on taking a rock star for a walk on a leash

Some creatures show up here with outsized charisma, and this going-on-eight-now pup is one of them. Every day reaffirms the point:  going for a walk with Sexy Louis is like taking a rock star for a walk on a leash. People stop and stare and point and smile and ooo and aaa, and astonishing numbers of them speak to him and me and want to pet him and croon to him and just be in his presence.

Oh, what an adorable|cute|gorgeous puppy! What is he? Are the most common opening lines.

He’s all mutt, I always say. Nearly eight. And comely as any rock star.

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What is his name? And can I pet him? Are the most common subsequent questions.

Yes, of course, and Sexy Louis, which he chose for himself. I tried a slew of names on him during the first couple weeks he lived with us, and he ignored them all clean, didn’t so much as look my way. Then one night we watched an episode of A Year in Provence—the VHS, not the shortened DVD version—and there’s a pool guy on it called Sexy Louis. So when we headed to bed, I said, I think I’ll just call you Sexy Louis. And he leapt and bounded happily to me, around and around the room and then throwing himself into my lap, and that was that. Sexy Louis he is. Just Louis for the churched. But Sexy Louis for the rest of us.

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Beyond those lines, the conversations diverge into interesting paths. Some guess at his genetics; some want to know where I got him (from an Amish family); some want to share their memories of dogs recently lost and remembered more sharply in Louis’ presence. At least one person a day offers to babysit or walk or even adopt him, should I ever be so inclined. Piano tuners, electricians, wait-staff, professors, ordinary folks just passing in the street, you name it: more than any other dog I’ve been adopted by, Louis (pronounced LOO ee) is the one people want to take home for themselves.

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This started the first week he lived with us, way back in November of 2006, with an employer who wanted him so badly—“you can just go get another,” she said to me repeatedly—that she took my refusal as a sign of disrespect. What I couldn’t say without giving more offense was that Louis was terribly anxious that he not be left with her (or anyone else at that point, and it hasn’t changed too much since): he’s head over all four heels and one tail madly in love with me, and wants no one else. (He loves his dad, too, but not in the same all-out manner as mom. Our hearts are simply intertwined for good.) He is friendly, though, to the point of easily convincing passersby and friends alike that maybe, just maybe they could take him home. For my part, it is the same: I am friendly to all, but not take-homeable, for my circle of loved ones is tiny. I love the world, yes, all of it—every last jot, every last soul, every last being and blade of grass and rock—but I come to rest in the eddies of my days with a rare few, among whom Sexy Louis has been since the moment our eyes first connected in that cold November wind.

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How is it that we can come alongside one another on a planet of many billions of beings and simply fit? What serendipity exists in this realm that allows such connections? If there is any grace to be had here, surely that must be among the first. This small dog is my teacher, dashing through his days expressing himself fully, unguardedly to the world, bearing the genetic injury that now causes him pain (four herniated vertebral disks) with no little joie de vivre, leaping and pirouetting still at the least excuse or none at all, even though it hurts. When the injury first showed up this summer, we went through two weeks of limited movement (and no walks), and I made up my mind to stop his lifelong habit of jumping. I put my whole will into it, too, for several days, before it hit me hard that I was off-path. Bad.

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What a soul-killing human conceit it is, this belief that we have the right to curtail movement that threatens life just because we want to extend said life as long as possible. How gut-wrenching it would be for him to suddenly die with me—the person he loves best on this planet—having spent 70 percent of our communication prior to that moment saying No, Louis. Don’t jump! Feet on the floor. Easy. Just walk. No leaping! Louis arrived in our lives as a bouncy little effervescent bundle of fur and happy curiosity about everything. Shall I strip him of his primary ways of expressing the joy of being solely so I might be able to keep him here a bit longer?

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There is something ragged and scary about taking the safe path home. Even the words—no, don’t jump—feed the bone-shaking fear that an end comes too soon for us all and that, while this in itself is a good thing, especially for the planet, being left behind by those we adore is the rub. The lonely stretch of pathless path that all humans walk.  The last time I said No, don’t jump, though, I realized that I was asking this little dog to be a scared version of a person instead of himself, and I stopped and stared at him for long seconds, his little ears perked and head turned to see what was going on with mom. I vowed then to stop it. Out loud.

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We all live until we die, and then we die and are done with it. Why take the safe path when it is reliably so grim and unlively? Why would I choose for Louis to not live so that I can feel less fear about losing him . . . as we both march straight on to our graves? The discs could rupture at any time, leap or not. Why not let him do what his spirit urges him to do and what his body tells him is good? Why not let him be while he is actually here?

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And so I have made that vow, again and again, and kept it mostly since then. He leaps slightly less now, I believe, and sometimes he whimpers with pain. Some mornings he waits and lets me lift him down off the bed, but on most he still doesn’t. With my ‘no’ commands laid aside, though, he and I are well embarked on just being while here. There is an ease about living with death as a teacher and mentor and friend. Today—this exact moment, to be more precise—is all any of us are promised and when it ends, so be. This is one of the many lessons Sexy Louis keeps teaching me. This, and also how much fun it is to take a rock star for a walk on a leash.

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