Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The zookeeper

Many people don't know this about Winnipeg, but it has a zoo.

Yes. That's right. Winnipeg. The coldest place on earth. Has a zoo. With penguins and polar bears. But also with elephants and monkeys and lions and zebras. It's a pretty awesome place.

I haven't been in decades, but man, did I ever love that zoo. Mostly because penguins and monkeys are single-handedly the funniest and most entertaining creatures on earth. But also because I used to think that the coolest job in the world was to be a zookeeper. I mean, look. You get to hug cheetahs! How awesome is that!

(My 9-year-old self didn't fully appreciate that you also have to shovel elephant shit...)

Alas, I did not grow up to be a zookeeper. Instead, I grew up to be a bureaucrat. (Although there is most certainly a joke about shoveling shit buried in this career choice somewhere...). But this past weekend, I got to fulfill my childhood dream of playing the role of zookeeper. Because I had a house full of critters.

Okay, so they weren't exactly exotic animals. And there wasn't exactly a whole bunch of them. We're talking one cat and one dog, alongside my own Beastie. But it felt like a wild kingdom in here at times. And I did have to feed them all and pick up after them and make sure that they didn't kill one another. Which is not as easy as it sounds...

Critter #1 is Princess Kitty (or PK for short). You may remember her from this heart-wrenching tale of unrequited love. This is officially her 4th visit to the Hubby-and-me-menagerie. And since Fergus LOVES LOVES LOVES LOVES LOVES her, and since she LOVES LOVES LOVES LOVES LOVES to lead him on, every visit is guaranteed to deliver laughs.

The difference this time is that the two of them invented a new game. The let's-chase-each-other-around-the-bedroom-sometime-between-2:00-and-4:00-a.m.-until-a-human-locks-us-out game. Here are the rules:

  • The dog, who sleeps on the floor at the foot of the bed, is alerted to the presence of the cat, who tries to sneak into the bedroom and onto the bed sometime between 2:00 and 4:00 in the morning.
  • The dog leaps up and starts chasing the cat around the bedroom. 
  • The cat leaps up onto the bed, and snuggles down low in between the two humans, making sure to be extra cute so that they won't mind that she is there.
  • The dog, who wants to give the cat a goodnight kiss, stands alongside the bed and stares longingly at her. This usually involves panting and other signs of excitement, like ears dipped forward and tailless bum wagging. The latter, when done hard enough against the side of the bed, gives the impression of a 4.3-on-the-Richter-scale-level-earthquake.
  • The cat, who loves to torment the dog, decides to have some fun with this dumb creature, and approaches him alluringly. She gives him a few loving licks. And then just as the dog moves forward to reciprocate with a great big slurpy kiss, WHACK! The cat smacks him across the nose.
  • The dog, who can't read these mixed signals, tries again to plant a canine kiss on the cat's nose.
  • The cat swats at him again, only this time, with claws out, the smack lands on the human's leg, waking her up from a dream about being back stage at a Bruce Springsteen concert.
  • The human tries to ignore the cat so that she can slip back into her dream. But she is unsuccessful because the cat and the dog keep playing the "I'll let you lick me, no I won't, I'll swat you" game.
  • The human finally wakes up, grabs the cat, and carries her into the hallway. The dog naturally follows. The human shuts the bedroom door. She then has to try to go back to sleep while listening to the sound of the dog whimpering to get back into the room, interspersed with the sound of animals running up and down the stairs at breakneck speeds to continue tormenting one another.
Yeah, I may have wanted to be a zookeeper growing up, but I didn't want to work the night shift. Just sayin'...

Things got even more wild when Critter #2 showed up. Bella is an almost-two-year-old Husky-German-shepherd-mix, with a sweet and gentle disposition. But she also has a rather strong prey drive, which at least one squirrel - R.I.P. my furry friend - has learned the hard way. But just because PK is small and black and furry, and from a distance kind of looks like a squirrel, nothing bad could happen, right?

GULP...

