In 2011 we rehomed a 16 month old Rhodesian Ridgeback called Harley. He’d been living with a young couple and their new baby in a one bedroom flat with no garden. Every time the baby cried the dog barked. Every time the dog barked the baby cried.
I’d been searching for a dog for some time. I didn’t want a puppy because there was a lot going on in the family at that time and I didn’t think I would be able to dedicate myself fully to the house training. Conversely, we didn’t want a dog who was too old to learn new tricks. My husband wanted a big dog. It’s a macho thing. I wanted a short-haired non-moulting dog. It’s a vacuuming thing! Harley was perfect in every respect.
Neither my husband nor I had lived with a dog before, although I always wanted one. I loved the idea of the kids coming out with us on long family walks at the weekend, and all of us curling up together on cold winter nights. What I was less sure about was the thought of walking the dog every day in all weathers.
Six years have passed and, as it turns out, walking the dog has been the best part of being Harley’s ‘Mum’. I’ve seen the seasons change in ways that would have been unimaginable to me during my 20 years of commuting to London: frost on cobwebs, striped caterpillars on nettles, ears of wheat clicking in the shimmering heat. I’ve learned the names of trees and wild flowers. My fitness has improved. I’ve made new friends. And the slow rhythm of walking and looking and thinking and breathing has kick-started my writing career.
Those family rambles never materialised. It’s as much as I can do to get our teenagers out of bed and down the stairs for lunch at the weekend. And they’re too busy curling up with their play stations and iPads in the evenings to worry about their parents or Harley.
So, here in brief, are some valuable things I’ve learned from walking the dog.
- You have to do it regularly (at least once a day).
- You have to do it whether you feel like it or not.
- It gets easier the more you do it.
- You will start enjoying things you never thought you would.
- There will be unanticipated rewards.
- Your observational skills will improve.
- Your insight will deepen.
- You will need to shake up the routine to keep things fresh.
I’ve discovered that these truths apply to many other aspects of my life: housework, cooking, communicating with teenagers, helping with GCSE revision, writing my next novel, and – last but not least – spiritual growth.
Who would have thought that walking the dog would teach me so much about walking with God?