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Walking with Lucy

Lucy

Since everything in my world revolves around canines, I immediately thought about a dog named Lucy when a friend told me about a viral twitter feed. Danielle Muscato asked women, “What would you do if all men had a 9pm curfew?” Some women said they would go dancing, to the grocery store, and the park. But many others answered exactly like I did. We would walk.

Full disclosure: I’m a walker. I started walking two decades ago at Penn State and haven’t stopped since. In the beginning it was transportation, but now it’s ritual. I walk six miles a day at home, and when I visit other cities for work, I often walk there.

Walking alone seems like such a simple ask, but for women that activity comes with a whole load of complications that all boil down to one factor. We are the weaker sex. We learn about our inferior strength young. Many learn because of an incident, a reckoning. For me, it happened in the sixth grade. A disturbed boy with messy black hair and laser-beam blue eyes pinned me against the wall and pressed his hard-on against my thigh. I’ve always been thin and athletic and managed to wrestle away, but that second of panic, that second of understanding my physical limitations lingers into adulthood.

We also learn about our vulnerability from other women, a shared lore passed on from one to another. Throughout my life, cousins, friends, mother, mother-in-law, professors, and colleagues have all warned about the dangers of walking alone. Don’t wear headphones. Keep a wide berth of personal space. Never lean into a car to give directions. Don’t make eye contact with strangers, but don’t look down either. Stay away from large groups of men on empty streets. Always carry your phone. And never, ever walk alone in the dark.

Women’s personal reckonings combined with this shared lore creates an internal alarm we all carry. Whether consciously or not, a vigilance exists in every woman. It’s what makes us street-smart, but it also comes with a whole load of restrictions. For years I carried that alarm around like dead weight because it limited where and when I went places, until I met Lucy.

Lucy was a purebred, shorthaired German Shepherd. Someone found her running down Charlotte Pike and surrendered her to a shelter. We adopted her with a small rip in her left ear, but otherwise she was beautiful, colored a warm brown with black markings that aligned like mirror images on each side. She had a stubborn streak and hyper personality, and at home, she acted like a wild child. Lucy was the dog who taught me how much I didn’t know about raising a canine. But she loved to walk as much as I did.

I discovered Lucy’s gift the first time I walked her without my husband. In the early years of my marriage, we rented an apartment in Nashville, right off West End Avenue. It was after ten. I wanted to go to Centennial Park and see the Parthenon, a full-scale reproduction of the Athenian original. For the month of July, the city splashed floodlights on the replica. The lights changed from red to white to blue in waves. But I was alone, and that was the only reason I paused. Was it safe to go to a city park alone and after dark? The more I considered the reason I shouldn’t go, the more annoyed I felt. Then, I became defiant. I leashed Lucy and headed out the front door.

Vanderbilt University was a few blocks from our apartment, and we cut across campus. At one point, three college guys moved towards us. They were loud. Drunk loud. My internal alarm started ringing and my body stiffened. In a span of ten seconds, I rationalized the best case scenario was a snide comment. In the worst, they approached me. I never once entertained the idea they would simply leave me alone.

Lucy sensed my unease because a heightened awareness vibrated from her every step. She stood perpendicular to my thigh, matching my pace stride for stride. She looked intimidating, like she belonged on a poster for police dogs or a WWII flick. One of the guys caught sight of her, signaled to his buddies. They looked up, paused, digested the woman and her dog approaching. In unison, they moved off the path and circled wide to pass. They never said a word.

Lucy and I kept moving, but I felt as though I’d won some sort of battle. I felt like I could fly. Like I was soaring. I didn’t realize how caged I had been until that exact moment. The moment when I understood what it meant to be the toughest motherfucker in the room.

Lucy and I hiked for five miles that night. We strode down West End Avenue and up Elliston Street, circled Centennial multiple times. Lucy kept her snout high, rarely sniffing the ground. Her pointy ears rotated like satellites towards a couple talking on a park bench, a bum rustling through a trash can, an old man rolling down the sidewalk in a wheelchair. She saw it all before I did. The incident with the college boys wasn’t a fluke either. Multiple people crossed the street when they saw us coming, an act I had always initiated prior to that night.

Before we went home, Lucy and I sat for a solid ten minutes and watched the lights on the Parthenon morph from red to white to blue. Their reflections stretched and shifted across Lake Watauga, as though there were two versions, one real and one abstract. And I got to see all of it because of Lucy. With her, I could hit snooze on my internal alarm. I could forget a lifetime of warnings and enjoy the simple act of walking.

In the following months, Lucy and I trekked miles through Nashville. Often, I wore headphones and listened to music. Sometimes, I carried a phone, but mostly I forgot it. When we moved to Robertson County, Lucy and I hiked in the woods together. We went at night in the winter with the trees so bare it felt like the whole world watched. And I didn’t care who watched because I had my dog. Lucy never left my side, acted completely oblivious to the simple yet rare gift she gave me. She gave me the freedom to walk alone.

