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.
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.