When I opened the front door, Billy the pooch pranced out in a hurry, grabbed his bone, shook his tail and darted anxiously from side to side, not knowing exactly how to handle the revelation of my arrival.
“Hiya, mutt,” I said, in my best pet-owner voice, scratching behind his ears and beneath his snout.
Billy didn’t know it, but my coming here was as big a deal for me as it was for him. Growing up, I never had a single pet. While my friends played fetch with their four-legged pals, I played pick-up sticks with my doofus brother. While they fed their fish and dressed their cats in bowties, I helped my dad put up Christmas lights and dust the closet doors.
But here I was, over on a Friday afternoon to take out a friend’s dog which she was fostering from the Flagler Humane Society. And so far, I was doing great. Ask Billy — I was a hero. In the door I came, like it was nothing. I found the place, expertly negotiated a key into the lock hole and, boom, I was there.
We were both impressed by my resourcefulness.
For the next 20 minutes or so — I had it planned — I’d imagine Billy was mine. We would walk, oh yes, wherever our journey took us. And if we passed others outside walking dogs, I’d motion toward the end of my leash, as if to say, “Pets, right? They’re rascals but they’re our rascals — you know what I’m talking about!”
I yearned for the unspoken camaraderie from passersby on the sidewalk. I longed to be a dog person, the kind of guy who cares for something, the kind to put another life before his own and, in return, have that life be unreasonably obsessed with him.
“You think I’m the coolest guy in town, right, Billy?” I asked him, stealing his bone and moving it up and down until his head bobbed into a definitive “Yes.”
“And with good reason, Bill,” I said. “And how about we change that plain-Jane name of yours to something with a little rock ’n’ roll?”
He enthusiastically agreed, and we decided on Ichabod.
So out we went, Ichabod and I, with him leading the way, wherever he wanted to go. Down the stairs, around the corner, into the grass, toward the woods. This was the dream. The two of us were gold together. All I was waiting for was for him to stop in his tracks and bark for my attention.
“What is it, boy?” I’d say. Then he’d lead me to an abandoned barn or dock where we would work together to save someone from danger or foil a robbery in progress.
Yep, this was what it was all about: just a boy and his dog, taking in the day, not thinking about tomorrow, making memories.
As we chased butterflies and scampered into shrubs, I discovered parts of my apartment complex I’d never seen before. I was holding a leash, watching my newest confidant decide his moves, then saying things like, “Going left? Vintage Ichabod!”
Finally, on our second lap around the complex, we found a spot we liked and stopped awhile. He sniffed the grass and I smiled.
“No doubt about it, Ich,” I said, “nothing can stop us now.”
Then he squatted low, his knees atremble. I tried to look away, protect the innocence of our adventure, but it was too late. There it was: the reason he came out here, the highlight of his day.
This was why he was so happy to see me.
I looked around, scanned the surrounding windows for faces, bodies on balconies. I looked down at what resulted from the quality time we had shared, then at a nearby “doggie disposal” can, then back at his dumb face, which beamed this ridiculous grin like we were in this together.
“I thought we were friends, man,” I said, a plastic bag wrapped around my hand like a surgical glove. “And what, I’m supposed to pick this up now?”
To foster a pet from the Flagler Humane Society, call 445-1814.