Thoughts on a walk with Butch

[Six years old this November, he’s taught me more about caring for others than any human ever did. This is a short story when he was still just a year old.]

We walk and pick up trash in our 20 minute daily metaphor.

“Let’s take a walk!”

Those few words induce such a frenzy in Butch, my nearly year-old puppy, his reaction has become the highlight of my day. Attaching his harness and leash is like fitting a spawning salmon in a dinner jacket. We start our excursions at a frantic pace to nowhere. Dogs have few preferences. Anywhere new to sniff, snort, roll, run and poop is ecstasy.

For a dozen years or more, I’d kindly but emphatically, refused several tempters with puppy in hand, pleading with me to own another dog. But growing up and while married, the inevitable eventual task of putting down a sick or dying animal always fell to me. Always. Now I can’t even keep a houseplant alive without guilt and vowed never again to accept the life and death responsibility of anything more animated if I could avoid it.

Clearly, I missed out.

I got Butch from a family friend in a clever, well-crafted moment of weakness she’d set-up knowing my post-addiction loneliness . Lori anticipated my refusal as she placed the tiny, licking creature into my open palm and told me we share the same birthday and well, I succumbed for the last time once again.

He’s now my best friend. And aren’t they all.

On our walks, he sniffs, I think, and together, we pick up other people’s trash.

It’s no noble green act for humanity. Our team effort of sniffing and retrieving garbage others have tossed, has become a metaphor for a much deeper message in the early morning hours.

On occasion, I am guilty of letting an empty water bottle drop or wrapper fly out of my car door in a rogue wind and I just don’t have the energy to go on a chase. It doesn’t haunt me. I don’t lose sleep or go to confession over it. Life goes on. Sue me.

Despite my apathy, though, it will land somewhere, and I wonder…
Will someone do us the same favor someday?

Without forethought or expectation and sometimes purely by accident, we care for others. We end up fixing their thoughtless mistakes thoughtlessly and without premeditation. Today they call it pay-it-forward. My hope for humanity, having taken some big hits in recent years, is buoyed by stuff like this.

But random acts of kindness have become so commercialized. These days, people have to be instructed to commit them and it kinda misses the point entirely. What was once indeed random is no longer the conscientious overflow of someone’s innate character, but a moment of self-aggrandizement on Facebook. Original, reflexive acts of humankindness are what used to set us apart from other species.
Well, most of them.

Seated in the shade on the cool grass, I asked Butch if he understood this complex yet very simple thought.
He squatted and pooped.

Good dog. I think he gets it.

Dog hearts are so big, with roles reversed and opposable thumbs, I think they’d pick up ours bare handed.

En route home with a full trash bag, I was more thankful than ever for that day Lori introduced us. Dogs seem to get naturally what humans don’t. The time will come when I have to say good bye to my best friend, but I will remember today and every day on an early morning walk with Butch and times like these when he inspires me to be a better human.