It’s the Christmas season in one of the oddest years of our lives, and that’s why, even in the ever-colder temperatures here in the northeast, I’m enjoying pushing our 14-year-old cockapoo, Chloe, along the streets of our suburban neighborhood.
You’ll notice I said “pushing.” That is, in a pet carriage that I found online. She’s wrapped in warm blankets, her little black nose facing forward as we go up and down the streets of our hilly village.
She can’t walk very far anymore—sometimes not at all. Her legs are failing. Her body is ailing. She’s been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, and she’s on medication to control the cortisol levels in her body.
For her, the syndrome means that she lacks energy. She has skin issues. She’s not her usual squirrel-chasing, outgoing self anymore. It makes us all really sad, and I’m trying hard not to think too deeply of what lies ahead.
But while she’s still with us—this sweet, wonderful little pet—I’m going to give her the best that I can give her. And that means strolls outside in the fresh air on sunny days, even just for 15 minutes.
I think she loves these walks. She’s alert, her head going back and forth, her nose ever twitching, as we pass our neighbors’ homes, many already beautifully decorated for Christmas. We feel the winter air on our faces. We see people. We get out. We breathe.
I try to take her out for these rides twice a day. Off we go, in the morning and in the afternoon, up and around, here, there, and everywhere.
Now and then, I stop the carriage and lift her out for an informative sniff around. She takes a few steps in the grass or in the street, checks things out, walks a little, does her business. Then she stops, a plaintive look on her face as she glances up at me.
I get it. She’s gone as far as she can handle. So, back in the carriage she goes—and we’re off again.
And sometimes, we’re not just walking, but gathering sweet and surprised reactions.
During one of our recent pet-carriage strolls, a team of landscapers leaned out the open windows of their noisy truck as it barreled by. They flashed big, friendly smiles and a bunch of enthusiastic thumbs-ups as they saw us.
Maybe we made their day. Maybe they’re making fun. I don’t know. But the smiles—we’ll take ‘em.
On another walk, out of the corner of my eye I caught movement in an upper window of a house on a nearby block. I turned to see the surprised faces of three kids, likely middle schoolers, all of them pressed up against the window, gawking and smiling.
Strangers all, they waved at my dog and me—and I waved back.
In the last two months or so that we’ve been wheeling about, Chloe and I have also gotten some raised eyebrows.
One person, as she walked slowly by, left her gaze on me a beat longer than seemed truly polite or necessary.
She finally said, “How sad.”
Still another uttered, “So it’s come to this.”
For those who judge us: It’s OK. We can hack it. Maybe, even with the harshness dished out (inadvertent or not), we’re still leaving an impression, setting an example, giving someone a new understanding about everyday ways to show charity to another living thing. So it’s a win all around.
The young children we’ve encountered, by the way, share their reactions in a clean, lean way—and I adore them for it. A whip-smart second grader who lives near saw us recently as we were passing her house. She stopped playing, looked over, and said to me, “Are you pushing your dog in a stroller?”
“Yes, I am,” I replied.
The child thought for a few seconds, then said, “I think it’s really weird.”
I acknowledged that keen assessment. “It is weird,” I said.
For a moment we stood there in companionable silence, both of us observing Chloe in the carriage as she sat there in the sun, checking out the neighborhood she’s known her entire life.
Overhead, honking geese flew by. The leaves that remained on the trees—a spotty array of yellows, oranges, reds—were twinkling in the breeze. Neighbors were working on their yards. Kids were riding bikes, bundled up against the cold.
And an aging, ill dog wasn’t just curled up in a corner of her home, sleeping the day away like a lump. She was out and about, even if her own legs couldn’t carry her anymore.
It sure did look nutty. But it was also caring, and kind, and the best this pet lover could do to recreate her dog’s puppy days, when she romped across these same yards with my young sons and had the time of her life.
“Just think,” I said to my forthright young neighbor. “Chloe is older now, and she can’t walk as well as she once did. So it’s fun for her to get outside like this. She loves the fresh air. And she loves seeing all the neighbors—including you.”
By now the child’s dad had come over. He’d heard the exchange and was glancing at his daughter as she stared at Chloe in the carriage.
“Is this OK with you?” he said to her kindly.
She paused. Then, after thinking it over, she reached a decision.
She announced brightly, “Yes. It’s OK with me!”
“Awesome!” I said.
A few days later, I relayed this story to another young neighbor. She was pondering it all with great seriousness for a seven-year-old. And she knew we had three other pets at home, in addition to our beloved Chloe.
“Interesting,” she said after a moment, with a child’s clear-eyed wisdom. Then she added, “St. Francis of Assisi loved animals. Maybe you’re a lot like him.”
When you show charity, not only does your recipient reap the benefits—maybe others do, too.
Maureen Mackey is a writer, editor, and digital content strategist in the New York City area.