When we first get up in the morning, the combination of a good night's rest and a full bladder turned Niki into a 20 pound helicopter, spinning and gyrating so wildly that at times all four of her feet simultaneously leave the ground.
Our mornings have become routine. About 5:30, she politely starts making "I'm awake" noises in her crate, like the rhythmic scratching of an ear, or a deep, impatient sigh. At 5:45 my alarm goes off and she's instantly sitting up, confident my rise and her release are imminent.
After I stumble into some clothes, I let her into the backyard, where she relieves herself. Then, like a heat-seeking missile she arcs at top speed back to me and we go inside. A quick drink of water and she begins orbiting around me, her entire back half wagging, waiting for the leash. I put it on her and let her drag me to the door. I've been up barely 10 minutes, can't even really see out of my foggy eyeballs yet, but she's bright-eyed and ready to run a marathon.
So there I am, 5:58 AM, in my front yard. We step forth into the cool morning air and she takes three lunges off the porch and freezes like a statue. A bunny is crouched in our yard, near the mailbox. My puppy has spotted it, and forgotten all else. I do not matter, the rest of the world does not matter, and the morning walk is forgotten.
My dog is a Brittany, and her two favorite activities are running and pointing. In this case, the running has been furloughed for a few minutes in favor of holding absolutely still, legs stretched forward to their fullest, eyes a bright unblinking stare at a rabbit in the yard. Hundreds of years of careful breeding has made it essentially impossible for her to move.
Once the sleepiness has left my eyes I realize that my little dog isn't holding still after all...she's vibrating. Pulses of energy appear to be traveling up and down her torso in waves, and every second or so she let's out a little squeak. Her feet, however, have been cast into the concrete of the front stoop. Her little brown nose wobbles back and forth as she gulps in rabbit-scented air.
Then the rabbit bolts, and my dog becomes a projectile after it. She's thrown up into the air when she hits the end of the leash, but comes down on all fours, never having taken her eyes off the retreating bunny. She stands still again, watches the bunny for a minute, and then when I murmur "Let's Go, Niki," she turns and leads me down the street, nose to the ground.
These mornings are fun for us both, I think. All too often before I got the puppy, the pre-commute hours were filled with nothing but sleep-to-the-last-minute and then a quick shower packing a lunch and rushing out the door. I've added an extra 45 minutes onto the front end of my morning, for that little dog, and it's amazing how different life is for me.
But really, on these walks, I'm just along for the ride. Niki moves forward and backward on the leash, left and right, running out ahead of me, stopping to smell something, falling behind, then racing to catch up. She doesn't so much go for walks with me...it would be more accurate to say she is in some sort of erratic orbit around me.
And yet, she's under control. At cross-streets we stop to check for cars, and she sits down calmly next to me and waits for permission to go.
But still; having been awake for only a few minutes I am numb. Cars go by and I do not notice them. Niki stops to smell things I did not smell or even see. She finds every bit of trash and investigates it. No rabbit, no bird, no squirrel is safe from her piercing gaze and intense focus. Honestly, I'm just a dumb automaton plodding through the dawn air. I'm not entirely unnecessary, however. When a motorcycle passes by, its loud exhaust frightens Niki and she comes running to my side. Then after it passes she wags her tail excitedly at my side for a moment, as though to say "Did you see that?! Crazy!" before returning to her adventure.
There's a lesson here, I know there is. Maybe I should see the zest for life that my dog has and remember my own, rekindle it, and go forth a little lighter...a little more curious. Maybe what I should do is see the energy in my young pup and lament my own lost youth. Maybe I should follow her example and be a bit more aware, a bit more chipper in the morning.
Or maybe I should just breathe in that cool dawn air, watch the sun rise over the back of my dog, and enjoy being alive. In this moment, in this place, I am alive.