There are few things more delightful in this life than taking your dog for a walk through a local park. Sharing the outside space, the fresh air and, yes, sometimes even the rain, is a delight. Chattering to our dogs about the things they're doing, the sniffs they're finding and the trails they're chasing: it's a joy to see them exploring their environments.
I was recently asked to join Mr Bojangles, a blue roan cocker spaniel, on his walk through a park in Surrey, UK.
"But what?", I hear you ask. "The UK? I thought you were based in Andorra and Spain?!"
Well yes, dear reader, this is true. But what you may not know is that I'm also a travelling photographer and sometimes that means jumping on a plane with my VERY heavy camera bag, and coming over to visit you in your own stomping ground.
So that's how I came to be photographing this handsome chap on his walk in the lush Surrey countryside - a far cry from the types of landscape in which I usually find myself!
Mr Bojangles is a fellow of many identities. His monkey butler, Rachel, has all his pseudonyms listed in a document on her phone, just so she can keep track of them all. Before his arrival as a tiny pup, she was asked "what are you going to call him?".
"Mr Bojangles", she replied.
"OK, but what are you actually going to call him? Like, in the park?".
"Mr Bojangles!", she insisted. Well, over the years that resolve has, shall we say, waivered a little, and the list is now, at the time of writing, seventy-four names strong. Yes, you read that right. SEVENTY-FOUR.
Bo, Bib, Lord Boblington, Ibbs, Roo, Piglett Maliglett, 19-Feet-Long-Dog, or my personal favourite: Pokey Arse Bum Face.
Whatever his moniker, there's no doubt that he's the most loved boy that ever did live, and his Mum is my kind of crazy dog lady! How crazy? Well, let's just say he has his own engraved silver fork for when they dine out. Oh yes. That crazy!
We met up on one of their regular walks and, rather than taking posed portraits, we focused on capturing their everyday interactions and what a walk looks like to them.
“Walking is about spending time with my boy”, says Rachel. “It’s not about getting from one place to the next, it’s about spending quality time together”.
And quality time for Mr Bojangles involves lots of interactive play.
Whilst he does love a ball, he has a very different take on it to many dogs. Bo does not believe in chasing and retrieving balls, despite his spaniel pedigree. He may be a designated “hunting retriever”, but he has decided that that’s no job for Lord Poklington (I kid you not). No, this particular spanner grabs his beloved ball, trots determinedly to the top of a hill where he parks himself, and drops it, so it rolls down the slope to Rachel’s feet. She picks it up, tosses it to him for him to catch, and he drops it once again in an endless cycle of throw-catch-PUH-roll-throw-catch…. And if he misses the catch? Well, this boy is nobody’s retriever, and he barks until his monkey butler does her job of collecting it to start the game again. Less “why have a dog and bark yourself”, more “barking is awesome, I’ll do that while you crack on with the rest of the chores”.
It's a delight to see them enjoy their time together as a team. Many other dogs and owners pass us, and they're all obviously enjoying the balmy summer weather, cooled by the shade of the trees. Some carry ball launchers, others are checking their phones, and some are chatting happily to their dogs as they go. Everyone we see is relaxed and happy. But no-one seems quite as in tune as our intrepid pair. We stop when we come across some of Bo's "friends" and spend a few minutes catching up with what's going on in their lives, before it's time to see what activity the Bib would like to do next.
He takes us down a path to a ditch filled with leaves, looking almost autumnal after the drought that has hit the UK this summer, causing the trees to shed. He buries his ball deep in the leaves and the two of them dig furiously together, trying to find it. It's a delight to watch them play, and both clearly having so much fun. He shucks the ball through his legs like a rugby player, and looks around, confused, to peals of Rachel's laughter, until he realises where it's gone and grabs it, only to bury it deep in the leaves once more.
That game over for today, we continue on our way, stopping as we go to investigate a hole dug by someone who passed this way before us. There are many smells to be snuffled, and it would be churlish to not help out in the expansion project.
It's thirsty work, and quite warm still, despite the cover of the trees, so Rachel makes sure Niblet is hydrated. He's a seasoned pro at drinking straight from the bottle!
There really is no feeling of urgency as we meander through the park. No needing to get to the end, no schedule, just a dog and his person spending time together, doing the things they have done a thousand times before: well-practiced games that they both understand the rules to. Gone is the pressure of a timetable, there's no worrying about what's happening at work, nor what's to cook for dinner; it's just the two of them in perfect harmony as the rest of the world mutes to a hum in the background.
Professor Malliticus isn't a pup anymore, and doesn't need to hoon around like a thing possessed. By all accounts, he never did. He's always been happiest by Rachel's side, and she by his. They have been constants in each other's lives through many storms, and always had each other's back. They have offered emotional support to each other in hard times, and enjoyed many, many more good times together.
There is an effortlessness to this relationship that's easy for anyone to see. The years have passed by, and each one has added new layers of understanding, of love, and empathy. As time makes itself known on all our bodies, it is also blessing these two with a greater bond with each passing moment.
It's a delight to see this relationship that has been built over the years. How "taking the dog for a walk" is no longer about the distance covered. It's about realising this is the dog's time, and doing what he wants to do. As I watch, I see a non-verbal conversation taking place. He stops at a junction and looks back, asking which way he should go. She raises her hands in an "it's up to you" gesture. He looks back at the options, considers both, and then trots back to his hill, to play the ball rolling game once more. This is his time, time with his favourite person, and he's loving every moment.
Oh, Mr Bojangles, how lucky you are to spend your life with this human. How much joy you bring. And how much you are loved.
Back in the madhouse
I'm struggling to think of anything to report this week. The dogs have been a total delight, and we've had no vet visits, or other dramas. It's fig season, so I have to make sure I put Squidge on lead as we walk anywhere near a wild fig tree, otherwise she'll trot off in her determined manner to gorge herself silly. She walks beautifully on lead for the most part - just as well, since she's 30kgs and four-wheel-drive, so could easily have me off my feet if she wanted to - but when she knows she's on lead to stop her being dastardly, she will have what I jokingly refer to as a "dirty protest", where she dramatically throws herself to the floor and rolls around in the dust. It only lasts a few seconds, but it's every. single. time. she realises she's been thwarted from scrumping something tasty. What an eejit.
All around the blogosphere
This week's theme on the blog circle is "Walk the dog". Next up, Toronto Dog Photographer Terri Jankelow talks about why walking your dog is vital for their well-being.
Once you've finished her blog, click the link at the bottom to continue on in the circle, until you find yourself back here, where you belong.
Until next time, consider how you might change up your walks with your dog a little to add more variety. It should never be a chore to spend time with our best friends out in the fresh air. Until we meet again, enjoy every minute of that time, and I wish you the purest of joys that is the love of a dog.