It’s Saturday morning… and Saturday mornings suck now.
They used to be a special time for us. You would let me sleep in a little bit at least (until your cancer had us up at specific times for medicines), so it was less rushed than a workday. But when it was time, you would do your stretches, shake yourself awake, and head for the front door. I’d grab your collar – often having to go back to the bedroom and get it from where it was removed for your bedtime brushings and sleep, and snap it in place with a loud, reassuring click.
Grabbing your extendable leash, I snap that to the collar loop with another reassuring click. That seemed to be your cue to get feisty! Now it was time to bite things. The leash, my leg, my pants, my shirt, my hand, looking for a Frisbee. I grab your Frisbee and hold it out so you can snatch it with your teeth. Occasionally you would drop it and stuff your head in the bench storage to grab another Frisbee – there were several, all pink. Drop, pick another, drop, pick another, but you usually ended up with the same one in the end. OK, you’re ready!
I snatch a roll of poo bags and open the front door -charge! Your spirit was wonderful! Every walk seemed like your first and your last, you were always that excited. We’d head out like you owned the neighborhood. Head high. Quick steps. Frisbee firmly out front. A quick pee in the front yard and lookout sidewalk, here we come.
These chilly Fall mornings were the best for walking. You had an extra jump in your step, an excitement in the eyes, alert, looking for something, anything -hunting. Occasionally we would see one of the many rabbits around. They would always freeze, hoping you didn’t see. Sometimes you didn’t, and I’d nod to them as we passed. But usually it was “point” time and you would freeze, with the trademark golden retriever in you displaying. Straight back, body crouched down, tail straight out back, one foot forward, and slowly inching towards your prey. I in turn grip the handle of the retractable leash firmly, thumb hovering over the lock button, anticipating the lunge. “Sophie, be nice” I’d say. “Just leave him alone baby. Come on, let’s just go.” But the next actions largely depended on the rabbit. Sometimes they really would sit frozen, and if they were far enough from the sidewalk, I could often coax you to walk on by, with their eyes tracking us the whole way.
But more often than not, they would eventually dart away and you would lunge after them. My grip on the leash handle would be strained as I managed the feed of the line like hauling in a large fish on a reel. If I held too tight, you would strain and choke close to me. If I let you go too fast, I risked too sudden a stop at the end of its length injuring you or losing grip entirely. this had to be a gradual managed feed, slowly restricting more as you got further in the grass. This was a known safe and best-case scenario tactic, based on years of failed attempts. You remember how those ended.
Some rabbits were particularly annoying when their attempts to flee led them directly down the sidewalk where we headed. The hunt just kept repeating over and over, “ugh – come on man,” I’d plead. But eventually, we’d be on our way, and back to sniffing feverishly and looking for the next bit of excitement. (note to self – detail the squirrel version of our encounters!)
You liked a pretty standard routine. We’d head out the door the same direction each morning (south east) and most days, but especially on Saturdays, it was up to you which way we went from there. No rush, no agenda. The neighborhood was somewhat limiting, but you had options after the first block and as we’d get to the first intersection, you would let me know by just stopping and looking at me – Frisbee still firmly in your mouth, that we needed to change direction. “Which way we goin’?” I’d ask, “It’s up to you, this is your day”. You’d look the direction and start there with excitement as if it was a whole new discovery.
The walk continued on, varying from the quick pace that you normally went, pulling me just enough at the extended limit of the leash, or we’d be almost stopped as you investigated at length, new smells discovered deep in the grass. I was wary of those sniffs especially though, and would only allow a few seconds of what was apparently something very interesting. The more you dug your feet in anticipating this, the more determined I was to pull you away from whatever “it” was.
You had your favorite yards to take care of your business in. And without being too obvious, I would try to spare repeat yard bombings, by varying our pace or switching sides of the street – I think you noticed though, as I would get that look from time to time out of you. Towards the end of your life, these walks were shorter, and the yards fewer, and I came to call it poop-bingo, as we picked a winner each morning. Thinking back now, I feel bad that I don’t know where your last poo went, which yard. I knew it was your last day, and I was burning as much into memory as I could. I have a suspicion, but am not sure.
Other things changed about your walks towards the end as well. You started out with the Frisbee, but it was quickly dropped for me to carry. You used to hold it in your mouth even as you peed, dropping only to poo. But now breathing was a priority, and I carried the Frisbee for you most of the time. We still had to bring it, mind you. This retriever did not leave without something in your mouth, and a Frisbee was still better than letting you attack the leash the whole way.
All roads eventually led home though, and you knew where that was. As we came in the door, you dropped the Frisbee, waited patiently to be de-leashed, I got my big Sophie-hugs and you went to rest on the tile, “Good girl, good walk”. It was a great start to the weekend, and we would spend most of them together.
I miss my Saturdays so much. I miss my Sophie so much.