The Writing on the Wall

Running injuries.

I hate them.

Whether it's me who's injured, or one of the girls.

Currently, it's Maia. Nothing serious (I hope) but enough to sideline her for a few days. Rest is best (as they demonstrate so well in the photo, taking over my bed, Meadow with her Happy).

Having a sidelined dog emotionally sidelines me.

And forces me to read that proverbial writing on the wall: Maia's days of running trails have a limit. As do Meadow's, and mine. I just don't want to admit it.

I started having to read that wall writing last spring. Maia was slowing down, losing excitement for runs and walks, and just not herself. In June I decided to have blood work done on her to make sure she was OK. The results were surprising to me: hypothyroid. Within a few days of being on thyrosyn, she was not only her old self again, she was her younger self - acting like a two year old!

My Maia was back. I'd forgotten how pushy and demanding she could be!

A few months later I started seeing the same lack of zip and zing in Meadow. More blood work. She was borderline hypothyroid, so she too started on thyrosyn, but at half the dose of Maia. The change in Meadow wasn't nearly as dramatic, but she too regained her normal self.

We were back in the business of long runs and walks on gorgeous forest trails.

Now - a year later - both girls continue to enjoy great levels of energy, but seem to come up lame with greater frequency. Even my "bomb proof" Meadow has limped on occasion this past year, although with her it usually involves burrs or grass seeds burrowed deep in-between her toes, or a small pad tear. Things easily fixed.

Two days ago the girls and I ran on the ski hill in perfect conditions. The trail was neither dusty nor muddy due to rain the day before, the first rain in over two months. I was ecstatic. I noticed Maia wasn't always in her usual lead position, but more often at my side. It's what she'll do early in a run when her stomach is upset. I let her eat some grass, thinking that - as is usually the case - once the grass settled her stomach, we'd all have a terrific run.

At the very end of our six mile run, Maia limped.

I was shocked. I had to see it twice to believe it. Then I had to admit she had been trying to tell me, gently, at the start of our run: that she wasn't feeling up to it. I was so happy to be in smoke-free, fresh air on a mountain trail with my girls that I didn't pay attention. I assumed it was her stomach. Assumptions are the hobgoblins of small minds, and mine was embarrassingly small that morning.

This is the dog who has never actually limped during a run. Ever. She might be stiff in the shoulders later, a couple hours after a long run, seeking a massage. But as we finished this run, Maia in the lead, she slowed and favored a foreleg. I inspected her foot, thinking she had a torn pad, or picked up something sharp. I couldn't find anything. She trotted normally a few strides, then limped again. I let her set the pace to the car. She alternated walking and trotting that last quarter mile. Trail surface didn't seem to matter.

At home, she walked without a limp. She napped, ate normally, hung out. When I took the girls into the forest for a quick walk the next morning, though, she quickly started favoring that leg. Back home we went.

I've been giving her an anti-inflammatory, in small doses, and hoping that this is only a minor tweak of a tendon and not the beginning of something much more debilitating, like arthritis. I massage her, but she doesn't like me touching her wrist.

Maia turned eight in April.

I've been expecting this.

Expecting it doesn't make it any easier.

I don't enjoy gazing into this particular crystal ball: a future where the girls slow down until eventually they can no longer accompany me into the forest. The girls have allowed me access into the wilderness - a wildness I thrive on, thirst for - that I would never otherwise have seen and experienced. I can't imagine a world where I can't go there with them forever.