My dog Ruby and I put in a few miles every day. Keeping a Beagle, essentially a running dog, happy in a condominium is an exercise in, well, exercise.
Each day we walk out about three times, in addition to numerous potty breaks. This keeps Ruby sane and the benefits for me have been a weight loss, increased cardiovascular fitness, and a greater knowledge of the area I live in. Plus, walking a cute little doggie helps you met people.
I’ve been searching for places Ruby can run around off-leash. Short on habitable land, this island is not a particularly dog-friendly place. I’ve fretted and grieved over this for a long time. My heart breaks remembering her white-tipped tail swinging back and forth to the beat of her heart as she trundled happily through the fields at home in Virginia, in search of bunnies and other game, which she never seemed to catch (OK with me) but still sought with vigor and glee.
There’s plenty of “game” for Ruby here in Hawaii, too. The mongoose is a tantalizing target, along with the sneaky and ubiquitous feral cats. But Beagles are noses with dogs attached. There’s no telling what will happen when freed from the bonds of a leash. As sad as it has made me to keep her leashed (and to be fair, she doesn’t seem to mind), I really really want to let her loose.
Lately we’ve been joining the ranks of the golf course scofflaws and walking there after hours. At five o’clock, we set out on the makai (or sea-ward) section of the course and walk it until we get to the sea just in time for the sunset. This involves split second and cooperative timing with the maintenance guy who rides around in a cart turning the sprinklers on and off. I’d heard horror stories about what happens if you get caught with a dog on the golf course. I planned to plead innocence and haole (derogatory term for white person from the mainland) stupidity, proffering my poop bags and sporting my un-tan as a defense. Turns out it wasn’t necessary, because they guy likes Ruby. He always waves and winks, which I take as tacit permission to be there. I pray for his good health, because I never want to meet his fill-in.
I finally worked up the courage to let Ruby off the leash on the golf course, and it made my heart sing to watch her gallop across the grass, stopping short to sniff any promising olfactory features. Beagles are not known for obedience. Their ears stop working when their noses are engaged, so I was pretty impressed that she came to me when I called her. This elderly lady of the mountains does not have to learn new tricks, but she is willing and cooperative. Dogs amaze me.
After watching the sunset with some appreciative tourists who welcomed the licks and drool (they missed their dogs at home), we went home, Ruby pleasantly exhausted and filled with a new sense of freedom, me vibrating with triumph and the sense that I’d found a way to make her happy in a world I’d worried would not be kind to her.
The next day, it got even better. We walked to the place I call Disneyland because for Ruby, it is loaded with underbrush, briars, two inch long thorns and every small, furry animal species on the island. It’s heaven for a nose and bundle of hunting instinct. We had always gone to Disneyland on the leash because I was afraid of losing her. All the underbrush grows on piles of lava rock, and the holes and small caves are hidden from view. Until you step into one. The mutual exclusivity of hearing and sniffing virtually guarantees a refusal to come when called. I didn’t want to have to chase her down and break an ankle. But I want Ruby to be happy. Sometimes happiness involves risk, doesn’t it?
Swelling with the triumph of yesterday’s off-leash run, I removed Ruby’s leash and said, “go on!” And she did. I heard her sing in a way I haven’t heard in almost a year. The voice of a hound who has “found” produces goosebumps, or “chicken skin” as they say here in Hawaii. Soon she found a little lava tunnel covered in old grass and briars which held some secret, promising quarry. What happened next was both beautiful and amusing.
Short “finding” yelps accompanied frenzied bouts of digging (no need to clip this dog’s nails!). Gradually I watched Ruby disappear into the tunnel until only the happy tip of her tail metronomed out of the entry. Incredibly, cantaloupe-sized rocks hurled out of the hole. I can’t imagine how she did this. Occasionally Ruby would back out for a gulp of air, bark, and scoot back in. Then she took to backing out and approaching the tunnel from what she though was the rear entrance. It was a fascinating lesson in Beagle hunting.
I stood and watched her for over an hour. In the blistering afternoon sun. It had recently rained, so the black flies were out. Eugh. As it always does, attention wandered. I watched a group of Lavender Waxbills among the blossoms of the enormous Schefflera tree that provided the only shade–an area I could not safely get to. I began to get impatient. I was too hot. The little bag of poop I was holding was a fly magnet. My back hurt. I had a lot of work to do. Ruby was taking too long to have her fun.
Then that little voice in my head said,
It’s Ruby’s turn to make you wait!
And that started me thinking about the human-domestic animal relationship, and how often and how long we ask them to accommodate our schedules, our desires, our convenience.
Ruby waits for me all day long. In fact, every hour we are not walking, she is waiting. Waiting to walk, waiting to eat, dependent upon me for the execution of any and everything that would ordinarily fall under the umbrella of her canine free will. Domestication. It’s a b*tch.
Horses are different. At least if they have adequate turnout. It seems all they want to do is graze. Loll about in the weather, whatever it may be. But there are times when I get the distinct impression that they are waiting. And that feels wrong.