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The Map in My Heart

Just the other day I learned that one of the dogs I used to walk, back when I was dog walking in Philadelphia, had passed away over the summer. This is the fourth time this year I’ve gotten this kind of sad long distance news.

It’s been almost five years since I was living in Philadelphia, walking dogs full-time. So it should really come as no surprise to me that many of the dogs I used to walk, who were middle-aged five years ago when I moved to Maine, are now seniors. And now, every few months I get the news that another one of them has left us. I am always a little surprised and always deeply sad.

Many of them are now ten or twelve, and more and more these days, they are gone. But for me, all of the dogs are frozen in time – just as I left them five years ago. They are strong, vibrant, and healthy. They are alive in my memories and they are forever young in my heart.

Not only do these dogs – who I spent day after day with, for many years – occupy a special place in my heart, but I have a lasting connection to Philadelphia through them. I think it might surprise my former clients to know how deeply I identify certain streets, neighborhoods, public art – a total sense of place – with their dogs.

sadly, this mural is long gone too.

Side by side these dogs and I explored every nook and cranny of a certain part of Philadelphia. Together, we took in the murals, the mosaics, the tiny trinity row homes with magical gardens, met the neighbors and the mailmen, and monitored the subtle, daily changes of the city as the seasons shifted.

Even if the dogs moved away – to other neighborhoods, suburbs, states – or passed away, they are permanently linked in my heart and mind with the place where we met up for our adventures, day after day.

I cannot visit certain areas of Philadelphia without seeing the dogs. They’re all there: block by block, imprinted memories on the sidewalks where we walked together.

I don’t think there will ever be a time in my life when I can drive or walk down certain streets in Bella Vista or parks in Queen Village and Pennsport and not immediately think of my old friends. Years after they’re gone, the dogs are still so alive for me, so fully present in the streets of Philadelphia.

This is something different from what I feel with my own dogs. With Boogie and Birdie, I have many memories of lots of different things: waking up with them, going on vacation, the day we brought them home, the daily ins and outs of their care. But with the dogs I walk, it’s super concentrated and very specific. When you spend so many hours, somany weeks and years caring for the same dogs, walking the same routes each day at the same time, it becomes impossible to separate the place from the dogs.

There is no Palumbo Park without Kali. No Christian Street without Roxy. No smell of cookies wafting from Isgros without Pearl. No Earp Street without Chula. No FDR Park without Snick and Snora. No Front Street without Ricky. No Cianfrani Park without Sadie. No snow falling in Mario Lanza Park without Doak. No Tasker Street without Max. No Three Bears Park without Toby. No Old Swedes Church without Lola. No Queen Street without Sophie. And on and on and on and on.

So many excellent friends to explore the city with each day. So many patient teachers and tour guides showing me how to see this place that I had lived in for years in a whole new light. I fell in love with Philadelphia through the dogs that I walked. They taught me how to find treasure, beauty, and magic in everyday places.

And so the dogs and the places are connected, for me, forever. A moment in time that never fully passes. Where every dog, no matter where they are now, never ages.

Every block, a memory, a story of your dogs. They are forever young, teaching me to see the city through their eyes and noses.

They are the map in my heart.

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28 Comments Post a comment
  1. wonderful blog..

    September 28, 2012
  2. Jill Sterbakov #

    Cianfrani is Sadie’s park in my mind, too. She’s closing in on 11 now, but I made a deal with her long ago. She gets to walk all over me, misbehave and scam everyone under the sun for treats, but she has to make it to at least 15.

    September 28, 2012
    • I can still remember the first time I met you and Sadie like it was yesterday. She was curled up on the couch, all sleepy from being spayed. Please tell her I would appreciate it if she honored that very reasonable deal with you. Sending lots of love to you both.

      September 28, 2012
  3. Beautiful. So touching that I can barely stand it! I have a daily dog walker, due to moves we have had a couple. The thought of my guys being on a map in their heart makes my eyes well with happy tears. Thank you.

    September 28, 2012
  4. As a former dog walker still living in Philly, I could not possibly love this post any more.

    September 28, 2012
    • Thanks Jennie. It’s a special relationship – with the dogs and the city – isn’t it?

      September 28, 2012
  5. Claire #

    This makes me smile and tear up at the same time. :) BTW, I live right around the corner from Doke

    September 28, 2012
    • Thanks Claire. I walked Doak every day for many years (and still visit him when I’m in Philly). He’s got a big, big place in my heart. Next time you run into them, tell them I said hi!

      September 28, 2012
      • Claire #

        I will! Next time you are in Philly, let me know! I would love to finally meet you face to face! :)

        September 28, 2012
  6. Davida #

    So beautiful

    September 28, 2012
  7. Lovely. I have been a trainer for 15 years, so of course most of the pups in my first classes way back when are now gone, but they leave their place in my heart.

    September 28, 2012
  8. Wow, you really nailed it for us dog walkers! There are so many places in Seattle that I identify specifically to a dog and I always see them when I walk those streets now. Even though they aren’t our own, it’s always hard to say goodbye. They may leave this earth but they never leave our hearts!

    September 28, 2012
  9. This was an amazing post, so beautifully written.

    September 28, 2012
  10. Jen #

    Beautiful post!

    I especially identify with dogs being frozen in time after I no longer live near them. I can still think of all the dogs that I knew in my grandparents’ neighborhood when I was little. I can’t think of them as gone, my brain won’t let me….they’re still there, barking as passers-by, howling when the fire department alarm sounds.

    September 28, 2012
  11. Beautiful post! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Just last night my hubby and I were out for a walk and I mentioned a sweet little dog that I used to walk on that street. I don’t think I’ll ever forget all of the dogs that I spent so many wonderful days with! It’s seven years since I had my business, but I still remember each and every one of them!!

    September 28, 2012
  12. This was a beautiful post!

    September 28, 2012
  13. Rachel Hopple #

    Beautiful write up. :-)

    September 28, 2012
  14. Maggi Burtt #

    My eyes were misting up before I even got here…I clicked the link on FB and all I could think was “I know exactly what she’s going to say”..I was right. I am sitting her all misty because each and every day, as I drive around picking up my current dogs a running commentary goes on in my head…that’s where Tip lived, that was where I first met Tira…that’s the park I used to take Mowgli to..and on and on.
    This is our life. I do hope our clients realize how special these dogs are to us.
    Thanks for writing this.

    September 28, 2012
    • Thanks for reading Maggi – I have no doubt that the dogs are very lucky to have you as their dog walker!

      September 29, 2012
  15. Could not have said it better, beautifully put.

    September 28, 2012
  16. This is beautiful.

    September 29, 2012
  17. When I was a little girl I used to walk with my Godmother and her Jack Russell Judy. Sadly, they are both no longer with us but the memories live on. Thank you Jodi :D Avis x

    September 29, 2012
  18. So sweet…loved this post.

    September 29, 2012
  19. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve thought the same thing about the area where I walk for years but could never have put it to words like you have. I’ve had my own dog walking business for five years now and we have lost 29 dogs in that time, and that’s not including all of the dogs I walked for a different service before going out on my own. I continue to walk the same streets and neighborhoods where they all lived, and think about all of them every day. One day I plan to move away, but I have no doubt that any time I return to this place I’ll remember each and every one of them and how they changed my life for the better.

    October 1, 2012
    • Thank you for reading Don – I’m so glad it reflected how you feel about the dogs you walk too. They really do stay with us forever!

      October 2, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Map in My Heart « jodistone
  2. Professional Dog Walking: Fame, Fortune, and Poop Bags | notes from a dog walker

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