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Downing

Extra time off work means more midtown adventures for this columnist's canines

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Because of the ideal way the holidays fell this year, I got eleven straight days more or less off from work. I dialed in from home for three of them, but there was almost nothing to do. The office was nearly dormant, with one email drifting in here, and hours later, another there-more like snowflakes than the usual fusillades. Everyone was off.

Even broken up by spasms of holiday-prep running around, this luxurious stretch of home-time was an enormous pleasure for me, and an even greater one for my two dogs. There were visitors, of course-much to their taste-but their keenest enjoyment was the daily walks. I am their only walker, and I was there to deliver day after day. Food, shelter and love are important to dogs, but nothing is better than a walk.

Normally they only get to go on the weekends. I work long hours and have a 40-minute commute so I don't get to it during the week. My husband, Ed, can't take them because he has an iffy back and a newly replaced hip. Lai Fu, the big guy, is an 80-pound part-husky who's an inveterate forger-the technical term for a dog that can and will drag you while wearing a choke collar. Fu and I understand one another. He's allowed to forge to the park, where he begins to sniff and amble, but I don't want him yanking Ed around, and when Fu sees a cat or squirrel, significant yanking can occur. (How his windpipe and carotids take it, I can't imagine. He once snapped a rivet on a long tie leash when he glimpsed a cat across the street.)

The traditional hour-long perambulation through the scruffier edges of the neighborhood always beings the same way, but can turn right or left in the bottom of the wash, rather like the Guermantes' versus Swann's ways in Proust.

(Joke. It's nothing like Proust-although our walk through unpicturesque midtown Tucson is probably as emotionally and sensually resonant for the dogs as Marcel's long rambles through the French countryside with his parents are for him.) The walk's challenges increased with the advent this spring of Mr. Man, an initially sickly but now vigorous old dachshund. As soon as he was well enough to perceive that Fu was getting to go somewhere that he wasn't, he raised holy hell. So he goes.

It took a while to work out the kinks. A loose-jointed stroll for a big dog equates to a trot for Mister, and Fu's opening three-block-long lunge to the park is a stiff aerobic challenge during which I have to moderate between the forging, choking monster up ahead and the 12-pound butterball valiantly trying to keep up the pace behind, his short legs going like pistons. A further complication is that Mister declines to walk in grass or deep sand, or to go up or down steep inclines. This means he gets carried, which creates a tableau that people seem to find amusing. (Okay, it is amusing. But not ridiculous. Footing that drags on dachshunds' paws really isn't good for overextended backs.)

Their experience of the various stages of the walk is quite different, I think. Fu loves the park and the wash, which he patrols in the role of proprietor. Mister gets carried through the park and down into and up out of the wash (see above), and along the difficult parts of its damp, shadowy, smell-laden length (rockiness for Fu and me constitutes bouldering for him). The two of them seem to enjoy Petco and the alleys about equally, with Mister strongly favoring woodpiles and dark recesses. The apartment complex across Rosemont is Mister's favorite. It meets all his requirements, being flat, sidewalked and full of obscure corners, not to mention mined with wonderful random treats (Fu once found a whole chicken carcass in a hedge). It's also populated. He's eager to greet everyone he sees.

A nice, lonely-seeming little boy we've often run into in the apartments always asks if he can pet Fu and Mister. Then he wants to talk about them and about his hopes of someday having a dog of his own. Last time we saw him, he breathed as we were walking away, "Both of your dogs are just beautiful."

Be that as it may, the midtown is wide and beautiful through their eyes.

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