the dog who has to be in front

When Kristina was homeschooled, she loved the idea of a school bus. It was, I think, the one thing she missed about attending regular school.

Later, when we moved and she attended a magnet program at a district middle school, she finally had the opportunity. Daily. Some of the shine wore off, but it was mostly a good experience for her to have.

I walked with Kristina to the bus stop. The walk was two thirds of a mile, uphill, and – for much of the year – made in the dark, for a 7:10 pick-up.

It was a good way to get me and the dog moving and it was (mostly) good company for Kristina and a chance for us to chat. (Especially in middle school, these opportunities – along with car rides – are good for having substantive conversations that feel less awkward than face-to-face.)

Because we made this journey at the same time every day, we got to know the other regulars, folks getting in a morning run or walking their dogs, and the school bus driver who waved as he passed us.

We remember one dog in particular.

At the end of our little road, we cross the main road to the walking path that is part of the lake-to-lake trail system. Once we turned onto the trail, we were announced. From as much as a half mile back, we’d hear the yelping start. Soon, we’d also hear the thwack of sneakers hitting the ground too hard.

The barking dog was an Australian shepherd/collie mix, and she doesn’t like to be behind other dogs. From the moment she catches a scent (or sound) of another dog, she barks and pulls like a beast possessed until she and her owner are just past the offending animal.

Then she settles back into a comfortable trot.

Her panting human explained all of this to us one morning after a week of the daily ritual.

We came to listen for it, and to notice if they didn’t run on a particular morning. Kaylah is gone now but I still see this dog when I go for walks on the trail. Without my own dog along, the shepherd doesn’t give me a second glance.

Ed has been walking this summer as well, enjoying the three-mile stroll around our long block. He used to say I walked too fast, but between my recent illness and surgeries, and his extra activity, we are more evenly matched in pace.

We went on a walk together this past weekend, and I was afraid I couldn’t keep up. I wasn’t maintaining an even pace at all. I’d walk, get winded and lag behind, then speed up a bit to catch up – lather, rinse, repeat.

To me, it looked like Ed was steady throughout.

Until he started laughing. He said I kept getting ahead of him, then he’d speed up to keep up with me, then I’d get in front again until we were walking at a pace that wasn’t comfortable for either of us. He’d heard the story of the barking shepherd many times and he saw a parallel. I sputtered and blushed and protested, but he remained convinced.

Apparently, I am the dog who likes to be in front. Either that, or Ed’s messing with me.

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