly colder step, we remove the heat from the relationship and we create unnecessary distance between us and others. This only happens due a lack of consciousness that it is happening.
The dog died with puppy still in his heart. But that pup could not play without someone to play with. So too went the relationship. The puppy; the loving, caring, bumbling, mistake-ridden, totally forgiven for crapping on the carpet puppy, was always present. All he needed was two partners who were prepared to stay connected and to notice he was there, as playful as ever. If we can all learn to do that one thing, we can all learn to keep our dogs for as long as we live.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.