I’m a slave to the leash. Or at least a slave to the creatures on the other end of it. While I’m not presently fostering any dogs, my days still revolve around dogs – walking them.
Living with our three dogs in ‘downtown’ Woodstock, has changed my world (and theirs) dramatically. Now instead of opening the door to let the dogs out, I leash them up, generally one at a time but sometimes two at a time.
Every day we walk miles, wandering up and down the blocks, discovering historical homes, admiring gardens and porches, remembering to pick my feet up on the cobblestones walks, and contemplating some of the messages both written and implied.
I’ve learned to wrap the leash around my wrist and brace myself when we pass the wrought iron fence that guards the turn-of-the-century mansion next door. The neighbors inform me that it’s been vacant for over a decade now and is owned by a wealthy man in Maryland who dreams of restoring it one day and pays a crew to cut the grass and weed whack every Monday. It’s not the house that causes me to set my shoulders and feet, it’s the herd (cache? bunch? bandit?) of bunnies living in that quiet space. They freeze like tiny statues at the sight of us, tormenting my dogs who lunge fruitlessly at the fence EVERY. TIME. (even if it’s too hot for the bunnies to be out)
On the next corner there is a beautiful, long-haired cat that hides beneath a floppy bush on the edge of the public parking lot. Most mornings Otis pokes his long nose under to sniff him and is rewarded with a hiss and a swat.
Everyone in Virginia (or at least this town) waves and sometimes it feels more like a Ms. America runway than a sidewalk. We wave thanks to the cars that often stop despite their right-of-way, the people who call from their porches, and the hands waving out open windows (people also drive with their windows down a lot in Virginia around here.) We always say hello to the volunteer firefighters sitting in front of their gleaming engines beneath the mammoth garage doors on Court Street. Joy, who owns Traveler’s Treasures (a store that sells a collection of unique items she collects on her travels!), leaves a bowl of water outside her shop for passing (and visiting – her shop is dog-friendly) dogs to drink. As we pass the Café, there are often people sitting at the tables outside; many will wave us over to ooh and ahh over Otis who rewards them with licks.
We’ve learned to avoid the street where the hysterical Westies run up and down their fence issuing high-volume threats as we pass, as well as the old house that has three Great Pyrenees on the balcony who put their paws on the railing and woof.
The police station is on the regular route I take with Fanny (a quieter area than with Otis and Gracie who love to greet their new public). She always wants to squat and pee right out front, but I hustle her by, feeling it’s disrespectful to allow her to go there. I walk her along a street full of hulking relics, often stopping to soak up the history that whafts from their faded paint, leaning walls, and overgrowth.
When it’s Otis’ turn, we head for the busier places. He bounces up and down when we pass the children in the church day care playground and they wave and yell, ‘Doggie!’ When we encounter people on Main street, his hips start waggling a full block before we reach them. The other day, we passed a man in a parked car who was dangling his hand out the window. Before I could reign him in, Otis dove for the hand and gave it a thorough washing much to the surprise of his owner, who thankfully just laughed after he got over his shock.
Gracie, being my hound, takes a shorter, slower, sniffier route than the other two. She smiles at passing traffic and woofs at squirrels or dogs we pass, and then spends a great deal of time checking the canine news sprayed on trees and fire hydrants. For having spent 13 years gallivanting all over our Pennsylvania hillside, she has taken to town life quite well. Her leash manners far surpass her siblings.
I find that walking my dogs instead of simply letting them out, has allowed me to get to know not just my town, but my dogs even better. It’s tightened our bond. Otis is always happy and excited to be out, curious about what is around the next corner, expecting the best. He’s my (not so) little optimist. As he grows, though, we are having to employ a little extra help with managing his leash. While a head collar works great with him, he simply cannot tolerate it, so we’re now using a thunderleash and it gives us a bit more leverage when we encounter a new dog or a person who does not welcome his overtures.
I had worried most for Fanny with this transition, but instead of making her more anxious, she seems more confident, even taking a treat from the friendly guy who pushes his tiny dog around town in a stroller.
It’s probably too much information to share that I can now identify each dog’s individual poops when we let them out in our tiny backyard, having picked up dozens if not hundreds of them on our walks. (I try to finish most our walks with a little jaunt up main street where there are public trash cans to make my deposits – our house trash can is picked up weekly and a week’s worth of three dogs’ poop could overwhelm.)
There is a soundtrack to walking the dogs in Woodstock. If I walk south on the early walks, I will hear the local Military Academy play revelry, and if we stay up late enough, we’ll hear taps on our last walk. I try not to be anywhere near the volunteer fire company at noon, as they set off their whistle. Usually, I’m in the house when it goes off and Nick will inevitably say, “Lunch time!” when he hears it. The church bells ring on the hour and periodically (I’m sure there’s a schedule but I haven’t figured it out yet) they play familiar hymns. My favorite is Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee, which was the hymn at our wedding.
I love our new town, and while I am not presently doing a lot of writing (there’s too much ‘moving in’ still going on), it is already feeling like home.
Writing is how I have always found my way, so as I consider our fostering options (cats, anyone?), and sort out what life in Virginia will look like, I plan to write about it on my other blog, My Life in Paragraphs.
Nancy and I are about to take off on another shelter tour to VA, KY, TN, and AL in a few weeks and you can follow along on those adventures at Who Will Let the Dogs Out or on our Facebook or Instagram pages where we plan to put up a lot of video. Be on the look out for our Who Will Let the Dogs Out YouTube channel where we will tell the story of our entire shelter tour in the coming months! If you’d like to donate items for the shelters, visit our wishlist.
I hope your summer is going well. Please stay safe and keep in touch!
(when we take in another foster, I’ll be back to regular blogging here—promise!)
Until Each One Has a Home,
For information on me, my writing, and books, visit CaraWrites.com where you can also find more information on my book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, (Pegasus Books, July 2020) and my latest novel, Blind Turn (Black Rose Writing, Jan 2021)
If you’d like regular updates of all our foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.
And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit WhoWillLetTheDogsOut.org where you can follow the blog that shares stories, find the link to our podcast, and keep up with all that is happening with Amber’s Halfway Home, our short documentary film about rescue in the dog pounds of Tennessee.
Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.
If you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs. It’s available anywhere books are sold.
I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.