Time to Walk the Dog

Betsy Buchalter Adler - Piedmont, California
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, March 16, 2012
Betsy Buchalter Adler

When Betsy Buchalter Adler gets too absorbed by her legal work, her dog, Ollie, reminds her of what’s truly important: a good, long walk outdoors. Adler believes Ollie helps her live in the moment and embrace the small, unexpected delights in the world.

Age Group: 50 - 65
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I believe in walking the dog.

I also believe in flossing my teeth, practicing the piano, and eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, but those things can be ignored. The dog cannot be ignored.

The dog stands in the doorway, polite but implacable, waiting for me to clip on his leash. He couldn’t care less about my deadlines and duties. He knows, and I know, that the walk is the thing.

Walking the dog is not aerobic exercise. It’s a meander. We stop periodically so the dog can read the latest smells with his long, elegant collie nose. We walk to the park or the bakery or just around the neighborhood. The dog is amenable to all of these destinations. He’s outside. I’m on the other end of the leash. Life is good.

I could say I got the dog for exercise or to get myself out of the house or to have an excuse for my husband and me to make up silly songs, the way we did when our kids—all grown up now—were too young to roll their eyes at us.

But in fact I got the dog to have an anchor in the ordinary world of sights and smells, outside the words and laws that are the tools of my legal practice. Lawyers are surrounded by rules, agreements, promises made and broken. We parse words to determine who is legally bound to do what. Then we try to connect those obligations to the facts in front of us in order to solve somebody’s problem. It’s all too easy to focus on work to the exclusion of, well, meandering.

The dog forces me to meander. I have to stop trying to make facts and rules behave themselves and focus on what’s going on right here, right now, like the ruby-throated hummingbird zooming around my neighbor’s Mexican sage. I would have missed it completely if the dog hadn’t stopped and stared. I would have gone right past that tiny red sock in the middle of the sidewalk, kicked off by some passing baby in a stroller, if the dog hadn’t pounced on it and carried it away in dogly triumph.

Walking the dog makes me lighten up and pay attention, not to what’s in my own head but to the unexpected small delights of the actual world. The dog gets me out of the four walls—work, clock, computer, phone—and into the land of smells and colors and serendipities. He reminds me of everything I can’t control and don’t need to.

Some religions elevate walking to the level of meditation, but I don’t reach that high. I believe in modest miracles: the hummingbird, the red sock, the fact that my middle-aged body still works. I believe in paying attention. I believe in meandering. I believe it’s time to take the dog for a walk.

Betsy Buchalter Adler is a writer, a birder, a philanthropic adviser, and a lawyer for nonprofit organizations and their donors. A graduate of Cowell College at the University of California, Santa Cruz, she lives with her husband of forty-two years and their dog, Ollie, a short-haired collie, in Northern California and Manhattan.