This is our dog, Juno, a Shiba Inu. Over the last six months I have been her walking companion.
It has taken almost six months for Juno to teach me how to walk her. She reluctantly takes me out during sunrise on a tour of her Battery Park neighborhood. And while she has a few favorite and some mandatory stops, in large part her walk is random to me, but not to her.
A required stop is the local dog park and I have learned that it doesn't matter whether there is a dog there or not (She is far more interested in her fellow creatures than humans, typical of her breed) She is drawn to the dog park as we are drawn to our email, because it is there that she gets the overnight news and perhaps a follow up on someone's previous posting. She is a sommelier of scent.
Her clear olfactory advantage over me; that slight shift in perceptual skills changes her world view. Smells, for Juno, describe present and past. This is not a skill I share. Humans associate smells with our past; my grandfather's cigars, the smell of my oldest son's head as an infant or even the puppy smell that Juno once had. We can conjure up a mental image of a loved one in our mind, or remember a tune, but try and viscerally remember the smell of lemon or garlic. We recognize smells, but cannot mentally recreate them. So a different olfactory perception allows Juno and I to occupy parallel but separate worlds.
As we walk about, she attends to her olfactory needs and I occupy my time exercising my visual curiosity discovering new views of the tip of Manhattan every day. The arrival of the Staten Island ferry, with the commuters crowding towards the bow to make a fast exit; the seagulls on the piling; the special yellowish light that illuminates the Statue as the sun just begins to rise over the horizon and the intervening buildings. Juno walking style enforces new perspectives daily.
When she walks out of our apartment building she decides, in whatever mysterious way she has, to turn left towards the dog park or right towards the people park. While like all of us, especially Shibas she does like her routines, you can see her pause at the doorway to make her choice. I am simply along for the walk. Her sequence is different than mine; I think hers is a bit of attention deficit disorder and that mine is a logical sequence but perhaps hers is logical and causal to her and I am the one with ADD, after all we are being moved by her perceptions, not mine.
Adam Gopnik summed up the parallel universe that our dogs occupy in The Table Come First, his great essay on the visceral and cultural entanglement of taste:
I have so much to be thankful for this year, as, in fact, I have had for so many years. But I wanted to give a special nod to Juno, my ambassador to dogginess, who over our time together helps me to see my world a bit differently. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”