Welcome Back, Lucy

Lucy Break 1Lucy returned to the Farnival on Thursday after two weeks of vacationing in Nashville with her co-foster parent Geoff Reed. She’s like a different dog. When she stayed here last month, she was either a timid or aggressive loner, but being at Geoff’s house did wonders for her self-confidence. In the two days she’s been back, Lucy’s been acting like a normal, playful, well-adjusted canine. Because of her aggressive history, I’ve been closely supervising her play sessions with any other dog, but so far (fingers crossed) no more fights have broken out.

Unfortunately, Lucy’s weight is still an issue. Even after a month of diet and tons of exercise, she’s clocking in at 47 pounds, meaning she’s only lost 3 pounds and needs to drop 7 more. Poor Lucy. I walked her Kardashian-sized rump off this morning. At the end of our hot, sweaty, five-mile hike, I let Lucy get a drink in a small waterfall. She sat down in the cold, streaming water, panting so hard her whole body shook, and gave me that “are you kidding me, lady” look. I told her welcome back.

An Urban Hike through Nashville

Mason and I took four dogs – Meadow, Adriana, and our foster’s Dawn and Tony – for an urban hike through Nashville yesterday morning as part of their socialization training. The six of us started at the dog park on the hilltop in Centennial Park, walked down Broadway, passing the Ryman Auditorium and the already-open honky-tonks. Then we strolled along Second Avenue and the Cumberland River, weaving towards the new Convention Center. On the way back, we trekked 21st Avenue to Vanderbilt University, cut across the quad, and ended up on West End near Centennial Park again. We walked a total of five miles.

Dawn – a dog that was feral three months ago – did fantastic. It was a beautiful morning, the first sunny day of spring, and there were people everywhere. We passed a boatload of other dogs, runners, bikers, bums, buses, cars, golf carts, strollers, musicians, students, tourists, horses, a blaring fire truck, and even an ambulance. Her biggest issue was manhole covers, which she refused to walk over. After she tried to jump onto a busy street to avoid one, I stubbornly made her stand on it so that she realized it wouldn’t hurt her. After that, she walked on a few but never consistently.

The real star was Tony a.k.a T-bone. That little lady’s man broke 100 hearts in two hours. From one end of Nashville to the other we had flocks, and I mean flocks of women – young, old, and in-between – that stopped us and asked to meet Tony. That little four-month-old player has never met a stranger, and he kissed everybody and anybody. Here he is jumping into a complete stranger’s arms on lower Broadway:

T bone greeting

Thelma: Update Two

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(Thelma and Rico)

When Thelma, a fifty-five pound Labrador mutt, bulldozed her way through our fence and into our backyard, I didn’t feel the instantaneous affection I normally experience when meeting a new foster dog. In fact, I thought of her as a drooling, farting, burping, shedding, snorting beast with a brawny body, squat and close to the ground, that could knock me off my feet if they weren’t firmly planted. For the first few days she stayed inside the house, I thought all lab-lovers were insane.

But after a month of living with her, I’ve come to adore her and completely understand people’s preference for the Labrador breed. It was Thelma’s keen intelligence and loving personality that sold me. When she’s not playing with her buddies, Silvio and Meadow, she watches me with dark soulful eyes gleaning with appreciation, and she treats the foster puppies that come and go with an endearing maternal affection. As far as intelligence, at night, I only have to say, “crate” or point to her special digs, and she nudges open the cage door, steps inside, spins a few times, and adjusts her blanket before nestling down for a night of sleep.

As my affection has grown, my aversion towards her hillbilly manners has diminished. Her snoring has somehow become comforting, a kind of rhythmic wheezing, and I don’t gag anymore if I notice her gawking with a string of drool dangling from her maw to her giant paws, when I’m eating strawberries. Now and again, I even invite her onto the bed for an afternoon nap, even though I know she’s going to drop a stinking bomb at some point.

Today, my sidekick Charlotte and I took our lovable brute Thelma along with her buddy Meadow to the park across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame to meet a potential adopter. The instant John – early twenties, tall, dressed in a Hall of Fame uniform with a name tag, – saw her, he said, ”wow.” Then he kept repeating the word, staring with open admiration at her shiny coat, stocky physique, and square face.

After jumping on John a few times (we’re still working on this unacceptable behavior), sniffing the wilting flowers edging the sidewalk, and playfully chewing on Meadow’s ear, Thelma laid on the pavement, as though being in downtown Nashville around bustling traffic and milling tourists was normal. When John commented on her calm behavior, I explained that it’s easy to maintain with one good walk a day. I told him that without structured exercise, Thelma was big enough to cause a lot of damage, and I didn’t want that happen to either of them.

Before we parted, John said he was eager to call Donna, ICHBA’s administrator, to set up a meet and greet, meaning we’ll visit his home with Thelma to determine if his living situation is okay for an animal. I’ll keep you posted.