Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Dog Story

One of the things that I love most about running is all of the other people who are out there with me.  It is not just other runners; in fact, other runners tend to be the least interesting because they are intent on their workout, most of them don't even smile let alone say good morning.  The people I enjoy seeing are those who are out each morning walking their dogs.  Those people, even when it is insanely early, have some sense of joy about them; and the dogs are almost always happy.  (Except for this morning--I passed a woman whose tiny dog apparently becomes so enraged by runners that she literally had to stop, bend over, and cover his little tiny doggy eyes until I passed.  I was brilliant.) 

Of all the bike-path dog walkers that I see on a regular basis, there is one that sticks out to me.  No, more than that.  There is one that I hope to see; a person who I know will make me smile, whether I am having a great run or a terrible one.  I call him the Old Dog Man.  He is, after all, a very old man.  I am not good at guessing people's ages, but I would wager that he is in his late 80s or early 90s.  He walks on the bike path between Davis and Mass Ave almost every morning, unless it is very cold or icy.  I have seen him on and off for two years now, and he is by far my favorite bike path walker. 

When I see him, whether I am coming or going, he always cheers me (and any other runners) on a little bit.  His favorite comment is "You go get 'em!" But he often throws in a "Lookin' good!" or "Keep it up!"  And he seems so genuinely supportive and cheerful that it is impossible not to smile and say thank you, or good morning.  Some days I see him on my way out, when I am not too tired or sweaty and I can say good morning.  Most often, however, I see him on my way back, when I am feeling like I would like to stop running please, and the most I can offer is a smile and wave.  But it is a sincere smile, and seeing him often gives me that little extra motivation to make it home. 

When I first saw the Old Dog Man, it was two summers ago.  At the time (as is the case this summer), I was not working, so I would typically run around 8AM.  Every morning, I would see him walking with his ancient chocolate lab.  They always made me smile, these two old me teetering down the bike path, smiling and cheering on runners who went by.  I saw them almost every morning that summer, and when the cold weather came and they were no longer out, I missed them. 

The following spring, I saw the Old Dog Man again, but the Old Dog was no longer with him.  The first time, I thought perhaps it was a fluke.  But the second time, I knew that the Old Dog was no longer around; he hadn't made it through the winter.  This should not have been a surprise; the dog was incredibly old and decrepit.  But it still made me incredibly sad, and I felt for the Old Dog Man who--even without his companion--continued to take morning walks. 

Over the past year, once I started working normal hours, I started running hours earlier than I used to, and I have not seen the Old Dog Man in months.  But, with my summer hours (as in, I sleep in like it's my job, which it pretty much is because I don't have a real one right now), I have been running a little later.  And yesterday, for the first time in ages, I saw the Old Dog Man! 

I was running through the section of the bike path between Davis and Mass Ave where all the dog owners gather in the mornings.  There were several dogs off their leashes, running and jumping and generally being dog-like.  I am never too concerned with this; I see those dogs all the time and they are so incredibly disinterested in chasing runners that it is almost insulting to me.  But as I came past them, two of them--a yellow and a black lab--went sprinting ahead of.  When I looked, I could see that they were heading straight for an old man.  A second glance revealed that it was the Old Dog Man.

At first, I was a little concerned that they were going to jump on him, but as they came closer he held out his arms and greeted them, the way a parent or grandparent holds out their arms to catch a child running towards them.  And the dogs!  They were so happy to see him, too.  They wagged their tales and cuddled up to his feet expectantly.  Then, even more like a grandfather, the Old Dog Man pulled two dog treats from his pocket and gave them to the two dogs, who gently took them before scarfing them down.

The absolute joy on the Old Dog Man's face as he was greeted by these two labs was something you almost never see.  I know that he must miss his old friend terribly, and until they are together again, the Old Dog Man spends his mornings sharing his love with other friends he has made on the bike path.  And everyone there is better for it. 

As I ran past them a second later, he looked up and smiled at me and said "Looking good!  You go get 'em!" 

And I thought "I will, I promise I will, until the day that I can't anymore." 

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