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Dog walking is a joy for both animals and humans

By on December 28, 2020 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments
Alice Farrell gets to know Rocky, a “blue” handsome white husky. Photo by Jenni Ulrich

by Marlene Farrell

My daughter, Alice, loves dogs. 

Most of her friends have dogs, Chihuahuas, pointers, labs, mutts. Alice pines over Komondorok, the big white mop dogs, and the regal Dobermans. She tucks away most of her allowance in a dog fund that she plans to use in a decade. 

Since COVID, Alice’s caretaking skills have vastly improved. She can’t take her lizard, Puff, for a walk, but she nurtures Puff, who attends Zoom classes with Alice and cuddles on her lap or nearby on a heated rice pillow.

Given her still very real longing for canine time (and that ownership is not viable for our family), we emailed the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society (WVHS), asking about volunteer opportunities. Immediately, volunteer coordinator Jenni Ulrich responded, and our journey began.

I wasn’t sure if this would be about dropping Alice off while I ran errands, but discovered, because Alice is 13 (almost 14), she needs an adult to accompany her. 

So now it’s our shared experience, and I’m struck with the joy it brings both of us.

Remembering our nametags, we drive over a half hour from Leavenworth to the WVHS facility, which is impressive in its functionality, cleanliness and comfort for the animals. Checking in includes grabbing two fanny packs so each of us has a supply of treats and plastic bags.

Alice and I always like to say hello to all the pups before we begin our official duty, “green” dog walking. Green refers to the smallest and/or calmest dogs, which are easy for new volunteers to handle. 

(We’ve just been trained and will soon walk “blue” dogs. Blue dogs, with their larger size and increased need for training, require us to be even more vigilant about behavior corrections and avoid over-excited encounters with other dogs that are out at the same time.) 

We’ve been told that if a dog is calm as you approach its kennel, you can give it a treat, reinforcing good behavior with a friendly “yes.” 

Some jump excitedly as we approach. We wait for the energy to subside so they can earn their treat. This sets the tone for the whole time we’re there. We’re in no hurry as we connect with the dogs, some of whom are overcoming traumatic experiences.

Alice and I take turns in all our duties — retrieving a dog from its kennel, helping it learn good behavior at doors and gates, holding the leash, running laps with it in a play yard. 

The dogs are so needy and so pleased with our undivided attention for 20 or 30 minutes. We stuff those minutes with walking, pats, learning, playing and treats, and hope the dogs feel an underlying sense of calm, acceptance, safety and affection.

What I didn’t expect:

Alice falls in love with each of them, but, for a few, she falls hard. Like a timid dachshund with emphatically tucked tail that needed to be carried outside like a baby. Or the fluffy happy-go-lucky one that was chill on a leash but sprinted and leapt with contagious delight when let off-leash in the play yard.

Also, when I participate with her in these duties, I must try to follow the rules as earnestly as she does. She is serious about this responsibility. We’re equals in terms of our volunteer status, and we learn together. 

My only dog-owning experience was Cooper, who came into my life when I married my husband. I now realize that Cooper, a 120 pound Alaskan malamute, was “unique” in his vocalizing, his separation anxiety and the strength of which he was oblivious.

I never spent much time thinking about obedience nor paid much attention to the wide range of canine personalities. 

The personality and preferences of a dog in a kennel is a mystery until we take it out. Some of the dogs do not know their names, or us, for that matter, and are driven by instinct or tempting smells. 

The easy dogs look us in the eye, keeping tabs on us, their temporary friend and boss. Some are shy and will look anywhere but at us. We have to wonder what made them so skittish. 

There’s only so many walking trails behind the WVHS buildings. After a few volunteer sessions, we can do the loops on autopilot. Neither of us mind. We see the open space anew with each dog as we understand both its search for joy and its plea for love. 

I’m so glad I’m not running errands. When we enter this place, Alice and I are buddies with no strings attached, and no haste. We’re both committed to this chance to give and receive. 

I watch as my daughter bends to pat a dog on its head, and Alice’s long hair shines in the sun. 

Then she resumes walking, and there’s a bounce in her step. Her laugh is carefree, and we talk about this and that, just random conversations. 

I try to keep it to myself and not be the embarrassing mom — that these times are precious.

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