He looks like a little fluff muffin, but his fuzzy-around-the-edges demeanor belies an independent spirit and a soulfulness you can see in his dark liquid eyes. Wally, a half Maltese and half poodle with an almost all white coat came to be a part of our family just a year ago. A younger friend who is still in the whirlwind of  little league, carpools and school meetings as she raises two young boys wondered why after being long finished with child rearing I would take on a the care and feeding of a young dog.

That is a good question.  So I’ll tell you about Wally and maybe we can figure it out together.

Right now as I sit in my peaceful meditation and writing room, my personal retreat, Wally has parked himself on top of the softest of the floor cushions- mine in fact. He is not a lap dog, though he does allow me to cradle him in my arms sometimes. As a smaller pup he got to ride in my backpack when I went walking. When he is allowed onto my bed for the occasional quick nap with me, he always settles in at the far corner nearest the door and facing away from me, my own personal guardian. I can’t help but admire his sense of patience and innate understanding of his job.

He reminds me to go outdoors and enjoy nature. He loves the grass and will find any excuse at any time to simply luxuriate in it, even while we are on a walk or in the park. I have to coax him to keep walking sometimes.  How can you not notice its softness and its scent and rich green color when there is  a happy creature trying to make as much body contact with it as possible? I have found myself more than once joining him on our front lawn on a summer afternoon.

 I also met more of my neighbors in the first six months after Wally’s arrival than in six years at this address. We commiserate on rainy mornings and compare notes on dog groomers and sometimes discuss our human lives as well.

Wally makes me laugh. I am a serious person much of the time, always getting caught up in some project, to-do list or a needy sense of accomplishment- even if  my measures have been lowered a great deal over the years. It is hard not to get sidetracked by Wally who makes few demands, but is ever present with his tennis ball when I move from my desk or chair. He’ll do a couple of cute and seductive  puppy pirouettes and  I find myself on the floor tossing the ball or giving a belly rub. Now what was it I was going to do?

Speaking of tennis balls, Wally Ball, (one of his many nicknames), is obsessed with them. He carries one with him on our walks, has a stash of them outside his dog door, and has devised his own game of fetch which he plays on his own for hours at time.  We have a steep and now well-worn bank outside the house. Wally climbs to the highest point, surveying his territory from a large stump. When ready, he places the ball on the ground and begins doing a few small soccer dribbles with it until it starts down the steep hill. He seems to try to time it so that he can reach the bottom before the ball and catch it in his mouth or make a stop with his paws.  He then races to the top and starts over.

I have rarely seen such dexterous paws on a dog. Wally is cat-like in his moves and leonine is his bearing on the hill. He pounces on his squeaky toys, digs for worms and grubs, lays on this back and flips his toys into the air and gives me high five anytime I ask. When he spies another dog up the road or something he doesn’t recognize, he does the old bear trick of standing upright as he walks forward on his hind legs. He gets a better look and makes himself appear bigger I suppose.

I suspected from the beginning that Wally was the right dog for me, but then I took him kayaking when he was about 6 months old. He loves it, balancing himself in front of the boat or hanging a paw over the side to lazily skim the water or peer into the depths. It is a joy to see my own enthusiasm reflected in his.

Does he get into trouble sometimes? You bet. Wally thinks that anything on the floor is one of his toys. That of course includes random pieces of paper in my office, audio tapes and occasional CD’s and the box of incense in my meditation room.  He has perfected removing stuffing from toys and dog beds and tried to bury one of his special bones in the sofa cushions. We are thankfully past the most destructive stage of his chewing.

After much work, Wally will come when called- when he feels like it. He much prefers a game of "catch me if you can" (I can't and I have given up trying).

That obsession for chasing balls seems to come from being hard wired for chasing just about anything including wayward runners, horses on the beach and cars that come too close. We can no longer let him run off leash unless he is in a fenced area and continue to work with him on not being so distracted. Maybe he plays too many video games. Maybe over time and with patience, he’ll outgrow it. But like the humans we share our lives with, we learn to accommodate and accept and try not to get too exasperated. Our dogs can be our teachers too.

Wally loves my mother. When she shared the house with us we would have to keep a gate across the doorway to her suite to keep him from jumping on her bed and waking her up in the morning. If I forgot, I would hear barks and giggles coming from her room, sometimes before the light of dawn. He now visits her regularly at an assisted living facility a few minutes from us. He is a big hit with many of the residents and I have to be sure the coast is clear as he races the hall to greet Grandma. We don’t want to be knocking over our elders.

Wally was the only dog that I actually looked at when I considered getting a dog. I had of course done a lot of research and had my “requirements”.  I had not been able to find one at any of the local shelters- I had to have a small dog that didn’t shed or have skin problems. He was certainly not the “pick” of the litter being taller and ganglier than the others. But I was looking for temperament and a bargain basement dog could be just fine. I told the breeder I would think about it overnight. I knew it was a big commitment. The next morning in my meditation I began to feel an unfamiliar and intense warmth that seemed to be centered in my chest.  In a flash I knew it was that puppy burrowing right into my heart. Some things you don’t decide with your head.


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