Taking Oliver to Prospect Park is a nice way to unwind from the day. He hops through the grass like the dog-rabbit hybrid that we say he is, and I stop thinking about anything to let my mind wander to everything. It’s a good system for both of us. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, the evening has a lesson or two hidden up its sleeve.
We went walking the other night and entered by the 11th Street opening. Oliver stopped to pee on a large tuft of weeds growing next to the Celebrate Brooklyn bike rack, turning around and lifting his left leg to do so. It was a quick stream, just enough to call dibs on the spot, and then we were back on our way. A group of girls sat around the picnic tables. They wore workout clothes and watched Oliver as we passed. One reached out her hand but he had zero interest. He was pulling towards Longmeadow, the big and, you guessed it, long field sitting less than 100 yards away.
I locked Oliver’s leash before we got to the top of the hill. He turned and looked back up at me, his big doe eyes asking why on earth I wasn’t letting him go. I smiled. “Hold up, buddy,” I kept him close and looked left for bicyclists. None were coming so I gave him slack. He ran to the other side of the road, making a straight line for the grass and then darting back and forth once he got there. I whistled for his attention and led the way north. Our walk was squirrel and distraction-free until we neared the path that ran from the 9th Street entrance to Nethermead. There, about fifteen feet away, was a man walking his two Dachshunds.
Oliver, half Dachshund and half Pomeranian, goes crazy for dogs that share his genetic code. Seeing two at once was almost too much for him to bear. He started tugging and pulling and doing his best to make me move faster. The other dogs’ owner looked and smiled at Oliver’s effort. I took that as a welcoming sign and broke into the tiniest of jogs so Oliver could get over there quicker.
“Hey,” I said with a smile, watching Oliver sniff and get sniffed. “This is Oliver.”
“Hi Oliver,” the guy said. He pointed down to his dogs. “The black one is Gorby, and this one’s Red.”
“Because of his fur?”
“It seemed fitting.”
I bent over and offered a hand. Red came over to investigate but Gorby did not. He stayed behind his owner’s legs while looking in Oliver’s direction. When Oliver got close enough to sniff his snout, Gorby backed up and started biting the air, moving his head from side-to-side like he was saying no.
“Is he shy?” I asked.
“Blind,” he answered.
“Oh.” I felt the pity in my voice even though I tried to hide the look on my face. Gorby didn’t look blind. His big black eyes seemed attentive, following Oliver and Red as the pawed each other and ran in circles, locking onto Oliver when he got too close, and snapping back to me when I spoke my next words. “Was he born that way?”
“No. It happened in May.”
“Just this past May?”
“Yeah. It’s only been a couple of months.”
“Was he sick?”
“He got SARS.”
I stared blankly. “Dogs can get that?”
“SARDS,” he answered, taking special care to pronounce the D. “Sudden acquired retinal degeneration. It’s an autoimmune disease.”
“Jesus.” I shook my head and looked down at Gorby looking up to the left of my face. “How’s he adapting?”
“He’s doing great.” The guy bent down and patted Gorby on his butt. He turned and nuzzled against his owner’s leg. Oliver and Red stopped running in circles long enough to walk over and try to get some petting of their own. Gorby bit at the air again, either as a warning or an attempt to locate Oliver for introductory licks. I’m guessing it was the former. “He’s still a little timid out on the street because of everything that’s going on, but he loves to run here in the park.”
“Really?” I pictured myself running blind. It wasn’t graceful or effective, but I also didn’t have a leash to show me the way. “That’s pretty awesome.”
“He’s my little hero.” The guy then unhooked both dogs’ leashes. Was he joking? How could a dog, blind for only two months, run through the park with no leash? My unasked question was answered when he pulled a set of keys from his pocket, shaking them to let Gorby know it was time to get going. “Come on guys, let’s go for a run. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too.”
I stood there with Oliver and watched him take off. Both dogs followed. Red stopped to sniff and pee and say hello to random strangers sitting in the grass, and Gorby stayed two steps behind his owner at all times, letting the sound of jangling keys paint a picture of the path ahead.
I knelt down and rubbed Oliver behind the ears. “Amazing, huh? Do you think you’d be able to do that?” Oliver licked my hand and met my eyes. He blinked a couple of times then took a couple of steps towards the ball fields. He wanted to keep walking. I took one last look at Gorby, still running blind in the distance, and smiled. For such a small dog, he had a big courageous heart.