The Red Leash

I like things that are worn, soft and comfortable. Of my sizable t-shirt collection, my favorites are those that have sloshed in the washer and tumbled in the dryer hundreds of times. They always fit just right. No matter the weather, they are the perfect weight. My favorite t-shirt hangs softly from my shoulders, sleeves falling just above the bend of my elbows and the back just long enough to tuck in if necessary.

These shirts give me what I need without stretching and pulling and manipulating the cotton to the shape I expect. Harley’s red leash does the same thing. There’s nothing special about the leash. I bought it in a hurry the night I brought him home from Pima Animal Care Center (aka the pound). I wasn’t supposed to pick him up until Friday but on Wednesday afternoon, I got a call that the 65 pound under-nourished hound had taken exception to having a fourth dog added to his run — and that this interloper had decided to guard the food. Harley was removed and placed in isolation. The shelter worker was clear in her message: Get here within the hour or he’ll be euthanized for behavioral reasons. I set land speed records getting across town to pick him up. We left there with a half inch slip lead and a few sample bags of dog food.

At minimum, he needed a collar and a leash. He looked good in red, so we went to PetSmart that night and made a selection. I’ve purchased many leashes during the last seven years, thinking I could do better than the one I bought on that hurried first trip to the pet store. I hate to admit it but I tried the retractable leash (audible gasp!), and as expected, that was a disaster. Many lunging incidents and one rope burn on my hand later, it was retired. I tried one with a colorful, fancy design. It was stiff and pretty unforgiving. Retired.

When I was growing up my dad and grandfather had a leather shop so I learned to appreciate the smell and feel of rich leather. There is a suppleness to good leather. It warms and softens with each touch. The smooth tanned hide contrasts texturally with the rougher, unfinished underside. It feels good in my hand. I thought leather would be the answer. I bought a rich brown, four foot leash with braided sections alternating with unbraided sections that create handles at different lengths along the leash. It’s wonderful. Feels great, smells great, looks great. But it’s not my favorite.

There’s something about this inexpensive red leash. It’s not fancy, it’s faded to the color of tomato juice over the years, but it’s softened into the leash I trust to protect Harley and me. In fact, it occurred to me today that this leash– and my relationship to it– is a lot like Harley and my relationship with him.

We’re comfortable now, but it wasn’t always this easy. It took nearly a year before I could sit down beside him on his dog bed. Prior to that, he would get up and move away, his personal space invaded. It took five years to get him to step onto the couch and sit beside me. Now we can’t get him off the couch.

But some things haven’t changed. He doesn’t like to sleep in the bed. He likes his space. He doesn’t like to be jostled while he’s resting, nor does he like the light from the bedside lamp while I’m reading. He’s independent, confident and pretty secure now. He’s comfortable in what he can expect from me, and I from him.

During the last two weeks, I’d been working a lot, making other dogs comfortable through massage or fitting them with braces or carts and hadn’t made time to really enjoy our walks. I realized this morning that I’d been walking him with a black leash that had been Travis’s and was identical to his red leash. It is the same length, the same width, the same material, has the same clasp, is the same age if not older, but it has no history. There is no dirt/slobber stain near the handle. There is no gentle fraying along the length of the leash. There is no feel or smell of the oils from his coat. There are no memories of hikes on Mt. Lemmon or therapy visits to juvenile detention. No reminders of walks in the park or runs on the Riverwalk. It’s just a functional piece of equipment, not a connection.

I took his red leash out of the car and hooked it to his harness. It felt good in my hand. That leash reestablished our connection for me. It was free and easy. Our walk today was terrific, un-rushed and unstructured. And yes, I was wearing one of my favorite t-shirts.

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