Why do I doubt him? After all the times he’s proven he can, why do I think he can’t? Well, I tell myself, because I’ve seen him fall. I’ve seen him fail. But I’ve also seen him rise after those falls, ears up, mouth open and smiling, ready to roll on. He recently gave me another chance to trust him while we were walking our loop at Fort Lowell Park. The sun was working its way up behind the clouds, looking for cracks to sneak through. Half Moon, the two girls Helen and Dottie, and I were doing an opposite loop from our normal route. We approached a small bridge that crosses a wash leading to the (normally) dry Rillito riverbed. As Helen, Dottie, and I crossed the bridge, I noticed a man we’d seen before about 25 yards away and moving toward us. I know he’s a nice gentleman, but the dogs were leery of his walking poles. He swung them forward with each step, and the sticks landed with a “plink” on the rocks and solid desert earth. The girls and I were exploring a mystery scent on the far side of the bridge while Half Moon investigated a random leaf on the opposite side of the bridge. As I called to Half Moon and waited for his (half-hearted) response, the walking man was coming ever closer. Soon, he was too close for Half Moon to be able to cross the bridge and move away from him before the man approached or crossed the bridge himself. Seeing his escape route closing, Half Moon eyed one I never thought he’d take. The bridge spanned what would be considered a small creek in the Midwest, about ten feet wide and four or five feet deep but completely dry. The Rillito’s worn banks had cracks and crevices where the water had carved deep wrinkles, always seeking the path of least resistance. That’s the thing about the desert; our river and creek beds are called “washes” for a reason. Water only washes through them; it doesn’t stay for long.
As I stood watching Half Moon weighing his options, I never thought he’d try it. He’s always been good at finding the most accessible routes when curbs, boulders, or tree limbs block his path. This time was different. His choices were limited to three options, none of them looked good. 1) Walk by the man with the walking poles on the narrow bridge. 2) Wait for him to pass and then cross (patience is NOT my dog’s specialty). 3) Make like the snowboarder Shaun White and step into the halfpipe of the riverbed. The second Half Moon glanced at the sidewall of the wash, I knew he’d choose option 3. He studied the terrain and roll of the deep crevices, then followed a line the running water had taken many times. Then he expertly pushed off the top edge and steered his cart, avoiding the deepest fissures and quickly gathering speed. He hit the bottom at exactly the right point and began his climb up the opposite side. Without the use of his rear limbs to push him up the bank, he lost speed quickly, but he still pulled with his muscular front limbs. I stood on the top of the bank, stunned, as he stormed toward me. He clawed his way up the last foot of the bank and emerged at my feet, triumphant and expecting a treat for his exceptional feat. I wasn’t stunned that he’d conquered the halfpipe; I was embarrassed that I’d second-guessed his willingness to try. During the last three years, I’ve watched Half Moon navigate his cart over boulders the size of his wheels and maneuver his body up three steps—backward—to find the best perch. He typically runs with abandon, ears pinned against his head for better aerodynamics, his mouth open, tongue lolling—a picture of joy and pleasure. How could I ever doubt Half Moon? He can be whomever he wants to be, in or out of his wheels. I just need to remember to stay out of the way and let him try.