In case you didn't know, I have a dog named Gracie. Like most dogs, she's so much more than a pet. Because I work from home, Gracie also doubles as my boss, my coworker, and occasionally, my personal trainer (get out of your chair and take me on a run)!
In honor of Gracie's birthday this coming Sunday, she will be receiving a raw steak (see photo evidence above of past birthday steaks). To thank you for virtually celebrating by reading this blog post, I can't send you all personal steaks ... but I instead present you with two gifts: 1) a million shameless pictures and corresponding captions of Gracie's 5 years of life and counting (see slideshow above), and 2) a little essay I wrote that features Gracie and a small slice of our life together out here in the burbs of Silver Spring, Maryland.
A Walk in the Park
On any given Saturday when the weather is nice, Gracie and I get to become both soccer and basketball spectators in the course of about 20 minutes.
She strains at her leash as we approach the soccer field, full of the sound of whistles, cheers, and an animated commentator on a megaphone. The sight of men in different colored jerseys running back and forth and the smell of tamale husks strewn on the ground only add to her excitement.
Nearby in the parking lot, fans pull sodas out of huge coolers in the back of vans with the doors open. A truck blasts Latin music. Women chat on folding camp chairs. Kids run back and forth between the playground, the game, and the ice cream truck. The ice cream man circles the neighborhood all week long, but on Saturdays, he stakes out this parking lot. He knows his business well.
Gracie is more timid as we pass by the loud thumps of teenagers playing pick-up basketball at the edge of the park. There are no referees or uniforms here — unless brightly colored high tops count. There are usually several games going on at once, including a ragtag group of younger kids relegated to one lone hoop, where they're trying to bounce a soccer ball.
Groups of even younger kids circling the court on scooters recognize Gracie from our morning walks, as we often pass by the school bus stop. They bound up to pet her before remembering they’re supposed to ask for permission, which they do shyly. In these moments, I’m grateful that Gracie is good-natured. She could sit still and be petted by well-meaning, clumsy kids all day.
In our year-plus of living here, I’ve seen how Gracie makes up for the fact that I don’t blend in. She’s a good-looking dog, and many people will stop us on these walks to call her “muy bonita.” If there’s no soccer game, I’ll bring an old tennis ball and throw it for her in the park. This has drawn small cheering crowds on many occasions, as she catches it on the first bounce every time with circus-worthy fanfare. Sometimes it feels like everything I do is in an effort to fit in, especially in my neighborhood — but Gracie was born to stand out.
On one of our morning walks, a teenage girl standing near the bus stop approached us. She started asking a question but I cut her off with my standard “no habla español”/apologetic shrug combo, silently cursing myself for 8 years of wasted French.
Looking close to tears, the girl handed me her phone. On the other line was her mother, who explained to me that her daughter was lost and didn’t speak any English. She must have gotten on the wrong bus, or gotten off at the wrong stop. I told the mother the cross-streets and she said she was on her way.
I turned to hand the phone back to the girl. She was smoothing Gracie’s fur from her head all the way down her back. She was calm. Gracie was wagging her tail. And for a moment, we all belonged.
It was such a small moment, but I realized later that I wouldn't have been taking that walk if not for Gracie. What's more, I don't know if I would seem as approachable if not for Gracie. Something about having a dog must make people look friendlier. She definitely gives me an excuse to be a part of something — to be part of this neighborhood.
Thoughts on what it means to be a dog owner ... or a neighbor? Share in the comments below!