"ME AND MY
Books Nomi has
"May I pat your
It was a question I
posed to many of the dog owners I met on my early morning, fall
walks around the Rosedale reservoir.
If the answer was
"yes", I'd smile gratefully and bend to stroke the top of yet
another warm and furry head.
"Do you have a
dog?" I'd invariably be asked.
"No," I'd reply.
"I'm just living vicariously."
Was it my
imagination, or were the looks I'd receive slightly sad, almost
As a child growing
up in a highly allergic family, I'd never owned a pet. As a
woman with a successful career and an active social and cultural
life, having a pet had never crossed my mind.
Then, in late
middle age, I'd found myself with no family, no career (due to
the diagnosis of a chronic neuromuscular disease), and a life of
increasing pain and decreasing mobility.
In an effort to
stay limber, I'd begun taking long walks through the city. But
as time passed, and my body grew stiffer and more resistant to
the concrete sidewalks, I'd turned instead to the softer earth
paths of the reservoir.
It was there that
I'd discovered a delightful and unexpected diversion: dog
Some of the dogs
were on leashes, bouncing or plodding, sprinting or chugging,
alongside their owners. Others were off leash, barking as they
chased after squirrels or raced to catch bright rubber balls and
frayed plastic frisbees.
chatted easily among themselves as they strode together in pairs
and in groups, calling out a cheerful "morning" to everyone they
passed -- even solitary figures like me.
Oh, how I'd envied
Dogs and owners
I'd envied their
closeness. Their unique relationships. Their shared experiences.
They were like privileged members of an exclusive club. Bound by
mutual love and loyalty and respect.
Suddenly, I wanted
to be part of that club.
winter, as my pain grew worse and my walks grew shorter, I
immersed myself in all things dog. I watched every dog program
on TV, even the reruns. I memorized the names of every dog breed
recognized by the Westminster Kennel Club. I wept for every dog
on every online rescue site.
By spring, I made
up my mind.
I would adopt a
morning in early May, I found her.
Half maltese, half
yorkshire terrier, her pert, whiskered face with its impossibly
long eyelashes, gazed out at me from the computer screen.
And I fell in love.
We met in the flesh
that same afternoon. And on Sunday -- her third birthday -- she
was officially mine.
I renamed her
Shadow. Because of her smoky, black and gray colouring and
because, within hours of entering my world, she literally became
In the days that
followed, I was stunned by the depth of my love for her. It was
a love unlike anything I'd ever felt before. Fierce and
protective. So intense that it made my chest ache and brought
tears to my eyes.
With her came a new
routine, a broadening of my narrow world. Each morning, I'd open
the baby gate to the empty storage closet I'd turned into her
bedroom (complete with wallpaper, a shelf lined with dog care
products and whimsical china dogs, and assorted plush toys
propped up on the floor) and there she'd be.
My reason for
getting up every day. The perky, welcoming presence that dulled
my pain for awhile. The tender, wriggling bundle of warmth that
allowed me some temporary peace.
We were equal
partners, Shadow and I, starting together from scratch.
Just as I'd never
walked a dog before, she'd never been walked before. Her
original owners had simply opened the back door of their house
and let her out into their garden.
I bought a harness
and leash, and began our mutual training by walking her up and
down the corridor outside my apartment. We then progressed to
the large, landscaped garden with its stone pathways off the
third floor of the apartment building itself.
I ignored the new,
gnawing pain in my right shoulder and focused solely on Shadow.
My goal: to become an expert dog walker, while making her an
expert at being walked.
weeks of practice, I felt secure enough to attempt our first
trip to the reservoir two blocks away.
My heart was
pounding as I led her across a busy street for the first time. I
held my breath, then slowly released it, as we crossed the
second street without incident.
This was it.
I straightened my
back, tightened my grip on the leash and gave it a gentle tug.
Then, woman and dog moved forward in perfect synch onto the
grounds of the reservoir.
Out of the corner
of my eye, I watched Shadow churning along next to me on her
short, slender legs. As if sensing my gaze, she turned her head
and glanced up at me. I mouthed a flurry of proud, happy kisses
her way, then returned my attention to the path ahead.
A woman I'd seen on
many of my walks was coming toward us, her brown standard
poodle, Eli, prancing regally beside her.
Once again, I held
"Morning," she said
as she drew closer.
And then I waited.
For her to notice.
stride, she called back over her shoulder,
"You finally got a
dog! Good for you."
I could actually
feel my smile as it stretched across my face.
"Y-e-s!" My free
fist pumped the air. "We did it, little dog, we did it!"
not one, but three of her favourite liver treats, and a series
of tight, ecstatic hugs.
After that, my
spirits soared with every step we took along the reservoir's
"Morning," came the
usual greeting, as dogs and owners passed us, in pairs and in
echoed, nearly giddy with excitement now.
I was oblivious to
my body as I walked, longer and faster than I'd been able to
walk in months.
I felt a space
opening up around me, like a pair of welcoming arms.
Granting me access,
at last, to that exclusive club, and issuing me a lifetime
For as long as I
had my Shadow.