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“Can I walk your dog?”

Paws on Parade

This past weekend Alex and I participated in the annual “Paws on Parade” walk-a-thon to raise funds for our local pet therapy organization, Paws with a Purpose. The event is held in a park that has a lovely trail winding through the trees, next to the river, and always attracts a good turnout of dogs and their humans. As we parked and got out of the car, I could see that Alex was not eager to join the assembled group, so instead of his usual flexi-leash, I put his slip lead on, as he’s been known to try to back out of his collar if spooked by something. I allowed him plenty of time to check out the scene and the other dogs, though he clearly did not want to be part of the party! As the walk got underway, we were joined by a group of children from a local agency that offers residential and other counseling services for children in the foster system. The pet therapy dogs serve this agency with visits to teach “life skills” such as respect, teamwork, and personal responsibility, and have been a very popular and effective addition to the curriculum.

A group of the kids from this agency began walking with one of the pet therapy volunteers. She had brought both of her dogs that day, two friendly and goofy goldendoodles, and as the parade made its way through the park, the children took turns holding the dogs’ leashes. Alex and I were walking just ahead of this group, and I was glad that he was finally relaxing and ignoring the dogs, joggers, bicyclists, and walkers we encountered along the path. Then a small boy, part of the group walking behind us, ran up along side me and asked eagerly, “Can I walk your dog?” I had to make a hard decision. Alex has not been around children very often, so I didn’t know how he would react.  Clearly, this tiny child couldn’t hold him if he pulled on the leash, and my fear was that something might scare him and he would get loose. I wished I had tucked the flexi-leash into my pocket, as I could have held one leash while the boy held the other, but it was back in the car. So I had to tell the little boy that no, he couldn’t walk my dog. His bright smile turned to disappointment, and he fell back in with the group behind.

A little further down the path, Alex lunged at a jogger going past, so I knew I had done the right thing in keeping him under my control. But the little boy’s request haunted me. I thought of how I take for granted having a dog and walking a dog, but that little boy is growing up with practically nothing to call his own, much less a pet to love. Even his clothes looked like hand-me-downs that were a little too big for his small frame, but he wore the brightest smile. It was a “count your blessings” moment for me. And I am thankful for the dedicated pet therapy volunteers who take their dogs to this agency and many others in the community, so the children can enjoy the furry comfort of a dog, if only for a short while.

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