The good news is that in the end, nothing bad happened. But that was not without some significant zoo-keeping on my part. Which involved, for the most part, keeping PK and Bella separate. At first this was not too hard. PK just went and hid. In fact, she hid herself so good for a few hours that Hubby and I started to fear that she actually somehow slipped out of the house to escape the crazy mutts. When she finally did start to come out, Bella was sooooo excited that she would run up and down the stairs, sprint circles around the island, and even jump on furniture (a big doggie no-no in this house) in her attempts to corner the kitty. I didn't even really know that cats could growl until I started to hear a blackberry-vibration-like noise coming from poor PK. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a little stressed about the situation.

But after about 24 hours, the two of them settled into some kind of understanding. PK would tolerate Bella getting within a few feet of her without growling, and Bella satisfied herself with keeping her distance but barking, whimpering, and play-bowing to Sadie instead of chasing her all over like a crazed monkey. Within 48 hours, they were even able to sit calmly in one another's presence. And by the time she left us, Bella wasn't even all that interested in PK anymore.

Phew. Crisis averted. I'd be a bad zookeeper if someone got hurt on my watch!

And I haven't even mentioned the Fergus-Bella dynamic yet. Which, frankly, despite knowing one another, did not start out on the right foot.

It's entirely my fault, really. I know that the Beast is one territorial little bugger when he wants to be (which is all the freaking time) and that he is, shall we say, sensitive to other creatures coming into his domain. With humans, this translates into wild barking and jumping up and down. With other dogs, this translates into an instant attempt to dominate. Which means growling, barking, lunging and attempts to pin the other dog. Which all looks very attack-like. In short, it is a decidedly unpleasant way to be greeted. Which is why, when I normally have a friend bring a dog over for a date, I ask them to meet me about a block from the house, go for a little walk with me and Fergus, and then bring the dog into the house. But Bella was coming over late on a school night, and I was tired, and I figured that they knew each other already and that it wouldn't be a big deal to cheat a little just this once, and...

Fergus attacked Bella. At least that's what it looked like. And if I were Bella's owner, I may have been sorely tempted to call my dog a psycho and beat a fast retreat. Thankfully, my friends are all familiar with my dog's sometimes beastly behaviour, and are a loving and forgiving bunch. Also thankfully, as soon as I took Bella and the Beast for a walk (which I should have done BEFORE entering the house), they remembered that they were actually best friends. From that moment on, they became inseparable - barking at each other, wrestling, playing tug, and tag-teaming the cat to give her a dose of torment for a change.

Of course, "got along great" still means that there was A LOT of zoo-keeping to be done. Particularly in the exercise department. I know this doesn't sound like a big deal - if you are already walking one, you can walk two, right? Well, not exactly. Especially not when one is bred to pull. Which is exactly what Bella did to me when the three of us went on an 8k run on Friday morning. 40+ minutes of being pulled along the Ottawa river pathway like a rag doll, being ridiculed by cyclists who passed us by, and genuinely fearing for my spinal alignment whenever a small furry animal crossed our path. I suppose that's what you get for tying a sled dog around your waist. On the upside, my time was much faster than it normally is!

But all good things, even childhood dreams, must come to an end. On Sunday night, Bella went home, and tomorrow, PK leaves us too. We will resume our normal, one-animal life. Boring, I know. And while I hope that they all come back to visit us, I now know that being a zookeeper on anything more than a temporary basis is just too exhausting for me!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to vacuum my house from top to bottom. In the meantime, enjoy some pictures of our weekend menagerie.

PK didn't like Saturday vacuuming, so she hid in the wine cellar. Who can blame her? That's the first place I go when I have a bad day!!!

Playing hide-and-seek with the Beast

Found you!!!!

Taking a break from tormenting each other and looking cute for the camera.

"Hey PK! Let's blow this joint! We can make it out there on our own!"

Back from our run. I am smiling because I made it back alive and in one piece. It was dicey there for awhile.

Back from our run, standing up this time.

Up close and personal. And tongues hanging out after a good solid 15-minutes of wrestling.

Tug has always been Fergus' favourite game. But he kept getting his ass kicked by a girl. Bella is the tug-o-war champ!

PK safely perched up on the stairs, watching Dumb and Dumber wrestle down below.

Cuddling

I just want to sniff you. Just once. Please, please, please, please, please?!?!

More post-wrestling cuteness!

"Ummm... Could you let us in please? The cat is inside and we are outside..."

"Mwahahahaha, suckers," PK says. "You can't get me from out there!"

