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Yesterday I worried my new friends, two pugs named Ernie and Bella might not be ready for trail hiking. I and their owners (family) had been inspired by the image of the puggies experiencing the sense of freedom that comes from being leash-free on the trail.
But at the High Park off-leash area, Ernie had roamed too far and although he was found on the other side of a fence along the path, he had traveled and stood alone and somewhat confused away from Bella and our pack. He had visited with me at our house before the walk, sharing Frida's toys and treats, and being cuddled by me and my daughter Caroline. I always do this with new dogs, as well as with dogs who hike regularly with us. I think it helps develop a powerful bond - we become relatives.
Anyhow, Ernie and Bella's family reassured me: they had thought Ernie might get carried away, but they had been willing to have him hike off-leash. They suggested Ernie stay on lead if I felt more confident, but should I sense a shift in his staying power, I might give free rein another try.
Yay and yay! Today we came home for some quality bonding and then headed out for Humber bay Park East. Ernie gets anxious in the car, so he likes a reassuring arm around his torso. Bella watches over him.
At first I kept Ernie on leash, but within five minutes he was running through the bushes and along the path. Whenever he came within arms reach I'd call his name and give him a peanut butter star from Fetch on Roncevalles. I like to think the honest affection I felt for both him and Bella helped keep both Puggies (as well as for Giselle who shared the hike) within range, but I know those treats were tempting.
After the hike, Bella and Ernie came home with us once again, briefly this time. On the way back to their house, Ernie was calmer in the car. From time to time I'd say "I know, it's not easy for you" and I'd hold him close. He didn't understand the words, but I do believe he felt my empathy. There seemed to be a certain flow between us, deepened by our hiking time, and I felt honored.
Janice is the founder of and primary caregiver at Happy Trail Dogs Service. She is also the founder of an arts-related non-profit and worked in the fitness industry for over two decades. She is an artist, editor, writer, and mother of two wonderful women and a glorious lab named Frida.