Romping With Angels Unaware

On a brisk but sunny spring day you might find me walking at Bergman Park with my canine bff Rosie – a red-haired mix of golden retriever and cattle dog. If we’re lucky, it will be with other dog friends we have encountered and befriended during the past months, most notably a German shepherd pup named Jaydah and her dog mom, Darlene.

For months after my return to Chautauqua County from nearly two decades in Florida, Rosie and I walked alone. All through the dreary and frigid winter, on days so cold it felt like our breath froze in our throats and no matter how many layers I had on, I still felt cold. It was a challenging pursuit on most days, but Rosie romped through it in the worst of weather. That made it worthwhile for me.

That’s a thing we love about our dogs, isn’t it? They romp with us through the worst of weathers.

So on one bleak day in March, we were pleased to encounter another romping pup and a friendly dog owner who invited us to walk with them. It was so wet and miserable that day, we stayed near the front of the park, but the two dogs had a fine time, chasing each other through puddles, sliding in the mud and romping gleefully.

The dog owner’s name was Darlene, and she too was a retired teacher, from Fletcher School and a 30-year veteran in education. As the weeks passed, Darlene and I began to walk the fields and the roads behind and around Bergman together with our pups on a regular basis. Darlene was devoted to the training concept that a tired dog is a good dog, a valuable maxim. She was full of sound advice about subbing in the elementary schools too.

My teaching experience lies in college and upper level secondary, but my primary sub experience in Jamestown has been in elementary and middle schools, so despite 30 years as an educator, I still needed plenty of advice. When learning is needed, the teacher shows up.

Darlene showed me various teacher voices that children respond to and clever sing-song phrases that work in classroom management and hall walking. I began to use these teacher voices such as “I’m the boss, applesauce!” accompanied with a smile and “One, two, three, look at me!” among others. Darlene’s coup de gras is the magic dust she tells young ones she sprinkles on them that makes them quiet and perfect little children. “I’m sprinkling the magic dust now right here over your heads!” she exclaims, illustrating with a sweep of her arm and hand how to sprinkle. “Now you are quiet little children! Now you are all happy children! Now you are perfect little children!”

The children she taught and the ones she now teaches as a sub must flourish in her presence. I think of all the fine teachers in this city, the ones I have the honor to sub for, and I marvel at this gift they have. It’s a fine magic.

And speaking of fine moments, walking with dogs on any given day is a magical thing. It stops time. That’s a beautiful thing. While you’re walking the dog, you don’t need to be anywhere else and nobody can bother you. There are no bills to pay or illnesses to fret about. There’s only a fresh breeze in your face and a smile too, because dogs, well, they just make us laugh.

Jaydah is still a big puppy who loves to bite at Rose’s neck as they run. Rose doesn’t like this much but she has found ways to deal with it. Dogs know how to play well with others. Ah yes. Another elementary lesson.

We make friends while we’re dog walking too because others who care about animals are generally pretty decent souls. From our dogs we learn so much about living. They forgive us our angers. They ignore our bad moods. They forget any transgression. Listen, sometimes I think they are the angels unaware who show us how to behave in this world.

Dogs greet us with love when we are in all tempers. They exude joy for no particular reason other than we are there with them after being gone awhile. Our dogs offer solace, no small thing in this world. From them, we learn what loyalty is, how to recognize danger, whom to trust. In many ways they’re teachers, and like the best of teachers, they have their own magic dust.

They welcome us home. They look into our eyes and seem to say, it’s all right. They sprinkle the magic dust on our lives.