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Tales from the old-timer

The Dog Walk

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

daughter of the Old-Timer



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My husband and I have two dogs. One is a big, athletic mutt we took in after she’d been running in our neighborhood for about a week. We knew one of the ranchers would shoot her, so I took her in, thinking we’d be able to find her a good home. Unfortunately it soon became clear she was pretty broken, and that I couldn’t in good conscience foist her off on anyone else, so she has stayed with us.

The other is our American Staffordshire Zoey. Zoey came to Tulsa in a load of hard to place foster dogs after Hurricane Katrina. Am Staffies are one of the breeds collectively called pit bulls, and she’s got a personality as big as the sky. Now an old lady of 11, she is doted on, and has traveled with us all over the U.S. camping. Our cat Halder is deeply devoted to Zoey, and sleeps curled up under Zoey’s huge head.

It’s cruel to leave dogs chained up, or to let them run to become a nuisance to others, or killed on the road. So we walk the dogs twice a day, besides letting them play in our fenced-in back yard. A dog’s brain and body are hard-wired to be active - the need to forage for food and water is part of their heritage. Dogs love to walk, and it makes them better behaved and happier. So unless it is actively lightning, out we go in the heat, cold, wind or rain.

While the dogs are exploring the wind and ground with their acute noses, I am able to relax, listen to the birds, and breathe deeply the fresh air. I have several games - one is to look at all the human discards along the roadway. Beer bottles by the thousands speak to the reality behind Oklahoma’s highly restrictive laws around alcohol, a legacy of the Bible belt values. There’s the disappointing piles of fast food trash. While the paper will eventually degrade, the plastic straws and soda cup lids will remain for a decade. Cigarette butts by the thousands as well, including places where someone stopped a vehicle and dumped their ash trays. Disgusting, and a cause of fires here during the drought seasons. And the weird things - full prescription bottles with the names torn off (like most states, we have a distressing prescription pain medication problem here), hundreds of pennies strewed along the shoulder for many yards; unopened mail, clothing.

A more uplifting game is to count the number of bird species I see, or the number of different wildflowers. My record is 16 different kinds of flowers in a single mile. My favorite is the neon-colored Indian Blankets, an Oklahoma wildflower more beautiful than any cultivar I’ve ever seen.

The truth is, much like my canine friends, we humans are also hard-wired to need to walk. Our ancestors also needed to forge for food and water, and we also benefit from the physical and mental exercise a walk provides. This instinctive drive to forage is what makes people love hunting, berry-picking and gathering wild mushrooms.

Some people view our relationship with companion animals as mainly benefiting the animals. But early humans forged a bond with dogs as a two-way relationship, and walking them turns out to be highly beneficial to me. I need and benefit from the walk just as much as they do. Someday I will be too old to put on the miles these big girls need, and we’ll downsize to small dogs who only need to go around the block to be tired, like I will be.


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