But Bella will try anyway!

All 3 of them in the same room, quiet, for the first time. (PK is hard to see but she is there on the couch)

And then there were only two. PK and Fergus helping Hubby get some work done.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Injury time

It happens to the best of us.

A tweaked muscle here... A pulled tendon there... A pinched nerve somewhere else...

Injuries. Those of us who are physically active know that it is only a matter of time before we sustain one. God knows that I have had my fair share. Ankle sprains, muscle tears, strained tendons, popping kneecaps, and my personal favourite, groin pulls (nothing like icing the entre-jambes area, I say...). Years and years of living the sedentary life without one freaking injury. 10 years of keeping fit and active and POW! I run out of massage therapy and physiotherapy insurance coverage by February. Every. single. year.

My most infamous injury is indicative of what a jerk I am when it comes to taking proper care of myself. Picture it: a snowy, icy Sunday morning in small-town New Brunswick, where I have been visiting my in-laws for the past 36 hours. I'm starting to, quite frankly, get a little squirrely. (Try as we do, we just can't seem to stop getting on one another's nerves...) So I decide to go for a 5k run. After 5k, I'm still feeling too stressed to go back, so I decide to do another 5k. About halfway through the second loop, I slip on ice. Innocuous, really - I don't even hit the ground. Just lose balance for half a second before I regain my stride. But after five more minutes, I feel my right glute stiffen. Another 5 minutes later and, with every single strike of my right foot, I feel a stabbing pain rip through my ass cheek. But I've got less than 2k to go, and it's too cold to walk, so I "rimp" (a cross between a run and a limp) all the way back. 

By the time I arrive, I'm in too much pain to be stressed about having another 24 hours to spend with my in-laws. I spend the rest of the day alternating between ice and heat, desperately trying to stop the ass spasms that are preventing me from lying down, sitting, or standing without screaming in pain.

Forty-eight hours later, I'm home. And I'm no longer spasming. Obviously, I'm feeling better. So I go for a run. And running feels great. But then I get home, and my right glute seizes up again, causing me to spend the rest of the day limping around the office. 

But do I stop running and seek professional help? Of course not! What am I? Some kind of wuss? Every other day, I run, and the same scenario plays out. Until Hubby, who is tired of me (a) not taking his advice to rest for a few days and (b) whining about how much post-run pain I am in, insists that I call the doctor. So I drag myself to the sports therapy clinic at the nearby university, get sent for a bone scan (to rule out a fracture) and an ultrasound (when the bone scan reveals nothing), and am finally diagnosed (four months after the original injury) with a torn hip flexor. 

I have been running, every other day, on a torn hip flexor. For four months. Even I know how 'effin dumb that is. 

Dumb enough to make me listen to the doctor, the physiotherapist, the ART specialist, and the massage therapist that I was seeing to rehab me through this injury. Which meant absolutely, unequivocally, without question, NO RUNNING. For at least two weeks. And when I questioned that length of recovery time, I got this: "Well, if you would have taken care of this when it happened, you wouldn't be in this situation," or "It could be worse. If it were a bone fracture, you'd be out for at least 8 weeks." Like patronizing me is going to make me feel better at a time like this...

But I listened. I went to physio/RMT/ART sessions religiously. I started stretching more. I started doing yoga (and you know I am taking it seriously when I do yoga, which I kind-of-sort-of-hate). I did all of my rehab exercises. And most importantly, I did not run once.

Instead, I moped around the house. I felt miserable, unfulfilled, and empty. I filled that empty no-running-void with food. I gained a couple of pounds. I snapped at everyone around me. And I drove everyone mad with my bad attitude. 

I am officially the world's worse rehab patient.

Strike that. I was officially the world's worse rehab patient. The Beast recently lifted that title from me.

It was a small thing, really. As you will surely recall, we recently took Fergus sheep herding. The thing about sheep herding is that you don't do it on nice, level, perfectly groomed landscape. You do it in a pasture. Where there are groundhog holes and uneven turf. Unsurprisingly, mis-steps are possible. And indeed, on the way out of the sheep pen, the trainer asked us if Fergus was limping.  All three of us checked him out thoroughly, looking at all of his paws, poking and prodding him a little to see if anything was tender, but all he did was happily pant. So off we went. And when we got home, he seemed perfectly normal. No limp in sight. 

