February in Colorado is cold. I had gloves on and I believe I was wearing a scarf. I envied Carly, the standard poodle walking next to me, in her natural fur coat that kept her warm.
It was that last part of evening. The part right after the sun sets. The light-sensitive street lamps had just clicked on and only the red hues of the sunset lingered on the jagged edge of the mountains. It was “Winter Break,” a week the school district had decided would make a good chance to give teachers time to recuperate from dealing with their students. We, the students, didn’t mind. It was another week off during the peak of ski season. The only pitfall was that it made most of the district schools get out a week later than usual. But I went to an odd school. We didn’t always follow the rules. There were lots of loop-holes, so we got away with keeping the earlier release date.
My school was so odd in fact, that I was pet sitting for my principal. She had taken the break to mean, get as far away from your underpaid job as possible. That meant France. Meanwhile, I was there taking care of Carly.
I am not a huge fan of seven year olds. I love them, because they’re kids and, well, who doesn’t love kids? But most seven year olds have more energy than I can handle. In herds they can quickly overwhelm the decibel level of my (loud) voice and will soon trample even the strongest adults into submission. Imagine that kind of excitement, energy, and un-bridled vigor in a 40 pound, black furred, standard poodle. This is Carly. The good news is, I generally like dogs more than I like people, especially kids, so I knew I could handle this. It would stretch me, but I had it.
Walking Carly that evening turned out to be a relief. I was a senior at the time, and had a decent part time job. Even so, I still had rough days at work. But a good walk, brisk air, and with companionable canine, were exactly the things I needed to put me back into a pleasant mood.
The man who materialized on the sidewalk in front of me was old and his dog looked like an Aussie. I had just come to the street that my principal’s house was on. It was getting late, and I was tired. But I couldn’t help it. I stopped. His dog slunk back a little at Carly’s energy. She was still vivacious after several miles.
“Pleasant evening,” I said, “What type of dog is that?”
His hands shook a little and he smiled, “He’s a border-collie. That’s a standard?”
“Yes sir. It isn’t mine.” I was embarrassed. I was never a huge fan of Poodles, though Carly was growing on me. “I am pet-sitting. But I have an Aussie and two Shih-Tzus at home. Love ‘em. Dogs are great.”
“Yes they are,” he leaned over to look at tags on the harness I had Carly in. She was too much for a normal collar. “Is she a therapy dog?” he asked.
I tried not to laugh. I was glad he hadn’t seen the other side of the tag. I only learned months later the story behind the joke, but the one side of the tag said, “Therapy Dog,” and the other said… well. It had a vulgar description of Carly.
“No sir. I don’t believe so. I am pretty certain that she isn’t.”
“Oh. My dog is. You see, I’m dah-betic. He can sniff mah di-bee-teez and stays with me when I pass out.”
“Wow. I didn’t know dogs could do that. But I guess I believe it. That’s really cool.” I paused, “Dogs are great. I love ‘em.” I was really at a loss for words. His “di-beet-teez?” The dog could smell it when he passed out? He chatted with me for a while. He was an interesting character, talking about his various health conditions and whatnot. Eventually I had to cut him off and said, “Well sir, I’ve got to get going. It was great talking with you.” I couldn’t have said, “to you,” he had talked most of the time.
His dog was glad to get away from Carly. She had been harassing him while we talked. The man shuffled away. He seemed content.
I walked the last block to the house, Carly dragging me the whole way. It was warm inside. I sat down and got to work on a school project. Eventually I shut out the lights and headed to bed. Carly snuggled contentedly next to me. The warmth of her body made me forget the cold outside.
*Revision 11/17/13: 100 pound was changed to 40 pound due to an offended poodle. Never guess a woman’s weight, even if she’s a dog.