Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Three: "Puppy Troubles" Part 4

For background on this serial, please click here. You can also start at the previous section

As it pertained to a command, the whole concept of "walkies" came from English dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse. For those not familiar with her, Ms. Woodhouse was an elderly dog trainer who was featured on PBS a number of times. She had a number of catch-phrase commands, and among these was the sing-song "walk-ies!" delivered in a beautiful, proper British accent. It was completely plagiarized by me, including the British accent and the high voice, as the command to let Blitz know that we were hitting the road. It was just too darn unique not to pick up and make my own. I guess all those years of watching Monty Python episodes in my youth really did warp me as my mother had warned.

From the minute we brought her home, Blitz was a constant bundle of energy. Part of it was due to how she was wired - she was born and bread to be an athlete, and athletes need to move. Part of it also had to do with the hours my wife and I worked. Blitz sat at home alone and bored all day, so when we were around, she wanted to go.

Going for walks was the one way I could burn enough energy off her to keep peace in the house, and we'd do two every day - once the in morning before work and once after work when I got home. We had developed a nice route through our neighborhood, around a small lake, and then back through the neighborhood to home, and we hit it rain or shine.

Beyond the benefits of getting the dog exercise, there were added benefits to our route. First, Blitz quickly established a designated "poop spot" in a wooded area on the route. That meant that her messes were kept off my yard and were confined to a spot where pick up with the inside-out baggie would not be necessary. Even though that technique of cleaning up after the dog is sanitary, it still isn't much fun. Trust me.

While the "poop spot" was a nice habit that was developed, it did have its challenges. There were a number of mornings where the need to visit the spot was "pressing," and on a number of occasions our neighbors were treated to Blitz and I in a dead sprint down the road to the woods. Ordinarily I didn't mind the run as Blitz pulled me most of the way, but there were a number of snowy mornings before the plow had come through when Blitz's snow tires worked much better than mine, and I'd end up in a prone position in the middle of the road while she continued her poop-sprint to the designated spot, leash flailing behind her like the tail on some kind of yellow dog kite.

The second benefit to our route was that in the evening there were lots of kids and dogs to meet along our way. Blitz's socialization was extremely important to me. She needed to be very comfortable with people (especially kids), and needed to enjoy being around other dogs. Since her earliest days as a puppy she interacted with both, and as she grew she usually met both with a smile and with her tail wagging.

Blitz was always an early riser, as was I, so often our morning walk came in the 4:00 am hour. Throughout my life, between my paper route, walking the dog, and duck hunting, I've seen some really incredible and really weird stuff out and about at 4am, and sharing some of those with Blitz made them more special. Examples include encountering all sorts of critters, witnessing fantastic meteor showers, meeting some really strange people, and enjoying some fabulous northern lights shows.

Perhaps the most poinent thing we witenessed on our early moringing walks came the morning of September 12, 2001. I didn't sleep very well that night, and judging by the amount of lights that were on in houses that Blitz and I passed on our early 3:00 AM walk, neither did most of my neighbors.

Many times on our previous walks, I'd admire the amount of planes that would be arriving into the Minneapolis airport, regardless of the hour of our walk. I'd often wonder where those flights originated to be arriving so early, and who might be aboard those airliners. However, on this morning the sky was completely quiet, save for one lone F-16 from the Minnesota Air National Guard that was patrolling in a wide arc from Minneapolis to our east then out to our west about 50 miles and then back again.

I was struck by the speed of the plane and by the massive noise that it made. I thought of the pilot who must have known that additional attacks or other airborne risks to us that night were beyond improbable, but still he (or she) kept watch, circling and circling. In my life, I've logically known that our military was actively protecting us, but never before had I seen it manifest itself so obviously and overtly. I think all Americans felt like we lost something in those attacks on 9/11, and that pilot gave some of those things back to me. It was a comforting and calming image to see that pilot on patrol, and it is one that I will never forget.

For the most part, Blitz was good on walks. She got along with the people and dogs that we'd encounter, she usually kept a good pace. But she did, however, have three bad habits that made "walkies" a pretty interesting time.

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