The following morning, we resumed our regular weekday exercise routine: Monday a.m. run with Mom (we did about 7k), Tuesday a.m. bike ride with Dad (they did about 6k), Wednesday a.m. run with Mom (we did 11k because it was one of those ridiculously beautiful summer mornings), Thursday a.m. bike ri.... Hold the phone. Uncharacteristically, the Beast didn't want to go for a bike ride. After 1k, he stopped dead in his tracks, and refused to go any further. Hubby had to very slowly pedal home. With a very unmotivated dog alongside him. Which we simply chalked up to him being tired from all the physical activity that he does.

That evening, I took Fergus for a walk. And that's when I noticed it. He was limping. Very definitely limping along slowly beside me. And when I picked up one paw at a time to see what was wrong, he pulled away from me when I touched the rear right one. 

Great. So he had done something to himself at the sheep farm after all. But just like his Mom, he faked his way through it for a couple of days, cramming run after run and wrestling-match after wrestling-match into his routine, unwilling to show that something was hurting and that it was time for a break.

Well, a break is just want we knew we had to give him. And on the advice of a friend, Hubby and I agreed that there would be no running for a few days, no off-leash walks, and no dog park. Only slow, controlled walks on a leash, and maybe a little bit of swimming. Until we were sure that he was limp free, for real this time.

Well, Fergus just freaked out. After just one day of not running, I was reminded of why I nicknamed him the Beast. He resumed his frenetic, I-have-too-much-unreleased-energy-pent-up-inside-of-me state almost immediately after our Friday morning walk. As though he was trying to say to me, "WTF, Mom? What's with this slow pace. It's our day to run, lady. Pick up the damn pace, will you?!?!" By the time we got back from work on Friday evening, he was a veritable gong show. Jumping all over us when we walked through the door (which he never does anymore), pacing back and forth until we took him outside, pulling on the leash as though his sole purpose in life was to yank my arm out of its socket, and whimpering and howling when we did not turn into the dog park during our walk. And despite walking him for over an hour on Friday night, he spent the rest of the evening staring at his toy box, demanding that we take something out and throw it around the house for him. Which of course, we would not do, because he could not run.

This went on and on and on for the whole weekend. Constant whining, begging, whimpering, and glancing up at us with his poor-me eyes. 

By Sunday morning, I was desperate to take him out for a roller-blade adventure with me and the girls to let him use up some of his crazy energy. Desperate because he was driving me freaking crazy, and I couldn't take it anymore. But I knew I couldn't. Even though he wasn't limping anymore, I couldn't do to him what I always do to myself: push him to get active too soon and set back his recovery by days and weeks. 

Don't mistake this seemingly altruistic statement for anything other than selfishness. If Fergus would have re-injured himself and required a longer rehab period, I was likely to move out and leave Hubby to deal with this neurotic behaviour. Nope - not taking him was actually all about me. 

But it worked. By Tuesday morning, after being limp-free for over 48 hours, we set off for a leisurely 5k. We took lots of stops to make sure that we weren't rushing it too soon, and I poked and prodded him the whole way through to make sure that he was truly okay and not just faking it. We were even able to go for a bike ride last night along the river, and a run through the Arboretum this morning. And thankfully, he has resumed his calm-as-Fergus-knows-how-to-be state. Peace (or our version of it, at least) has returned to our household.

And now that I know just how overbearing, whiny, and desperately attention-seeking I can be when I am injured and can't do what I love to do, I promise that I will stretch after every single run and listen to my body. Because I don't want to put Hubby through dealing with two injury divas. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Loyalty

I have a tendency to go overboard. With just about everything in my life.

Take the Beast's recent herding evaluation as a perfect example. We spent one hour testing his ability to herd sheep, made no firm decisions as to when or how often we will come back for lessons, and I've already gone out and ordered the following book: Herding Dogs: Progressive Training. A full-on manual on how to teach dogs to herd. For people whose livelihoods depend on raising livestock.

In other words, not really necessary for the weekend herder/handler combo that is me and the Beast.

