Herb Benham-2

Poco, right, and Charlie

Herb Benham / The Californian

Three times a week, I take the dogs for a walk. A walk, if you can call it a walk. The “walk” includes leashes, collars and a sweatpants’ pocketful of plastic, newspaper bags. The only thing lacking is the brisk, walking portion of it.

Poco, the blind chocolate Lab mix, is now 12. I don’t know how she got that old but a lot of people say the same thing about themselves, and I know at least one of them fairly well.

One day you have a soft, brown puppy eliciting “oohs and aahs” and overnight, she becomes the historical link between children and grandchildren and one of the elders in the neighborhood menagerie.

Poco’s companion is Charlie. Charlie is a 2-year-old terrier/Dachshund blend. Charlie, besides being cute, has been charged with rejuvenating the older dog. It’s the same principle as an older man marrying a much younger woman.

It sounds good on paper but after they play awhile — the dogs — Poco will do the equivalent of putting her paw down (usually on the side of Charlie’s head) as if to say, “No more. I’m beat.” Younger dogs can energize an older companion but they can also arouse ire with their boundless, puppy-like energy.

Walks used to be lively affairs. When Poco was younger, they included hourlong runs along the river with Gennie, the black Lab. When the river ran, they both waded in, when it didn’t, a dry riverbed was almost as much fun to explore and gallop across.

Walks are different now. Gennie is gone. Poco’s galloping days are behind her.

Sometimes, after we start, it takes five minutes to go from one end of the front yard to the other. This is not the Hearst estate. Poco, however, is hardly in a hurry and that’s where the word “stroll” may be more apropos than “walk.”

Poco seems to smell almost every inch of the pavement, soil and grass. No matter how much I tug on the leash or regardless of the time allocated to the walk.

“Don’t you want to cover some ground? Get some exercise?”

“No,” is the answer. This is a different kind of walk. The walk of an older dog. A walk for something other than exercise.

The pace is leisurely, circuitous and thoughtful.

Wet winter leaves, new cut grass, mounds of dirt in the alley, pecans wrapped in their green husks and all things dog.

The walk is a way of imprinting and cataloging every interesting, delicious and spicy smell.

Imprinting, enjoying and remembering. Poco, like many older dogs, is graduating. Graduating with honors.

In doing so, she is becoming like Ferdinand. In the book by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, Ferdinand is a young bull who prefers sitting quietly in the pasture to butting, snorting and playing with his fellow bulls.

When Ferdinand accidentally ends up in the bullring in Madrid, he sits down and refuses to fight the matador and instead smells the flowers in the pretty ladies' hair. They take him back to the country and to his pasture where Ferdinand is probably still sitting under his cork tree enjoying the warm summer days.

Poco is enjoying life’s tender embrace. No reason to hurry. She is covering ground but not distance. Poco is walking the walk that counts.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.

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