Buddy and Stefan are all packed up and starting their cross country drive tomorrow. Buddy was only a part of the pack for a little over a year, but he certainly made an impact on me. I learn a little something from every dog I work with, sometimes about dogs, sometimes about myself, sometimes about life in general. Here is my story about Buddy...
I knew Buddy years before he joined the pack - he and Stefan were always down at the water when I went down there with my rambunctious labs. I remember Buddy always being interested in my labs and wanting to play, which often times ended up in my dogs stealing his ball, which Stefan didn't seem to thrilled about. We would sometimes walk up the pathway at the same time, I remember talking to Buddy a lot, but never Stefan. He didn't seem terribly amused by the blonde girl and her big dogs. You can imagine my surprise when I got an email last year from Stefan saying that he and Buddy had moved back to Seattle (I still have no clue how he got my email), and that he remembered me from the park and wanted me to be Buddy's dog walker. I think that being hired by someone who sees you day in and day out with your pack at the park is the greatest compliment. I was thrilled to have Buddy join our pack.
From the very first day I took Buddy, I knew the he and Stefan were a unique pair. When we got to the park, Buddy wasn't the jolly ball happy lab that I remembered. He was very reserved, and very slow. He wasn't interested in interacting with any of the dogs, and although he stuck with the pack, he struggled to keep up. He was a wonderful pack dog, you couldn't ask for a sweeter temperament, something about his presence just made me happy. I realized I wasn't the only one who felt this way when Stefan texted me that day and said "how are you enjoying Buddy's personality?". I laughed at the question, although realizing that really was what was going on, the question wasn't how is he behaving, or how is he doing, but how am I enjoying his personality. Very much so.
Over the next few weeks, Buddy got a bit more comfortable with the pack, but never quiet opened up. He hung behind a lot, largely due to food allergies which we luckily got all figured out, but he was also just kind of on his own agenda. This was not what I was used to. I got into dog walking because I have a turbo-charged lab (who is a year older than Buddy) who just won't stop and so I have devoted my life to getting her as tired as possible, as efficiently as possible. This has been essentially the basis of my business, and what I know is how to get high energy dogs to finally lay on the floor and calm down. My whole day is go-go-go to try and accomodate client's schedules, get the dogs to expend as much energy as possible at the park, and minimize drive time in between. Buddy wasn't really interested in any of those things.
One day, when I was waiting for Buddy to catch up, laughing at the little smirk on his face, I realized why Buddy had come into my life. Buddy was there to teach me to slow down, appreciate things, live in the moment. Life at Buddy's pace means you have time to smell the flowers, to feel the sun on your face, and to just breathe. This is a lesson that couldn't have come at a better time - three years into my business, helping my fiance launch another business, co-head of the Magnuson Dog Walker's Association, and just generally not having a grasp on the whole work-life balance thing, stress was taking a toll on my health and it was time for a change. It has taken me years with some dogs to figure out what I learned from them specifically, sometimes not until years after I've worked with them, but with Buddy, I knew in the first couple weeks. He is not an old dog, hardly past middle age, but he has a look about him that you can tell he is very wise.
Aside from this life lesson I learned from Buddy, I didn't feel like we bonded very much. I know it may sound crazy-dog-lady-ish, but it was frustrating to me. All of my dogs love me and get excited to see me and I couldn't understand why Buddy could care less about me. I was sweet to him, I gave him treats, I would throw the ball for him when none of the other dogs were looking so he wouldn't be shy about getting it, but at the end of the day, I think I was just "OK" in his eyes. Then, one day Stefan had work off and came to the park with Buddy and met up with our pack. Just like that, the Buddy I remember from years before was back, chasing the ball, romping around, just so happy to have his dad at the park. The way Buddy looks at Stefan is unlike any dog/human interaction I've seen before - they are each other's world. It honestly is the sweetest thing the way Buddy looks at Stefan.
I was very honest with Stefan about how Buddy was transitioning into the pack. I told him that I didn't think Buddy liked me and that I may not be the right person. I believe there are different types of dog walkers, dog owners, and dogs, and it's important to find the right fit for all three. I was very happy to work with Buddy and Stefan, but I just didn't think Buddy liked me! After seeing the way Buddy behaved when Stefan was around, and seeing how he looked at him, I realized it had absolutely nothing to do with me. Buddy is a one person dog, and Stefan is his person. After figuring this out, my feelings were no longer hurt, and I just cared for Buddy the best I possibly could knowing how loved he is and that while I would probably never get even an ounce of that love, I was just filling in for Stefan during the day, until his favorite human being in the whole world would come home to him.
Over the past year, Buddy and I have grown to understand each other more and more. I walk a bit slower, just enjoying his company by my side, and he has decided I'm worthy of a good smirk, sometimes even a smile, as he looks up at me. He definitely became my buddy, and the pack just didn't seem quite right when he wasn't there.
In the last month or so, Stefan has been changing jobs and planning his cross country move, so while he unfortunately cancelled Buddy's service, he started meeting me at the park almost daily. I was grateful to be able to spend that time with Buddy and not have such a sudden good bye, I greatly enjoyed Stefan's company at the park (sometimes the conversations with the dogs feels a little one-sided), but most of all, I absolutely loved watching the two of them interact. While Buddy won't touch a ball when I throw it, he literally will let it bounce off his back and he will walk the other direction, he goes crazy when Stefan pulls the ball out. Stefan cheers Buddy on and gives him tons of praise and encouragement (which I tried too, but still not the same) and Buddy just loves to bring Stefan that ball. One day Stefan laughed and said that he thinks Buddy really just retrieves the ball more for Stefan than for himself, he thought Buddy could care less. I think he might be right, but it was just the sweetest thing to think that Buddy just wanted to please his man so much that he came bounding back time after time.
I love sharing the growth, changes and daily activities of the pack with my clients and ballwalkpark facebook community. Having Stefan join us at the park over the past few weeks has been so much fun, it is rare that a client actually gets to see that much of our life at the dog park. He has watched Lucy, Sage and Athena all have their first days at the park and grow up since. The dogs run ahead to greet Stefan and Buddy every day, and we enjoy our morning walks with Buddy back in the pack. Stefan has become quite the dog wrangler, and I know the pups will miss he and buddy as much as I will. I am so grateful for these two British men and the impact they've had on ballwalkpark.
Follow Stefan and Buddy's travels across the country on Stefan's tumblr blog here - http://stefanp1.tumblr.com/.
See the album of Buddy's going away party at the park today on the ballwalkpark facebook page