The book came in the mail yesterday, and I started flipping through the very intimidating 7-page table of contents to see if I could just find a chapter on "City girls who get the idea in their heads that their dog could be a casual herder". I didn't find that chapter, but I did land upon the following excerpt entitled "Loyalty". I can take no credit for this excerpt. In fact the author is quoted as 'unknown'. But I found it to be a touching description of our beloved pets (minus the slave reference, perhaps). I thought others might too. Enjoy!
God summoned a beast from the fields and He said, "Behold people created in my image. Therefore, adore them. You shall protect them in the wilderness, shepherd their flocks, watch over their children, accompany them wherever they may go - even into civilization.  You shall be a companion, an ally, a slave. 
"To do these things," God said, "I endow you with instincts uncommon to other beasts: faithfulness, devotion and understanding surpassing that of people. Lest it impair your courage you shall never foresee your death. Lest it impair your loyalty, you shall be blind to the faults of people. Lest it impair your understanding, you are denied the power of words. Let no fault of language cleave an accord beyond that of people with any other beast - or even people with other people. Speak to your people only with your mind and through your honest eyes. 
"Walk by their sides; sleep in their doorways; forage for them; ward off their enemies; carry their burdens; share their afflictions; love them and comfort them. And it return for this, people will fulfill your needs and wants - which shall be only food, shelter and affection. 
"So be silent, and be a friend to people. Guide them along the way to this land that I have promised them. This shall be your destiny and your immortality." So spoke the Lord. 
And the dog heard and was content.
- excerpt from Vergil Holland's Herding Dogs 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fulfilling his genetic destiny

There is something about me that you need to know...

I am a city girl.

It's true that I was born and raised in the country, and that for most of my life, my address was "P.O. Box 2" instead of an actual street name. It's true that I am no stranger to the smell of manure wafting from the barn. It's true that I can identify the grain being grown in a field by sight alone. And it's true that I thought overalls were highly fashionable until my 3rd year of university. (It might also be true that I accidentally dated my 2nd cousin in junior high, but that's the topic for a whole other blog...).

Equally true, however, is the fact that I left behind my humble bumpkin self 18 years ago when I moved to the city. And I haven't exactly felt the urge to move back. Once you've tasted Michael Kors, you can't go back to the General Store on Main Street, you know what I mean?

Yet there I was last Sunday morning, searching for Concession Road #10 in the middle of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, when I would usually be sipping an over-priced coffee, made by some spoiled-brat-of-a-high-school-barrista at the neighbourhood Starbucks. What gives?

The Beast gives, that's what.

You see, I got it into my head quite a long time ago that Fergus would be an excellent sheep dog. How could he not be? His momma was a border collie, and his poppa was an Australian shepherd. Or maybe it was the other around, I don't really know. The point is, his lineage screams of herding. And sheep live in, well, herds.

All it took was a quick Google search to find Ewenique Farms. Not only is this a sheep farm - a mere 75km outside of Ottawa - but the owner breeds border collies as livestock dogs AND offers both herding evaluations and lessons. Hot-diggity-dawg! Sign me up!

So I sent her an e-mail, which went something like this:
"Hi! I notice that you offer herding evaluations. I have a 2-year old Aussie shepherd/border collie mix, and I'm always looking for new things to do to keep his mind busy so that he doesn't drive us crazy. And since he seems to like to herd all the dogs at the dog park, I thought we could give sheep-herding a try. Do you offer lessons on weekends?"

Part of me wonders if she rolled her eyes as she read it and thought to herself, "Oh great, another one of these spoiled, undisciplined city dogs and its silly human companion who doesn't know a thing about raising animals...." Well, maybe she did think that, but an evaluation is an extra $45 dollars in her pocket, regardless of the dog's ability (or lack thereof), so she very gracefully told me that she would love to meet my boy, and to bring him by on Sunday at 10:00 a.m.

And so on Sunday morning, I found myself loading the Beast into the car so that we could embark upon a little family outing at a sheep farm.

Now Fergus loves, and I mean LOVES, going for a car ride. I mean, look at this face? Doesn't that face say "There is no place that I would rather be than in the backseat of this car RIGHT NOW!!!!" He quite happily jumped into the car, and spent an hour panting, drooling, sniffing the fresh country air, and just being generally happy to be alive as we drove down winding roads to Concession Road #10. 

