Running into a west wind, I almost steered clear of the extra steps offered by one of our subdivision’s dead end tributaries to the main road.

But…what was I seeing down there…

human, leash, black fur?!

Somebody’s walking a black lab I’ve never met?

I executed a hard right.

Out of breath, face to face to wet black nose, I had enough manners about me to greet my neighbor before asking to pet his beautiful, well-behaved four leg.

“We lost Mara about a month ago. I really miss soft ears and fur. Can I please pet your dog?” I asked.

While I scratched and patted, we shared small talk about the upcoming weekend and growing children. I’ve waved to this neighbor many times. Often he’d be at the top of his driveway waiting for the school bus to arrive for his three charges when Mara and I walked by.

It was nice to share a conversation beyond “Good morning!”

“What’s the big guy’s name? When did you get him?”

“This is Riley….”

When Mara’s young body was still growing into lanky legs and she found great joy in nipping the backs of my calves on a walk, a lady I didn’t know pulled her white Civic over, parked, got out, and asked if she could pet my dog. She carried on about how Mara reminded her of the Labrador she’d recently lost. Lost—such a soft word for death.

This stranger was not a neighbor, but lived near enough that she drove by me several more times over the course of a couple months. Every time she pulled over, got out, and gave Mara some heartfelt attention.

At the time, it felt a little strange. Was my dog was being stalked?

With time and experience, I’ve grown into a whole new level of understanding.

I’ve become the stalker.