I saw a woman running with her dog this morning. She was average height, clad in one of those light-up vests to tell cars that aren’t paying attention, ‘Hey! Here I am! Don’t kill me!’ The vest was grey with electric yellow strips running up the sides; it matched her grey shoes and what looked like a grey leash, though distinguishing colors is a little difficult at 5:30 in the morning.
I was turning at the stop sign by the college cafeteria when I saw them. I actually noticed the dog first. I couldn’t tell you what type of dog, but I saw his little prancing feet, trotting happily along, only a foot or so in front of his master. I’ve always loved watching animals move. Their feet seem to be pulled forward by this strange rhythm, and their four legs have always fascinated me. Their legs move in two sets, opposite corner-legs moving together and vice versa. But there’s this bounce in-between, too. A sort of skip, as if to say, ‘I’m a dog. I’m happy!’
From what I could tell in the morning moonlight, this woman’s dog was happy. His tongue was out and flapping in the breeze. His little feet were chugging along. She pulled his leash tight as I turned the corner, and he obeyed, shifting his prance closer to her. When I reached the next corner stop sign, I paused, watching their rhythm. They moved together, not necessarily using the same feet at the same time, but connected nonetheless. Moving as one.
Watching them, I suddenly had the urge to cry. I pictured myself and my dog, the Pit-Terrier at the house I grew up in, probably curled in a little ball on the couch. I remembered summer nights running with his leash twisted four times around my balled fist, pulling him close at every intersection, with every passing car, with any skateboarder, bike rider, or fellow furry friend. We used to run together. We’d jog and he’d pant and look back at me with bright, clear eyes. Sometimes he’d take off in excitement and I’d sprint alongside him for as long as I could, watching his ears flap back and feeling the rush of the wind on both of our faces. I missed him. I missed petting him, and him scooting over to the couch, where he knew he could lay down and I’d give him the best full-body scratches. I missed the way he’d walk lazily into my room and look up at my bed, waiting for an invitation. I missed his facial expressions.
There was something about seeing the two of them. Maybe because it was 5:30 in the morning. Maybe because I missed having my dog with me. Maybe it was something about the way dogs are just so loving. They don’t think, they just love. They just put their one paw in front of the other and move forward, trusting that they are headed in the right direction, trusting that their owners will protect them from bright car lights and strange animals and other scary things. Or maybe it’s their innocent faces, looking up at their owners with their panting tongues and little grins as if to say, ‘Where next?’
I turned the corner and watched the lady and her dog disappear into my rearview. The lights outside of my work came into view. I pulled my car into a parking spot and waited for a moment. The tears brimmed on the edge of my eyes, making the lights blurry. I closed my eyes. Opened them. Took a deep breath. And opened the car door, pushing the loneliness out of my mind.