ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH. Fla. - It is not compulsory to have a dog to walk on the beach, but it does guarantee conversation. I seem to have one that provokes curiosity. Digby, in turn, offers nonstop friendship, believing in his heart and soul that everyone is crazy about him and wants to shake hands.
We are here at this Florida destination because we both love the beach. Walking on the wide, hard sand in early morning, in afternoon sunshine, or at dusk are daily treats, but just to watch the many personalities of the Atlantic Ocean roll onto the beach is equal therapy. A few daring youngsters go into the cold water at this time of year, screaming every step of the way. For the rest of us, it's the beach that makes ocean-side living valuable in winter.
Digby does more than whine to go to the beach every morning. He is demanding with loud barking I didn't know he was capable of. It's a good distance between our beach house and the water's edge where we walk, and as old as he is he runs to get there. Each day he is more daring about going in the water. Compared to Posey Lake this is one big lake, complete with waves that are fun to test, but only to a point.
The tiny birds and the gulls are challenging to chase but never catch. The giant pelicans glide close to the water, but never land as the geese back home do.
Many beach walkers have dogs and several people have two. People obedient to the beach laws keep their dogs on leashes to avoid the $20 leash fine. The rest of us take a chance and let our pets run free while keeping a watchful eye on them. Most of us never leave home without a leash to show our good intention if we are stopped by the beach police. We also take a supply of plastic bags to pick up - no, not shells.
Dog owners are a friendly lot, and the dogs seem to have the same genial personalities as their masters.
Joseph is Digby's favorite beach pal. When we met Joseph two years ago, he was with his sister Mary. Since Mary died this year Joseph must look for new playmates. A lot of our beach friends have registered breed lines. Joseph is a blue tick hound. There are also Churchill, the large English sheep dog, and Juliet, a lively Yorkshire terrier.
The dogs are all sizes. Compared to tiny Juliet, a 200-pound bull mastiff is a giant. Somewhere in between the two extreme sizes is Lacie, a border collie, who is a friendly beach regular.
A Canadian couple walking Emio, a Pomeranian, and an English cavalier stopped to chat as most beach walkers with dogs do. Shortly after they explained that in England cavaliers are considered royalty and are permitted in some restaurants, they asked what kind of dog Digby is.
We are accustomed to the question. Because he is friendly and he just doesn't look like another dog I expect to be asked about his breed and am prepared with a stock answer.
He is a good dog and very smart, I tell people. He was a stray that came down my driveway 11 years ago and we fell in love on the spot. I named him Digby for my favorite town in Nova Scotia. It is generally thought, I explain, that he is mostly border collie, which accounts for his intelligence.
My response doesn't satisfy everyone. A couple walking a Jack Russell terrier was anxious to meet us. Oh, you have a Swiss hound, the man said, enthusiastically. I do? I questioned. He said the breed of hounds is very expensive and that I should check it out on the Internet. I did, but could not see a resemblance.
There are also suggestions by acquaintances, as well as veterinarians, that Digby has a lot of Australian shepherd blood and because of black spots in his mouth and a curled-up, fluffy tail he has some chow.
I will never know.
I only know that he is special to me and me to him. We look after each other. This morning was an example. Between the beach and our house there are high rocks to climb over. Since we arrived here I have been trying to figure out which way through the rocks would be the safest for me to walk.
Digby always walks behind me when we return home, but today he went in front of me when we got to the rocks. He looked back at me and then walked through a pathway in the rocks I had not noticed before. You can be sure that is where I will walk from now on. With such devotion, do I really care what kind of dog he is?