The loneliness of the winter dog walker.

When we settled on adding an Italian Spinone to the family, we thought one of the positives would be that it forced me to take breaks from work, reconnect with reality and get out and about – in short, walk the dog. And that has indeed been the case, and I feel all the better for it. But as another winter approaches, I’ll admit to mixed feelings.

This afternoon, for instance: Ozzie was just ‘helping’ me put on my boots (I am sure I will lace his beard in one day) when the bright winter blue was blown away by a sudden squall, driving heavy rain horizontally past the window. I opened the door to check that Ozzie felt the same about it as I did. After a tentative sniff, we agreed to wait a bit. However, within fifteen minutes the crisp blue sky was back and the clouds kept scudding by, and so we were out. But with another wave of heavy cloud approaching, we went at the quick march, and it wasn’t a suprise that we didn’t meet another soul.

We were less lucky yesterday morning. After the school run, we usually take a stiff walk around the fields on the edge of the city. On early autumn mornings at the start of the school term, we could count on meeting plenty of others – dog walkers, couples, even some with young children. Ozzie bounded along, confident that around each corner would be a new human bean to greet, or better still, one or more dogs to play with. And he was usually right. They would run themselves ragged, and Ozzie would return to the car tired and with a very satisfied look on his face.

But yesterday the same walk became a long trudge.  The wind had a bitter edge, and often ambushed us with icy rain, whilst we marched along a hill that merged with the low grey sky. We both made half-hearted attempts to avoid the worst mud, and hurried over the open areas where the wind drove rain right at us. The usual hum of distant traffic rarely carried through the wind and rain. Part of the walk is overlooked by a housing development, and I wondered what anyone looking out from those modern, hermetically-sealed islands would make of us trudging along. Ozzie was thoroughly soaked and properly muddy, and we hadn’t met a soul. Rounding a corner we met another regular walker. He walks a whippet, on this occassion wearing a jacket against the cold and wet. Whilst the dogs made their normal greetings, we stood, swaddled, collars up, hats pulled down, hunched against the lazy wind and with rain forming dewdrops on our noses. “We must be dog lovers” I suggested. “Do you think they appreciate it?” he wondered, as we went our separate ways. Slipping and sloshing back to the car, already wondering how many buckets of water I would need* to get Ozzie clean enough to for him to come in the house, I couldn’t help thinking: I certainly hope so.

* turned out to be three buckets
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