Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Hudson Riverdogs

Can I just holla about how tired I am all the time lately? This exercise business is really not so special once you reach the age of imminent codgerdom. As my high school pal R said last night over dinner at yet another bar, "At our age, life is about pain. Oh sure, after you leave the gym you feel great, but that only lasts a couple hours. Then you just hurt." True enough.

But while your pins are pumping and the bike is whizzing along and the fresh air is blowing bugs into your eyes, is there anything more terrific? After I picked up my bike at the shop again late this afternoon, I rolled off down to the river to watch the sun slanting in bright and golden over New Jersey. It was a glorious day. Spring allegedly manifested itself earlier this week, but for my money -- and that of all the blissed-out Gothamites soaking up the sun down by the Hudson this afternoon -- today was the season's true debut.

Locomotion was just this side of effortless on the flat boardwalk, and before I knew it I was up at 100th St., where folks get kind of ... individual. Don't get me wrong. A, I like individuals just fine, and B, most folks up there are straight shooters, run-of-the-mill types. But not the duo I saw clambering all over the rocks throwing sticks into the river for their three dogs to fetch. That was a rare sight. I pulled over to watch.

He: mustachioed Latino in a plaid jacket and slouch hat.

She: flinty, fading bottle blonde wearing fleece and jersey in bright colors.

Dramatis canidae: a cheery squat pit mix (brindle), a shaky older lab (yellow), and an undergroomed, overfed cocker spaniel (beige).

I stood there benignly observing while the guy wandered around picking up small logs and provoking the dogs with short unintelligible yells as he tossed the wood into the slow-moving river. The dogs were shivering -- fatigue? cold? -- and barking their protests, but wading out faithfully to fetch back the flotsam.

They both clocked me right away, but as I was just standing there with a smile on keeping quiet, they ignored me. Presently, she made her way up the bank and announced, "First day of the year for this!"

"No better day for it," I observed.

"Beautiful. And they love it," she declared.

"I've never seen dogs do this here," I said. "I'm from the West Coast, and we have beaches where dogs do this, but I've never seen dogs jumping into the Hudson."

"What else do we have? This is Manhattan. Everybody's out here with their dogs in the summertime."

"And it's not too cold now?" The older dogs were shivering and looking reproachful, but the pit mix was up on the grass happily splintering a log with her teeth.

"Stop that! No! No!" said the blonde, trying to disengage dog from log with a gentle but firm foot. "You'll get it stuck between your teeth and then you won't be happy." The dog was impervious to logic, cheerfully tearing off big coppery chunks of wood.

"No, they love it," she asserted.

"How old is that one?" I asked, gesturing at the lab, who was shaking and slipping as she tried unsuccessfully to climb out of the water over mossy rocks.

"Flossy? Twelve!"

Twelve is about the age my dogs went down. A twelve-year-old dog is like an 84-year-old person, more or less. I wouldn't have sent my grandmother out for a swim in the Hudson. My lab mix Cosmos would have walked or swum endlessly to please me, despite her arthritis. When I realized the pain she was handling just to keep up with me, I stopped taking her for long walks. That was a year or more before cancer did her in.

I tried to make the point that dogs will ignore and far exceed their own best interests to please their people. The lab looked miserable.

"What? We're not making them do anything. They're jumping in on their own."

I didn't much want to meddle, so, having said my piece, I clammed up. It's easier for an owner to willfully ignore a dog's discomfort than to accept that its age is about to force a change of habit. Dogs and humans form strange compacts, social contracts whereby some portion of each others' needs are met. Barring abuse, does an outsider have a right to meddle? Define abuse. Those two love their dogs and vice-versa. When she told me she was a dog rescuer and that I should get a dog, I said my goodbye and shoved off. Rescuers are generally goodhearted and strange. I turned around a few minutes later, and when I passed them, all the dogs were leashed and still shivering but heading for home.

Oh, why do I get involved with strange people? I should just keep pedaling.

1 comment:

Caldoon said...

Sounds like you possibly did get through to them since they left?

Denial is strong with people these days, especially when it comes to getting older.

They might also just have been trying to avoid 'losing face' as it were; you were pointing out that they were being a bit thoughtless about pets that they supposedly loved and cared for. That's not the kind of mistake most wouold like to admit to a stranger...