When walking in my neighborhood, a friendly one I’ve written about before, I used to be the headliner. Whether trotting with baby in stroller or chasing my speed demon son on his tiny trike, neighbors would call out, “Hello, Kristine!” I’d wave back and smile.
It seems I’ve been relegated to mere groupie on my tree-lined block, in the span of a few short years. All it took was Bailey.
For the uninitiated, Bailey is my rescue dog. Meaning she saved me after my divorce, roughly five years ago. An unlikely savior, she was neurotic to the nth degree, coming with huge abandonment and trust issues. But, from the moment I met her—I knew this dog and I were meant to make each other whole.
I won’t go into that story, as you can read it here, but suffice to say Bailey has come a long way. Amazing what love can do. So much so that I am now nearly the invisible person at the other end of the leash.
Bailey, you see, has become quite social in her young adulthood. And has decided to extend her protection—pack rights, really—to her friends in the neighborhood. These friends tend to be at the very young and very old end of the spectrum—and I don’t think this is a coincidence. Bailey tends to befriend and protect the disenfranchised and most vulnerable. I have to wonder if this is because she knew at one time how it felt to be both.
As I walk down the street, cries of “BAIWEEEEEE” ring out. A pack of four little adorable rugrats come flying at her from all directions, racing to see who can greet her first. As her tail wags furiously and she sniffs faces, searching for some small trace of ice cream or peanut butter, she herds these little ones into a circle she can contain. Bailey is a herding dog of high standards—she wants no small charge of hers too close to the street or any unknown adult who might be walking past. These kiddos are held to her high standards—if they come running across our yard without calling out to her and stopping for a quick pet or ball throw, she barks ferociously. They are meant to respect her territory, asking permission to cross it.
Any time of day, during this delicious summer season, my doorbell will ring. I don’t even bother thinking it is for me. As I open it, one little voice says, “Miss Kristine, can Bailey come out and play?” I harness my furry girl up and send her outside with her favorite yellow tennis ball. As she jumps and chases it down, I hear the squeals of delight from her most loyal fan. This particular groupie seems to love Bailey more than all the others do, as attested to by the love note magnetized to my kitchen board: “To Bailey: I love you Bailey. And I know you love me. You’re the best dog in the world. Love, Clare.” The other tiny groupies join in the play eventually, as Bailey decides she has had enough. Queenlike, she lays on the grass, allowing her loyal subjects to pet her and discuss why she is “better than any other girl dog.”
And when the little ones are out of sight, Bailey searches for her other friends around the block. Grandma Moore, who is still sharp well into her 90s, is a favorite. After several hip surgeries and a heart valve replacement, Grandma can still be found with her walker, making her daily trek as far as she feels able to go. Sometimes, it’s just down the driveway—other times, down the block. Either way, Bailey is extremely gentle, careful not to knock her off balance. She licks her wrinkled hand and lays at her feet while we chat. She also lets no one within 50 feet of Grandma Moore, almost causing the gardener a heart attack because of it. But I don’t think Grandma Moore minds being coveted. She usually smiles indulgently at the ruckus.
There are others, of course. Don, who seems to have perfected the art of the behind-the-ear rub. Ms. Cindy, who slips her bones when I am not paying attention. Wayne, who I am sure is behind Bailey’s five-pound weight gain. As I watch from the family room window, I see him give her at least five Milk-Bones before he mows his lawn.
Bailey, the somewhat scary, neurotic, defensive dog I began with five years ago, has become the rock star. The headliner. The still fierce, but exceedingly gentle with the right people, dog beloved around the block. She has found her pack, finally.
I, for one, don’t mind being part of her entourage. I may not write her love letters, but as she snuggles next to me in bed and sighs contentedly, I smile. We are both exactly where we belong. And love truly does amazing things.
I’m all in.