Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

After nearly nine years, I saw an impressive new side of Beau, the family golden retriever, on Sunday.

This revelation came during our daily walk.

Sunday morning was beautiful by anyone’s standards. The sky was blue. The air was warm, but offset by a mild breeze. Just looking out the window made one happy to be alive.

The life-affirming nature of the morning increased exponentially because of the presence of the grandkids. While Beau was placed under my care, Judy pushed four-month old Will in a stroller while four-year-old Kate followed in grandma’s footsteps.

The first half of the walk was fairly routine — if anything involving two children four and under can be termed routine.

Although Beau is approaching nine years old, he still has the personality of a puppy. He’s easily excited, and normally keeps a frantic pace. That means Beau and I walked well in front of the pack … at Beau’s insistence.

Then, when Beau put too much distance between us and kids, we’d sit and wait.

About midway through the walk, Judy and the kids veered off to take a shortcut home. The plan was simple: after giving Beau a little more exercise, we’d catch up later.

There was one problem — no one consulted Beau.

When Judy and the kids took the bridge connecting the Tunnel Hill State Trail to Harrisburg’s street system, Beau stopped in his tracks. He stood at attention, his ears perked and he sniffed the breeze nervously.

He tugged gently at the leash, wanting to follow his family. Beau issued a few guttural, if nearly inaudible, whines before turning away. Although he followed me down the path, it was clear he was unhappy.

After about 10 strides, Beau turned around. Again, he stood at attention, watching intently as Judy and the kids walked down the street. Reluctantly, he turned to follow me, but his heart wasn’t in it. Just a few steps later, he turned and looked back toward the kids.

We continued this way for a couple hundred yards, with Beau turning and staring even after the rest of the family was out of sight.

Eventually, I simply gave in. We turned around and retraced our steps. Beau’s usually normally brisk pace was a step quicker than usual.

But, the real surprise came when we reached the bridge Judy and the kids crossed to leave the bike path. When Beau picked up their scent, he bolted. He zig-zagged across the bridge, his nose never leaving the pavement.

By now, he was virtually dragging me down the street.

Seconds later, we reached an intersection. I looked straight ahead and to either side, but didn’t see anyone.

No problem. There was no decision to make. Beau, still sniffing the ground, decisively turned left. Who was I to argue?

Not surprisingly, he was right. Within seconds, Judy and the kids were in plain view, resting in the shade of a huge tree. Beau again tugged at the leash, sending us both sprinting/sprawling down the street. When we caught up, Beau’s tail wagged happily.

Apparently, he’s added another line to his resume — babysitter.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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