Julie Fay: Getting the most out of the dog days of spring

Julie Fay

It was the first sunny, warm day of spring. I put on my sneakers and baseball cap, and stuck my iPod in my pocket and my sunglasses on my face. I was ready.

I planned to hit the beach for a brisk walk while Abby was in choir rehearsal. When we got to church, however, rehearsal had been canceled, pulling the plug on my power walk.

“What should we do?” asked Abby as we got back in the car.

“Well, I was going to walk on the beach,” I answered. “Would you like to come with me?” A little exercise would be better than none.

“Oh, yes,” she replied enthusiastically.

We pulled up to the boardwalk and hopped out of the car. The sun bathed us in warmth and sparkled on the water. We started out, hand-in-hand, a strategy I used mostly to keep her usual dawdling to a minimum.

The beautiful weather had brought out many others to enjoy the day, too, including every dog owner for at least 20 miles inland. We saw big dogs, small dogs, wet dogs and fluffy dogs. Abby was in heaven. Her idea of compelling entertainment is the Westminster dog show on TV, and she’s a walking encyclopedia of canine facts. She half-skipped down the sidewalk, a huge grin on her face, commenting on every Fido and Rover we saw.

“Oh, that looks like a Doberman,” she said, as I steered her sharply to the side.

“Did you see that little Bichon?” she squeaked, turning around to point out the fluffball on the beach wall.

“Just look at that feathery tail,” she murmured, admiring a Golden Retriever.

I like dogs, from a distance, but I don’t have the same devotion to our four-legged friends that Abby does. In autism-speak, her obsession with dogs is called a “perseverative area of interest,” and it can take over her thinking and conversations. Fortunately, many girls her age also love dogs and other animals, so her interest can sometimes actually help her connect with her friends.

She knows that her dog obsession can get in the way, though, and lately has been saying she wants to think about them less. It’s a struggle for her, but she knows that not everyone loves dogs the way she does.

On our walk that day, however, it was all dogs, all the time, and it was OK. She was talking to me and holding my hand, and, perseveration or no perseveration, it was some all-too-rare bonding time. I listened to her running commentary and squeezed her hand when I felt like it. Before we knew it, we’d arrived back at the car.

“So Abby, did you enjoy our walk?” I asked I opened the door for her.

“Yes,” she said, “it was dog heaven!”

It was Mom heaven, too.

Patriot Ledger contributor Julie Fay is a winner of the 2010 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. Read more at