Contrary to my expectations, I've kept up with the whole running thing. I'm probably the most astounded by this fact. But several things have kept me going: one is that I'm getting better at it and the other is that the dog loves it. LOVES IT. When I get my gear on to instead go for a weekend bike ride, she has the most crushed expression and I feel so guilty for getting her hopes up and then leaving her at home. So we've been running a lot. And really, how could this
She's great about taking small cues, such as a gentle touch on the leash to get her to turn one way or another, and she listens really well. She knows now that we don't cross the road until I tell her "cross". (Shane suggested that I get skates or roller blades to have her pull me along and I asked, "Is that your grand plan to kill me off and get rid of me? You want me to add wheels to this craziness?") No run, so far, has been too long for her and she pulls me along a lot of the way. Sometimes she jerks to one side or another as something (which just might be food!) catches her attention and she feels the need to investigate. But in general, the more we've been running the better she's been about just running and enjoying it.
However, the running has caused one serious (to my mind, at least) issue. It's all in her paws. No matter how fast I run, I can't keep up with her. She likes to pull me along, and when cars go by she picks up her speed as if she's thinking, "I'm gonna get it! I can go faster, and then I'm gonna get that truck!"
Which is why I feel just awful when we get home and I check her paws only to discover that her pads are bleeding. After every run, at least one of her pads has been bleeding. Sometimes she has pads on each foot that are bleeding. During the runs she never slows down, never whimpers, never lets me know in any way that she's injured. I think she's having so much fun that even she doesn't notice until we're home. I wait a day or two between runs, and mix up shorter runs with longer runs, but so far none of it has done any good. We thought that the problem would go away as she gets her "summer paws", as Shane calls it, when they get all callused with fabulous exercise. But it hasn't. Last week she was hurt so badly that she was limping the next day. Seeing her joyous "You're home!" face as she hobble-ran to me on three legs when I got home from work almost made me cry.
What to do, what to do? I wondered, should I give up the running? Is exercise that injures her doing any good? But then I'd pull out the leash and see her dancing, jumping around, wagging her tail, and making little whimpery excitement noises. And I'd go back to the realization that she truly loves running. Now that we've started, can I take this away from her? Is that fair? Which is the lesser of two evils, not running or being injured by the running?
I have an acquaintance through music stuff (FLOT, the Fairbanks Symphony) who works at the animal shelter and whose fiance is a vet. So I asked her if she had any suggestions and she told me that Bag Balm is what a lot of the dog mushers use. Shane and I agreed that that's probably the best endorsement we could think of. What harsher conditions do dogs and their paws go through than mushing? If it's good enough for the Iditarod, it's good enough for us. I went and bought some the next day.
I'm not fond of the petroleum in it. ("Petrolatum".) I'm smearing oil by-product on my dog's paws. But if it works, I don't care. I don't need to put much on her at a time. Just a little smear on each pad which I rub in for maximum effect. I was told to do it after our runs, but she's too hyped up at that point and doesn't want me messing with her tender feet, so I think I'll do it right before bed. That way she's also sleeping rather than wandering around the apartment rubbing it off her feet and into the carpet. So far, it's doing a nice job. Her paws are looking more supple and less cracked, the way they should be. When we went running two nights ago, there was no bleeding when we got home. And there was much rejoicing.
A few days ago it got much, much worse. Her eye swelled up so much that she could hardly open it and we knew it was time to go see the vet. Our very, very dear friend Fiona had promised to arrange some free veterinary care as a wedding present, whenever we needed it (she being the daughter of our vet) so I called in that favor. (And I'm totally going to have her over for dinner sometime next week, I hope, to say thank you.)
For the skin, she's got two different kinds of pills. :( As if all of this wasn't bad enough, he gave her a shot, too, to stop her itching. (She's been rubbing her face on everything.) We have another appointment on Monday to make sure the ulcer is really cured.
Our dogs do so much for us, I feel bad that I can't keep mine totally healthy all the time as a small repayment for all the joy she brings to my life. I was also reminded tonight (as if I needed any more reminding!) how short the life of a dog is. When we were waiting for our appointment, there was another woman in the waiting room. When we came in she was sitting on the floor with her dog, crying. He had a something next to his eye (big red, bloody-looking bump? how else to describe it?) so I assumed that there'd been a household accident. I asked her what happened and she said, "He's just really old." I looked at him again and I realized he was far skinnier than he should be. He tried to stand and it was obvious that he was having serious trouble doing that. He was a lab/shepherd mix who had reached the grand old age of 15. When he laid back down with his owner, his back legs started to spasm. It didn't seem to bother him. He rested his chin on her thigh and looked at me with eyes that only dogs have, eyes full of more love than any one creature should be capable of holding.
Seeing his owner cry, I cried a little bit too. I can't even claim that it was because I was thinking about my own past dog loves. I miss them, but the pain of their passing is gone. No, I simply know what it's like to take your dog to the vet and know that you won't be leaving with them. I was heartbroken for her.
I never learned the name of the owner, but her dog was named Roly, which was an alternate name I almost gave to my dog. Turns out, it was for the same reason. Roly was named after the fat dalmatian puppy in "101 Dalmatians", both because he was fat and because whenever he saw a human his first reaction was to flip onto his back for tummy rubs. It sounded so much like my girl as a puppy that we laughed a little bit, and then cried some more.