Taking a walk down memory lane
Dan Szymanski and Ryley take a stroll at the Westminster Community Pond Sept. 26._- Original Credit: Lois Szymanski photo (HANDOUT)

Last weekend my husband and I decided to take our dog, Ryley, and go for a walk at the newly reopened Westminster Community Pond.

The first thing to see is the new pier that extends over the water. Although I miss the island in the middle, walking out onto that pier and looking over calm, clear water filled me with peace. A gaggle of Canada geese floated lazily across the way, completing the idyllic scene.


There were several reasons I couldn't wait to walk the perimeter, but mostly I wanted to have park time with Ryley, who is not just a dog, but one of my best friends.

Since back surgery in August I haven't been on many walks, and Ryley lives for his walks. I am cherishing every moment with this dog I love. His birthday is coming up this month and he will turn 11. We lost our previous dog to cancer just before he turned 11.

As we walked, I thought about Ryley, and then my mind wandered back to remember Springer, the dog who raised my children.

Springer was a border collie and husky cross that we'd adopted from the Humane Society of Carroll County. He was smart and obedient, loving and so tolerant with my children. When he died it ripped a hole in this family's heart that was laid bare and wide open for many years. My kids were in high school when he crossed the rainbow bridge. I was working at McDaniel College. It wasn't long until my daughter Ashley started telling us we needed another dog.

"Nope," I said. "We are not ready for a dog."

When she persisted, I said, "If I ever quit working full time and go back to working for myself at home, I will get a dog. It's not fair to a puppy to be left alone all day long. But if I get a dog it is going to be a border collie or a Shetland sheepdog."

I'd loved those breeds since childhood.

Nearly 10 years passed. I had a cat at home and that was fine. Cats are independent and do well on their own, but they don't snuggle and worship you like a dog.

Ten years after Springer passed I left work. It was the end of the summer. My kids had both graduated college and I'd just signed a six-book series contract with HarperCollins Publishers. I thought it was time to go back to writing from home.

I settled in quickly, working to meet deadlines. I had been writing for the Carroll County Times at the same time I was working at the college and I continued that along with picking up ghostwriting for another book series. The girls had moved out and I was in the writing zone. I was not thinking about a dog.

Fall and then winter set in. No one said another word about getting a dog.

On Christmas morning my daughters arrived and after a brief greeting Ashley said, "Oops, I left another present in the car." She dashed outside and came back in with the cutest puppy I'd ever seen in my life — a tri-colored Shetland sheepdog with a big blue bow around his neck.

"You quit work," she said, handing me the puppy. "Here's your dog."

I remember hugging that squiggling puppy and crying while my husband threw up his hands in protest.


"No dogs. We don't want a dog," he said.

"But Dad, he's a sheepdog. He's really smart," she said.

Dan put his head in his hands.

"Oh great," he said. "Now I guess we are going to have to get sheep."

I laughed, knowing the dog was home to stay.

I named him Rylant, after my favorite author, Cynthia Rylant.

Ryley and I took agility classes with dog trainer Marta Coursey. She was wonderful and Ryley was good but I was slow, so we put agility equipment in the yard and used it there, giving up the idea of doing shows. He was smart and I started teaching him trick after trick. When I taught him to bow it took just three treats until he had the trick down pat.

Grandbabies came and Ryley couldn't wait to kiss each one of them. He herded them away from the road and kept a watchful eye on them. The years sped by.

"How could he be about to turn 11?" I asked myself as we walked.

Before it closed down for the redesign, this park was a regular stop for us, often with grandchildren in tow. Even with a different-sized pond and a new path Ryley seemed to know where he was. I raised my camera to snap photos of him and Dan walking along ahead of me.

After I caught up I gave Ryley a scratch and then he trotted down the path, looking back at us to make sure we were following. We rounded the pond, crossing the white bridge on the far end, standing to look at the water and then turning to go all the way around the longer path.

I picked up my step as I realized my worries were silly.

After all, Ryley was leaving me in the dust! Reaching the car I ended my walk down memory lane.

Lois Szymanski is a Carroll County resident and can be reached at