Saturday, February 13, 2010

My running partner AJ.

My dog AJ is 19 years old. Last night as she napped on the floor, she dreamt dog-dreams of running. I watched as she ran on her side, legs pumping, until breathless and huffing. For those few minutes, she was free from a body that’s failing. It was so great.

Aging sucks. She and I will both confirm that.

When we were much younger, we ran together in San Felasco Hammock State Preserve right across the road from our house. It’s 6,500 acres of forested heaven with miles and miles of trails. We tied two leashes together: one attached to her collar and one around my waist so that both of us had plenty of slack in the line. She agreed to help me train by scouting the trail ahead and setting the pace. In exchange, I agreed to stop and wait at the occasional whiff of something that needed her attention. We had fun for a long, long time.

But life happened and AJ and I got older. Eventually running in the forest gave way to running in the neighborhood. Then walking. And now just sniffing around awhile. Just so you know, at age 19, AJ can still gallop from the end of our driveway to the back door when her supper’s waiting—a testament to an elderly runner-dog’s ability to summon a power surge when food is involved.

She’s confused by my return to the forest alone. On some days, so am I. I wonder what happened to the young woman and shining dog who used to run the trails. I try not to let AJ see me putting on my running shoes. But I know that if her vocabulary extended beyond “cookie” and “good dog,” I could explain and she would understand completely and give me her blessing. She, like all dogs, wants the best for the humans in her care.

AJ and I both dream of running again. Only one of us can make it really happen now. You know what I’m going to do for her this weekend? I’m going to sniff the air as I run, and when I catch the scent of something interesting, I’m going follow my nose until I find it … and maybe even dig it up and wallow in it. Just as she would. You’d do the same for your running partner, right?

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