Monday, October 9, 2017

Gracie's New Horse Farm

True confessions: Sometimes I feel really guilty about keeping a dog in the suburbs.

Maybe it's my dogs' wild enthusiasm for adventure.
Maybe it's a throwback to my country upbringing in a day when dogs could run free.
Maybe it's just my utopian fantasies.

But for all the dogs that I've raised here in suburban Seattle, I feel a certain regret for keeping them here in the land of leash laws, property lines, and busy streets.

And this anguish is all the stronger for my girl, Gracie, because Gracie grew up on a horse farm.

We walk every day, rain or shine, for about an hour. 

Just think of it. Two hundred and thirty-some-odd acres of freedom, with perimeter fences designed not so much as to keep the dogs in as to keep unwelcome invaders out. 

I've seen photos of Baby Gracie romping through meadows, wading into ponds, and racing alongside her gorgeous Irish sister. There is no leash at her neck. She is free.

Now she lives with me. There is good in that, because Gracie loves her humans and she needed more attention that her horse farm life could provide. But every day, as I tether my dog to a long leash and guide her through the somewhat dangerous and decidedly dog-unfriendly streets of my community, I suffer pangs of remorse. 

I wish I could give Gracie a happy life on a horse farm.

Well, you can't, I tell myself. 

But still I struggle with the life I am giving to my dog. But eternal optimist that I am, I try to find the sweet spots, the hidden joys, of my dog's life in suburbia.

She's becoming a good little tracker, and works the scents left behind 
by the dozens of other dogs who patrol this street every day. 

Let's not even pretend to call it a leash I walk my girl, as I walked Casey and Ranger before her, on a thirty-foot rope. This allows my active pup to race ahead, scout out the most intriguing scents, and scruffle around in the brush a bit while I carry on at a steady pace. Eventually, she loses interest and gallops up to take the lead again 

This arrangement not only allows my dog and me to walk at our preferred paces, but the rope is quite the conversation starter. Oh, if I only had a dollar for every person who says, "Wow, that's a long leash!" and to whom I typically reply, "Yes. Yes, it is," then I could probably buy a lifetime supply of rope. 

As much as we enjoy this merry form of romping down the sidewalk, there are tines when we must heed a more civilized approach. When crossing the busy streets or passing by pedestrians of the canine or human variety, I coil up the rope to a more conventional length, and Gracie obediently heels at my left side. It's good discipline for her, and she gathers many admiring looks and comments as she walks like a proper lady.

Squirrel country.

About fifteen minutes into our walk, we veer off the sidewalk and turn onto a lane that winds along the sports fields behind the high school. As I give Gracie permission to run out the full length of the rope, she delightedly bounds up a bank to get full view of the soccer field. A bundle of eager and attentive energy, she is often rewarded by the sight of players kicking around a ball. Quivering with excitement, Gracie loves to stand and watch for a bit, just as she does anyone on a skateboard, bike or scooter. Fluid motion seems to fascinate her. 

Next we traipse along the outfield fences of the baseball field. During the late summer and early fall, the marching band lays dibs on this as a practice space, and we usually encounter a subset of the group, such as the drill team or the brass section, if not the full-blow show band. 

Not gonna lie. Gracie attracts a lot of attention. 

"I love your dog!" 
"What's her name?"
 "What kind of dog is that?" 
"Your dog is soooo cute."
"That's the longest leash I've ever seen."

Adults run here and there among the fields. Last week a man about my age took one look at my dog, shook his head in apparent amazement, and beamed at me. "Boy, that's a good-looking dog!"

Sometimes we stop for a petting session, but usually I happily answer questions while Gracie marches on, head held high, tail a'wagging. 

She knows we're all talking about her. But she's got things to do. 

Lately, Gracie has been trying to convince me that the best way to stalk the squirrels would be to crawl commando-style under that turquoise bench. I am not having it. Yet. 

We leave the busy world of the sports fields behind. We cross a walkway through the woods and come out into a serene little clearing in the woods. An administrative building nestles among the trees, and we walk the full perimeter, enjoying this little wild space.

