I am a criminal.
I feel bad every time I do this, but one look at the happy, sloppy grin on my companionís face assures me that Iím doing the right thing. The next day, we do it again.
I refer to running with my dog, Lily. Itís a crime to let Lily off her leash in the reserve we like to visit, but it makes her so happy I canít bear not to.
Lily is a good dog, a yellow lab adopted from the Yolo County Animal Shelter almost a year ago. She suffers only from an excess of high spirits and a genetic abnormality that no one at the shelter seemed to notice. Her legs are, in fact, steel springs, cleverly covered in a beautiful coat of cream-colored fur. Boing, boing, boing: She can run forever.
When we get in the car each morning, she doesnít know for sure whether we will go to the store (boring: she has to wait in the car) or whether we will go out to the country (fabulous: she gets to run).
But at a certain point, the intersection of Anderson and La Rue roads to be precise, she figures out as I make the left-hand turn that weíre going to run and starts whimpering with delight.
Now, I know that itís important to be a good and conscientious dog owner. Barking dogs, jumping dogs and ill-trained dogs in general constitute a large pain, particularly for that part of the population that doesnít like dogs. But a happy dog, a tired dog that gets enough exercise, is a well-behaved dog. So down the road we go.
I take off her leash when we arrive at our destination and she goes like a shot, skimming along the gravel road, black nose to the ground, ever alert. Once in a while she sees a rabbit and the chase is on. I used to worry that she might actually catch a rabbit and bring the terrified, furry creature, mortally or painfully wounded, back to me. Fortunately, thatís never happened and people who know more about dogs and rabbits than I do say it likely never will.
Sometimes I look at her as she bounds through the high dry weeds. She is a beautiful animal, young and strong. If she hadnít been adopted she would have been killed.
I describe her as 90 percent yellow lab with a mysterious 10 percent something else but she might actually be 100 percent lab Ė just not a show dog. She has a funny underbite, soft dark ears that contrast with her creamy coat, a peculiar bump on her head and a curly tail. Her eyes are as dark as her black nose.
She races along the road, in and out of riparian brush. No need to ask whether dogs can smile, for Lily is grinning from ear to ear, her tongue hanging out. If we see joggers or people out for a hike I catch Lily and put her leash back on. We really do want to be good neighbors.
She might stop to study a squashed snake or a pancaked squirrel alongside the road. But they donít interest her for long. Nor do the yellow-billed magpies that we see most frequently. Her pleasures are simple: She likes to run across empty fields to scare up flocks of bored crows and she likes to chase rabbits.
After a series of mad and futile dashes she settles down and runs just in front of me at a brisk, steady pace. She knows that weíre going to run to the end of the road, turn around and come back Every once in a while she cocks her head to make sure Iím still panting along behind her. Hello, Lily. She is my guardian now, and coach.
"Come on," she seems to be saying. "Try to keep up."
Iíve only seen her point once (where did she learn that?) but she wasnít flushing pheasants. She was sniffing around our front yard in downtown Davis when she sensed the presence of an intruder dog coming around the corner.
Weíve run in thick fog, drizzly rain and on days when the north wind chilled our bones. If thereís any wildlife to be seen, it gets out of our way long before a visual sighting is possible.
She is a running machine.
I get tired long before she does. Itís no contest. She has pity on me and obediently jumps back in the car without being called.
On the way home we stop at an intersection and while we wait for the light to change I feel something cold and wet on my neck, just under my right ear.
Itís a kiss from Lily.
Youíre welcome, girl.
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