We are known from our dogs

As I stand outside the Easons bookstore in Tralee, County Kerry, I see Richard, a man I know, walking through the crowd talking to a smart looking lady. We say a quick hello as he hurries past, and the lady with him gives me an approving look. I try to position her, but since she is in close discussion with Richard, I only get a side view of her face.

I’m waiting for my daughter Ruby to buy some last minute college stuff in town before I leave home in a couple of weeks. Ruby has been home for the past few days, but we both know that as the pandemic spreads, it is best for her to return to Limerick until the worst is over. Neither of us say anything, but the feeling is there.

Waiting for Ruby gives me time to stand still and watch Tralee at work. I think this is the first time I’ve had time since the March lockdown. After Richard dies, a few more familiar faces go to Easons or on to Penneys. People nod or say hello, but often I don’t recognize them as most of them wear a mask. I am careful to get too close and move up and down like a guard in front of the store.

A few minutes pass, then Richard reappears with the usual smile on his face. I smile back and am happy to see him.

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“How are Daisies?” he asks.

Daisy is our family dog. An adorable ball of fur that squirms and smiles when she sees you. It’s small, but it has a big place in all of our hearts. I walk through the city park with Daisy every morning. We usually leave around eight o’clock, do two laps on the 35 mornings, and meet other dogs and their owners along the way. Who we meet and where depends on when we leave the house. How Richard knows about Daisy and why he asks me about her surprises me.

“She is fine,” I reply, always happy to talk about our little ragamuffin.

“That was my mother with me; She asked, “Who is this man?” when we said hello, ”Richard explains, probably noticing the questioning look on my face. “She meets you every morning in the park with Daisy when she goes for a walk with Alfie.”

“Ah, that’s why she looked familiar to me,” I laugh and place the lady Richard spoke to earlier: Alfie’s owner.

Every day I enter the park through the castle countess’s kissing gates. When I walk up the worn, cast concrete steps to the path, I often run into Alfie and his owner – if not at the top of the stairs, somewhere nearby. Alfie is in love with Daisy; If he doesn’t see her, he’ll stop and won’t move until Daisy comes. When they are in the park in front of us, Alfie sits down and doesn’t move. Daisy shows little interest in Alfie, but it’s nothing personal. Daisy loves people towards dogs.

Often, Richard’s mother would pull or persuade him to move, to no avail. The other dog with them doesn’t care about Daisy except maybe barking before sniffing the leaves. It’s love to Alfie though, and most mornings I’ll try to rush by and apologize for delaying the team for their walk.

Without Alfie by her side, I didn’t recognize Richard’s mother, even though we laughed a lot at the hopelessness of Alfie’s love.

It’s the same in the park. We meet Bailey and her master every day and every time Daisy and Bailey have a barking match and block each other’s path until one of them flashes and gives way. I have no idea who Bailey’s owner is or where he lives, although we have great chats most days. There’s also Teddy, a little black guy who is also in love with Daisy. Like Alfie, Teddy won’t move until he sniffs Daisy, much to the annoyance of his owner.

I have often spoken to another hiker about our dogs, the excitement he went through when one died, and caring for his sick father when he was in the emergency room one night. I don’t know his name and almost didn’t recognize him this morning when I met him without his dog. I was later than usual and the man had already walked the dog and was on his way home after shopping.

One of the women I meet always apologizes for her Yorkie sniffing around in Daisy, but as I tell her there is no need. Another, who doesn’t know me, but whose son is my wife’s friend through work, is going to stop discussing politics and whatever the news while her newcomer, Scarlett the Beagle, meets Daisy. Their irritable relationship improves, but Scarlett definitely reaches out to her namesake as a movie heroine at times – not that Daisy is the best example of how to behave in public. We meet at different phases of our walks and only know each other through our four-legged companions.

When I get home every morning my wife will ask who we met and I will list all of these people whose names I don’t know, starting with “Oh, Alfie and his owner” (now “Alfie and Richard’s mother” ). ) or “Bailey and Bailey’s father” or “the Polish girl and her funny little dog” and share a few lines from each conversation.

Now I realize that I’m probably a story in another kitchen when morning walks are done. I am “the man with the beard with Daisy”. It is undoubtedly the same all over the world. There is something warming about the simple way our dogs define how we are recognized. The nod, the chat and the comments about the weather ensure a pleasant start to the day and start nice friendships.

What the dogs make of it is everyone’s guess.


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