Like most parents, my wife and I were subject to our kids’ periodic insinuations that getting a dog would be just the greatest thing, wouldn’t it? I always gave the same answer. A dog needs a lot of care and, whatever they may think now, they would tire of providing it. I had evidence for this. Once, we took in a friend’s one-eyed mutt — Wink by name — as vacation sitters, and the waning of our girls’ enthusiasm for the duties of Wink’s care proved swift and undeniable. No, I said, if we ever got a dog someone at home would have to be in a position to put it at the center of their lives. That, surely, settled the matter until parental retirement.
As a hiker and volunteer trail maintainer, there has been another thread to my expressed views on dogs — a certain annoyance with their behavior on trails. I know it’s down to the owners, and good owners, like good drivers, are the unnoticed majority. But, to give just two examples, I have never seen the charm in a Hound of the Baskervilles bounding unleashed toward me as its owner soothes that he is as friendly as heck. And — example two — I am baffled by the colorful little packets of bagged up doggie poop that line our suburban trails.
But hold on! Before anyone thinks that they are reading the bitter words of a dog-curmudgeon, let me say that I learned early in life that a dog is a wonderful companion. At the age of 11, without any insinuating on my part that I recall, I was given a newly weaned pup and told she was my responsibility. I certainly tired of the duties of Jetta’s care at times, especially the dark, cold walks before school. But for all the pee-outings, mess-mopping, and coat-grooming, what I really remember about Jetta is that she became my companion on long country walks, and seemed so often, in that gloom special to teenagers, to be the only living thing who really wanted to know me.
My girls, now adults, seem to have survived their pooch-less upbringing — or that, anyway, is what I tell myself. But the wish to have a dog clearly did not vanish because, six months ago, my eldest and her partner returned to their home with a young mutt they named Munro (a fine, Scottish name, by the way). Munro and I got a little acquainted over the late summer and fall. I thought him a handsome, friendly chap, if just a little hyper. When my daughter began to discuss a New Year trip without Munro, I have to admit that it was with a little trepidation that I volunteered a weekend of dog-sitting.
Of course, it would not be sitting; it would be hiking!
I arrived in Hartford on Friday afternoon, and eased gently into Munro-walking with a spin around Elizabeth Park. Well, maybe not so gently. Munro is something of an escape-artist, fond of shaking off his leash to pursue his own adventures. I was determined this would not happen on my watch, and so Munro tugged vigorously on my arm whenever the park offered a sight, smell, or fellow canine that demanded investigation.
On Saturday, it rained all day long. But hanging out indoors was not an option — not for a bouncy pup, not for a fidgety man. I put Munro in my car and we drove to Hartford Reservoir Number 6, arriving about 9 a.m. Munro wore a bright orange vest to make him easier to see in case of escape. I walked the mile and a half to the north end of the reservoir; Munro, even on the end of his leash, must have covered a far greater distance. Even so, if we returned to the car now, he would not be nearly tired enough. So I took us up to Heublein Tower by the long route. The trails were rough and wet, the climb arduous, the return leg enervating.
Now, Munro paid me scant attention as we hiked, unless it looked as if I was rummaging in my pack for food. He was fully absorbed by the outdoors in a way, I think, we humans cannot be. It was only when we returned home that I felt again — after a lapse of 40 years — that special well-being that comes from the company of a dog. Munro headed straight for the couch. When I went to the kitchen to boil the kettle, his eyes followed me as if to say, “You’re not going away, are you?” And when I joined him on the couch with my tea, he put his head on my thigh and dozed. It’s nice to be wanted.
On Sunday, in better weather, Munro and I went out again. In the morning, we took the Metacomet Trail to pretty little Lake Louise and then on to The Pinnacle. In the afternoon, it was the same trail to the big views from Rattlesnake Cliffs. After each hike, we returned to the couch to rest in quiet, undemanding companionship. I am not sure I will ever again have my own dog, but getting to look after Munro from time to time would be just the greatest thing, wouldn’t it?
Contact Rob McWilliams at “McWilliams Takes a Hike.” blog and Facebook. He’d love to hear from you.