The Contract With a Dog
That was then. This is now. Our morning walks.
It’s not to be taken lightly — it’s for life.
I have a dog.
A rescue dog.
An allergy riddled, hyper, sweet, kind, and funny pitbull rescue I named Rufus.
Part of the contract of pet ownership is the ritual of walking. I have no choice but to get up and walk him first thing in the morning.
You see, Rufus is a morning dog. He greets the day with a smile.
I, on the other hand … not so much.
When I first adopted him, I was living in one of the most densely populated cities, New York City, specifically Brooklyn. Even more specifically, the ever gentrifying Williamsburg. This meant our morning sojourns would pose certain problems. While not aggressive, he was and still is, rather anxious. So we would avoid people and other dogs.
The “mean streets” of Williamsburg made Rufus a little nervous. Oh, that’s not entirely true, there were simply too many things to smell and mark. There still are … and always will be. That’s the life of a dog.
My day would begin at 6 a.m. with either a weird stare or nose bash from Rufus. I’m convinced the dog had an internal alarm clock because without fail, the same time every morning, he was up and ready to go moments before the alarm. Being a dog and all, he was, still is, pretty much immune to reason. I tried.
“Buddy, come on. A few more minutes. Please?”
Blank stare. Lick.
“Dude, it’s not even 6 yet.”
Shake. Yawn. Stretch.
“I hate this, you know that, right?”
Blank stare. Lick.
Trying to reason with a dog is what I imagine trying to explain the genius of Steely Dan to a child is like.
Back then we would bundle up and take the elevator down the eight flights and begin his odyssey … and my trek. At 6 a.m. the neighborhood would be still. There was no construction. There were no cars. There were no baby carriages. It was just me and Rufus plodding around sniffing and peeing on things. Rufus did most of the sniffing and almost all of the peeing.
We’d walk around and take note of buildings in various states of construction. We’d look at the few remaining vacant lots and try not to imagine the monstrosity that would soon fill it. I’d try to explain to Rufus that the buildings going up were supposed to be a good thing. They created jobs, stimulated the local economy and that they would have some affordable housing (but not nearly enough … and that in NYC and Brooklyn “affordable” was still pretty unaffordable). I’m pretty sure I did this mostly for me because he would just keep walking, sniffing and peeing.
The silence of Williamsburg that early was good for him, and me. Despite the rampant gentrification, it was at that hour there was still a small sense of community.
It was the same garbage people whipping around the ‘hood who would honk at us and wave.
It was the same two guys standing outside the Kosher sausage place smoking who would nod as we walk by.
It was the same guy cleaning the bar mats at the beer hall.
It was the same different guy cleaning the bar mats at the country and western bar who would stop to let us pass and give the three-finger wave from the nozzle.
It was Rufo, the guy at the bodega, who would yell out “Ay, RUFO!” as we walked by.
It was only time I felt I could call Williamsburg an actual neighborhood.
Occasionally, we would run across some other poor sap who also had either a morning dog or morning job. Sometimes Rufus would make eyes at them as if to say “Okay, we are of the same pack. Go in peace friend.”
As the sun would either begin to break through or it would start getting lighter (depending on the season) we would start heading home. Me for my coffee and Rufus for “breefus” (breakfast). By this point, he’d finished all his dog business and I’d had enough time to shake the cobwebs out of my skull.
That was then.
This is now.
My day begins now as it did then, at around 6 a.m. Only now it’s me who provides the weird stare or nudge. “Time to make the donuts buddy,” I say religiously and Rufus will stretch and roll over and begin wagging his tail. Still smiling.
Rufus is a few years older now and perhaps a little less of a morning dog. Oddly, I’ve become marginally more of a morning person. Which is not to say I like the mornings, I’m just awake.
We’ve left Brooklyn for New Haven, Connecticut. Even compared to the early morning sojourns around Williamsburg, our walks around our neighborhood here are rather uneventful.
It being so early in the morning, we rarely encounter anyone. Coastal Connecticut is much different than Brooklyn. The neighborhood is mostly Yale postgraduate students or young families and no one is typically up at 6 a.m.
Rufus can walk around and sniff and pee with reckless abandon.
And he does.
On the odd days when we do encounter someone walking in the morning, they will almost always comment on how good looking Rufus is. Followed by my “Thank you” as if I had anything to do with it. They’re usually smart enough to ask if they can pet him before they do (NOTE: everyone should do always do this, regardless of the breed or size of dog).
We’ve lived here now for almost four years so we’re familiar with most of the neighborhood dogs and cats. We know enough to cross the street when we see other dogs and he must be familiar with their scent by now because he couldn’t care less about them.
A couple of years ago, there was a rash of people walking their dogs without leashes. But that seems to have stopped. I’m guessing those folks moved out of the neighborhood or just got wise.
Over the four years, there has been almost no gentrification but that appears to be changing. And we’ve gotten to know some of our neighbors but only by sight . . . and by their pet.
There’s Pepper, the black cat around the corner who is Rufus’ nemesis (not really, but she HATES him).
There is the kind lady with the Corgi named Trevor.
There is the older guy (kind of a dick) with two well-trained labs who, for some reason, has a bee colony and a Bernie poster (wildly incongruous man).
The ex-hippie banjo playing guy (I’d guess Yale Prof) with the aggro-tiny dog.
I know none of these people by name and we only know enough to say “Hi” or give a polite wave.
There’s little to explain to Rufus up here in New Haven. I’m not entirely sure if that has calmed Rufus down or if it’s simply his aging.
As we head back home after our walk and he’s done all of his business, he’ll stop and look around, I’m guessing to assess the situation one last time. When he’s ready he’ll pull me along and we’ll take the last few steps to get home.
Me for my coffee, Rufus for his “breefus.”
These are our mornings now.
I’ll cherish them as long as I have them.
That’s the contract we make.