catching squirrels

Wednesdays and Fridays are special days for me and my dog, Sky. I get to spend two hours boxing at the gym early in the morning, and Sky gets one shot at catching a squirrel. That is the routine we’ve established over the past six weeks that he’s lived with me and my partner. I come home sweaty and tired, drink a smoothie, and take a shower. Then Sky gets to chase a squirrel. He knows the routine now, so with the familiar clink as I open the gate, he bolts towards the park like a drag racer with me in tow. We then spend four minutes arguing about who is walking whom. He lunges forward, and I stop and wait for him to back up. I move forward, he lunges, and we stop again. Sometimes I pretend any slight release of tension on the leash is actually loose leash walking because I don’t like walking at a pace that most turtles consider sluggish any more than he does. This way, little by little, we make our way across the 50 yards to the park. Then the real torture begins. I make him sit. And sit. He doesn’t even look at me—his eyes are fixed on the fat squirrels unwittingly enjoying the tasty acorns scattered around beneath the big oak trees. Sky’s every muscle is as taught as a harp string. His whole body is shaking with anticipation. Oh, how he wants it so bad. More than anything ever in the world he wants to get that squirrel. I take off the leash, but make him stay. By now he’s “sitting” only in the very loosest definition of the word, leaning forward, his haunches inches off the ground. When I think he can take it no longer, I say, “OK.” I always expect him to dart away after a squirrel, but he doesn’t. He tiptoes, one foot ever so softly at a time. Right front. Left back. Left front. Right back. So slowly and smoothly that even the tags on his collar cease their persistent jingling. He moves inches at a time, barely breathing for fear one of the squirrels may catch on to him. I don’t actually want him to catch a squirrel, so I spoil the fun a bit and walk noisily, shuffling leaves beside him to give the squirrels a few seconds warning. He gets annoyed by this, realizing his breakfast is about to take off up a tree, and he picks up the pace a little. His every move is fluid, as if he had wheels, not legs. Then it happens—so fast you can’t tell who moves first, Sky or the squirrel. A squirrel dashes full speed towards the nearest tree, and in the same instant, Sky, the great wild beast, the hunter, is after him. You can hear the skitter of squirrel claws on the tree bark, and Sky makes a mighty leap in a desperate attempt to climb the tree. Alas, this dog is no tree-dweller, and the squirrel is lost once again. But Sky will be back to try again next week, and the squirrels will still be there. I fear one day my squirrel-crazy pup will actually succeed in catching one of the rodents and will find out that it’s not actually that fun to catch animals with teeth and claws. But for now, he lives for these moments.

Watching Sky stalk squirrels today, seeing his uncontainable enthusiasm made me wonder what, in my life, makes me feel this way. What makes me feel alive when the world seems gray and cold? I am lucky to be able to name several: my amazing partner, a goofy dog, boxing, and writing. An eclectic combination, perhaps, but these are the things I live for, the things I think about all day long. So when my days are filled with just looking out the windows, well, at least we’re catching squirrels on Wednesday.