Lately, Gracie has become obsessed with the squirrels back here. As soon as we step off the wooden bridge, her posture changes - head down in a hunting position, gait slow and stealthy. She is a bundled coil of energy. I play my part in this game by staying quiet and keeping out of the way. I gather up the extra length of rope so it doesn't noisily drag stray leaves across the pavement, and tiptoe behind my furry red hunter.. 

The squirrels happily prance in the lawn, scamper across the paved lane, romp around the garbage dumpsters, and frolic in the trees. Gracie freezes in mid-step when she sees them, waits, and watches. Occasionally, she will break free and race after one, but usually she simply stands until she is sated, and then we happily march on. 

Now, on the far side of the school, we pass through a busy pick-up and drop-off area for the gymnasiums and swimming pool. We say hi to more students, who ask more questions and offer more compliments. Often there's a line of cars where parents wait to pick up their kids. I'm sorry to say that Gracie has been known to jump up on a car door, lay her huge furry paws on the open window, and stick her head inside in order to properly greet the occupants. 

Once she tried to board a school bus waiting for the football team. She cleared the stairs inside the bus before I caught up and hauled her out. 

Younger children come and go from swimming lessons at this pool, so I often wrap up the leash and keep Gracie on a heel here. The other day, Gracie and I were engulfed by a group of still-damp young swimmers, probably eight to ten years old, who wanted to pet her. As the kids' eager hands reached out to pet my calm dog, I offered that her name is Gracie. The girl closest to me, missing several teeth, beamed up at me with joy and said, "My name is Gracie too!"

That's the bone my dog found in a bush. Not under the bush. IN it. 

We come out of the high school grounds and head toward home, passing cars on the streets full of friendly if unknown faces who often wave or smile at us. Many of these strangers grieved with me when my Ranger passed away, and now their faces light up at the sight of Gracie. Last week, one woman whom I don't know rolled down her window as her car approached us Wordlessly, she pointed with an outstretched arm at Gracie, and then, with an ear-to-ear grin, gave me a huge thumbs up. 

We see human walkers who say hello. Some people are visibly afraid of my big dog, so I heel her over to the side of the walkway to let them pass. Others smile and say hello. Sometimes we see neighbors and friends, and stop to chat. Occasionally we encounter my husband walking home from the bus stop. 

And we see other dogs with their humans. Gracie has a deep appreciation for other dogs. She stares at them. In fact, she gets so caught up in lasering her eyes onto them that she'll walk right into me if I'm not careful. So I've learned my lesson. When Gracie is goggling at another dog, usually on the other side of the street, we just stop in our steps. I tell my dog to sit, and then together we just stare at the object of her affection as if this were the most normal thing in the world to do.

The owners usually notice. If the social awkwardness meter pegs, I simply say, "Sorry. My dog is obsessed with your dog." And that has made us several new friends. 

On we walk. Gracie is learning how to weave in an out the shrubs planted along the sidewalk without tying her long rope into a cat's cradle. 

And she's teaching me a few tricks too. The other day, she shoved her head all the way up to her shoulders into a yew tree, a solid thing of soft, thick, green needles. And when she came back out, she carried in her mouth a bone. 

The bone must have been resting in the branches of that yew. It was the strangest thing and I could barely believe what had happened. But I took a photo for proof. 

* * * * *

I wish with all my heart that I could give Gracie a horse farm. I wish I could throw away that long yellow rope and let her run wild and free in a safe, natural place. 

But it occurs to me, as we turn the last corner into our neighborhood and cross the street toward home, that Gracie doesn't seem to mind the rope. She might just like that sense of connection to me, and the reassuring tugs and commands that I sprinkle throughout our walk.

And though my mind boils over with the many restrictions and limitations that suburban life puts on my dog, it also occurs to me that Gracie doesn't understand those things. For all I know, maybe she sees our surroundings as her new horse farm: a big, friendly, rollicking place filled with humans and animals that bring interest and variety into her life every day.

That is what I hope she thinks. 

But horse farm or not,  what I know for sure is that when Gracie gets home from her walk, she is content.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I think Graciel oves her new life.One of the wonderful things about our breed is their adaptability,and while they love their freedom,they love their humans even more. Thanks for sharing Gracie's new life and adventures with us.


  3. It is amazing if you love horses it can be a little hard but it's still great.
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