Aside from guilt, not walking your dog has other consequences, chiefly that your dog doesn’t get his shpilkes out. Our Best Friend is not a destructive dog. He never chews on the furniture, doesn’t grab food from the counter, and almost always comes when called. Note the “almost.” When he’s full of shpilkes, he doesn’t listen.
Last week was Rosh Hashana. For three days before the holiday, I shopped, cooked, and sometimes even cleaned. I didn’t walk the dog. The kids took him outside for five or ten minutes every so often and threw a ball around, but it wasn’t close to enough. I could see him getting more and more restless as the week went on.
On the first night of Rosh Hashana, around 10:30, we let him out the back for his usual pre-bedtime pee. He bolted. Now, while it’s normal for him, when his needs are urgent, to run down the stairs and into the yard, he usually stops to let loose on a beam supporting the deck. (One day our deck will fall down from pee rot, but that’s a different post.) This time he didn’t. He raced through the yard, up the hill, and vanished.
Our yard is not fenced in. This is just one reason why we are ill-suited to care for a less-than-perfectly-trained dog. Most of the time, it’s not a problem. Our Best Friend is an anxious, insecure wuss, and he doesn’t like to be outside alone. If we tie him up and leave him, he cries. Piteously. So he usually stays in our yard, unless he decides to take off after a squirrel. His usual pattern when he “runs away” is to race back and forth on the hill behind the house (he can only go one yard to the left and about three to right before he does hit a fence), maybe poop on someone’s hill (which always makes me crazy with more guilt), and come home. This dog is not interested in really running away. Like I said, he’s a wuss.
This night he disappeared. The Spouse and I went out back and called and called (with me, as usual, worrying that the neighbours would realize the dog is loose and call the police on us). Then the kids, who were watching out the front, saw him in front of the house. He had run to the neighbour’s yard, down the side of their house, and towards the street. He can’t do that from our yard because we have a gate between the hedge and the house. The dumb dog didn’t know how to get back to our yard, so he just stood out front, sniffing the bushes. When we came out to get him, he raced right back in, thrilled to be safe again.
It takes a lot to make Our Best Friend bolt– a lot of pent-up energy, created by owners too busy (and sometimes too lazy) to walk him. Naturally I was loaded with more guilt than usual (guilt that he was so frustrated, guilt that I don’t have the proper fence to keep him safe, and guilt that maybe he pooped somewhere he shouldn’t have). So the next morning I got up at 7:30 and took him for a half-hour walk.
Now, observant Jews, by and large, are not dog owners. I got a lot of looks from the neighbours as I came back home, looks that said, “Is that what you should be doing on Rosh Hashana morning???” (The answer is yes, it is, one is obligated to care for one’s animals, even on the Sabbath and holy days. However, non-pet owners don’t always know what’s required of pet owners, or don’t own pets precisely because they don’t want these obligations. In fact, one friend I passed said, “That’s another good reason not to own a dog.”) So there was a residue of religious guilt on top of the bad-dog-owner guilt.
Even though I knew that guilt was silly, I don’t like offending the neighbours. (Yes, yes, I know it’s their problem and not mine, but I do have to live with these people). So the next morning I got up at 6:30. It was so early I had some extra time, so I went to the dog park. I relaxed, let him run around good, and even made a new friend. It didn’t feel like a proper Rosh Hashana activity, but I went home feeling less guilty anyway, and by going so early, didn’t upset the neighbours (at least not as many). And it comforted me slightly when we left for synagogue later that morning, and left him alone until 5:30 in the afternoon, that he hadn’t been stuck at home all day.
Between the kids, dog, religious obligations, and the rest of life… sometimes you can’t satisfy everyone. I guess I’m going to have to learn to live with more and more guilt as the years roll on.