Walking Beside

A year ago today, we said goodbye to Maci and sat with her, stroking her sweet head, until her heart stopped.

Maci was the kind of dog who didn’t mind walking at just your pace on a leash. Before I ever knew her, she had won a showmanship ribbon at the county fair. She was little more than a year old then and retired from competition soon after, but she never seemed to forget the joy of having that skill.

Walking beside was a particular gift of Maci’s. She was a Chow mix and so as naturally aloof as a cat if you got mushy and wanted to snuggle her. But she loved to lay on your feet when you sat awhile. And if you let her off leash, she’d run ahead a ways then circle back to you, walking beside to check on you, then run ahead again before circling back.

In her final years, when I finally got to know her and care for her, she was mostly deaf, largely blind, indifferent about eating unless it was ice cream. Her back legs got weak and she could barely get herself upright if she was on a smooth floor.

Rest nowShe took all these losses in stride. When she slipped on the wood floor and couldn’t get herself up, she’d simply decide it was a great place for a nap. When she got outside in the dark and couldn’t see or hear, she would stand still, sniff-sniffing the air for all the clues — all the vast life and news of the neighborhood.

And when we would clip her leash onto her collar, her tail would always wag. Then out we’d go. For the first half block, her head up, she’d walk beside, briskly, at just our pace. Then gradually, she’d drop back. Stop to sniff. Pant a little.

We’d turn around then, head for home. We’d alter our pace, as she had finally trained us to do, letting her set the speed. Walking beside.


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