Three walks. Three dogs. Three personalities.
Otter is the youngest of the three. Gudrun describes him as a ‘speedy whippet at the zenith of his youth.’ Her relationship to him is ‘ambivalent’, and this will be her ‘first proper walk with him post-partum’.
Maxx is nine years old. He is quite energetic and not always aware of his size. Sue warns me that he crouches to demonstrate his friendliness before bounding up rapidly to other dogs (sometimes quite a bit smaller than him).
Cai is five, and ‘only hit full size’ last year. He ‘wears a Yellow Dog Scheme hi-vis tabard: “I NEED SPACE”‘. Jess notes that most of the humans she encounters tell her they could use one of those as well.
Sue spent most of the walk carrying a bag of poo; no bins in the park. Unlike Maxx, who did his business in the middle of the field, Cai ‘likes to be discreet going far into the undergrowth’. As Jess points out, there is something philosophical about ‘dealing with your own (or your own dog’s) shit.’
William spent most of the walk carrying a baby. Otter, the ‘young and demanding whippet’, had to share attention with Ingrid, who ‘cried periodically’ to request a feeding. Gudrun writes that attention to Otter is consistently ‘sidelined’ by the demands of their three children. They can’t imagine feeling as ’emotionally engaged with him (!)’ as Lloyd’s lamenting score describes.
My walk with Sue and Maxx was also the result of parenthood. Sue is the mother of my best friend and flatmate, Chris; when she heard I needed a dog for my walk she drove to London with Maxx in the boot. During our walk together, Sue reflected on the similar places pets and children occupy in people’s lives; especially for those without children of their own. They demand care, flexibility and attention; require unconditional love no matter how naughty they’ve been; and benefit from daily walks.
Each week’s walk makes different demands; many of which I cannot meet on my own. Some walks require a partner, others an infant, or a pram; this week’s required a dog. For Sue, Jess, William and Gudrun, walking the dog is part of everyday life. For me, it was an unfamiliar occurrence in a familiar place, and brought me into contact with a different set of park users. Usually, I studiously avoid the parts of the park where dogs and their walkers roam; this week I was the one apologising as Maxx romped through people’s picnics and tried to take their lunch. Walking with the dog was a sociable experience… Maxx made sure of that.