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Meandering with Mutts: The healing companionship of dogs


My writing this month strays from the usual, as this morning has me strolling the streets of San Diego with my youngest son and his two dogs, Gizmo and Odie. My husband and I are here in California visiting Ben and his wife, Aly, in the lovely Point Loma section of the city, while puppy Noah is back home enjoying lots of playtime and attention provided by his doting “Aunt” Nancy.

Our visit has coincided with unusually cool, rainy days, but this morning the weather gods have graced us with a patchwork sky of blue interspersed with translucent white clouds, sun peering through, bestowing warmth and renewal.

Gizmo and Odie are alike in that both sport white coats be-speckled with brown, but there the similarity ends. Gizmo, a French bulldog, was literally purchased from the back of a truck 10 years ago by Aly – not something she would recommend but he was just irresistible. Typical of Frenchies, he’s feisty and charming and when on walks exalts in leading the way, strutting in his sort-legged, authoritative manner. Odie, a 70-pound boxer/pit bull mix is not only different from Gizmo in physique but also in temperament. He’s a rescue from the streets of Tijuana, and having recently come out the other side of puppyhood, he is now quite content to ramble leisurely, indulging his olfactory sense, exploring his world. Both dogs are utterly lovable.

As is my wont, I take note of the variety of flora as we amble along, most of it quite different from that of my native Pennsylvania. The biome of the area is known as chaparral, and is characterized by drought-tolerant succulents, woody shrubs, and trees. Given the (usual) lack of rain typical of the area, when landscaping most folks here wisely choose plants that flourish in this environment, such as yucca, cacti, and agave; particularly impressive is the fox tail agave. Symbolic of abundance and longevity, it produces 7- to 15-foot tall bushy flower stalk with yellowish-green blooms that arch downward. An abundance of stunning flowering plants and shrubs are also on display, including bougainvillea, lantana and bird of paradise and everywhere, tumbling down hillsides and adorning front yards, are delightful mounds of aromatic rosemary.

Rogue gray clouds take us by surprise, producing a shimmering veil of light rain. We reach the crest of a hill and are treated to a sprawling panorama of the harbor below; walking back in the opposite direction we view the spectacular cityscape of downtown San Diego. As the rain subsides we pause to marvel at the appearance of a double rainbow, colors glowing softly in the reemerging sunlight. Admiring the beauty, I think to myself that perhaps it’s a sign sent along by the spirit of my eldest son, Cal, whom we lost in November.

Skies have cleared as we arrive back at the house. The dogs scamper in, toes tip-tapping on the hardwood floor. After their vigorous walk both are ready for a morning snooze. As I plop onto the sofa, mug of coffee in hand, they hop up next to me taking positions on either side, settling in. What a blessing it is to have the companionship that dogs so willingly and generously offer, their comforting presence bringing solace during times of grief, helping us to survive and to heal.

Cindy Woodall resides in Upper Black Eddy.

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