As we got closer and closer to the farm, some innate sense kicked in within the Beast, because he started whimpering and barking in his "I'm so excited that we're almost where ever it is that you are taking me and I can't wait until you stop this car and let me out RIGHT NOW" voice that words simply cannot describe. 

Of course, I interpreted this excitement as the Beast instinctively knowing that he was about to do what he was bred to do - kick some lamb ass! "Look honey," I said to Hubby. "He just knows where we are. I mean, he's never even seen a sheep and he is super excited to get out there and show us what he is made of!"

(Of course, the Beast makes the exact same noises and shows the exact same level of excitement when we pull into a gas station to fill up, but anyway...)

When we did pull into the driveway, Fergus was ready to bound out of the backseat like a rocket. Further proof that he instinctively knew that he was about to fulfill his genetic destiny by becoming the world's greatest city-dog-sheep-herder, I say. He barely even noticed the trainer when she came out of the house to meet us. He was simply too thrilled to notice anything other than the sheep-farm smells. Plus he was too busy peeing everywhere to mark this new place as his turf.

As we walked over to the sheep pen with the trainer, she sized the Beast up a little bit by asking us all about him. How old is he? How long have we had him? What's his history? Where does he come from? Why did we want to try sheep herding? We chatted for a few minutes, and then she said, "Okay then. Let's see what this boy can do."

She opened the gate, and there stood 7 or 8 ewes, all huddled together in the middle of the pen, being held there by the intense stare of her 4-year old Border collie, Nan. "Nan is here to help us," she explained. "If Fergus can't handle the sheep, or if he disperses the flock, you'll see Nan bring them all back together. Then you'll be able to see how it works with a fully trained working dog."

"As if Fergus isn't going to be able to do this," I thought to myself. 

And so off came the Beast's leash. As soon as I gave him the "Break!" command to release him from his sit, he went tearing off, straight towards the...

... other dog. To play and herd her. Like he was in a freaking dog park.

So the trainer called him towards the sheep. "Fergus, come." He actually listened, and came running toward her, until he got distracted by a great big pile of sheep shit, which he decided that he should taste before deciding to roll around in it. And he just went to the groomer's last week...

For about 2-3 minutes, the trainer tried to get him to focus on the sheep. But there were too many other things to do. Pee on the thorn bush. Try to get Nan to play again. Chew on a stick that he found in the middle of the pen. He was interested in everything except the sheep.

My heart actually began to sink a little. I leaned into Hubby and whispered, "What if our boy isn't any good at this?"

And then the trainer went into the flock, grabbed one of the ewes by the hind leg, and dragged her out. This caught Fergus' attention, and he tentatively came forward to take a sniff. But when the trainer dropped the ewe's leg so that she could go back to the others, the Beast resumed eating sheep shit. So the trainer grabbed at another ewe, and tried again. Only this time, when she let the sheep go, Fergus took off after it at top speed, directing her back to the flock.

And I let out a big "Whoop!!!!" 

As soon as Fergus realized that he was allowed to be interested in the sheep, nothing else mattered. He could not get enough of running circles around the flock, making sure that they all stayed together and, more importantly, that they all went wherever he wanted them to go. This was like the dog park on steroids, because unlike other dogs, these things completely followed his direction. The Beast just couldn't get enough of it!

After about five minutes of watching him run circles around the flock, we called him off for a break, and he literally collapsed in a gigantic, panting heap on the ground. Like this (although this picture wasn't actually taken at the sheep farm, this is exactly what he looked like):

As he rested and caught his breath, the trainer began to explain to us that Fergus definitely had the herding drive. In fact, he had already figured out that his main role was to "balance" the flock by keeping them all together. Many dogs simply went running straight into the middle of the flock to disperse them, but Fergus seemed to know that his job was to keep them together. The next step would be for him to do that without running circles around them, but simply by weaving back and forth behind them. "This," she said, "is the hardest part for most dogs. So watch me use this paddle to stop him from going around the flock and to get him to weave in the opposite direction."

Sure enough, as soon as Fergus was released from the down position, he immediately resumed his clock-wise circle around the sheep. Until the trainer redirected him with the paddle. The first couple of times, the Beast simple tore a wider circle and went around the paddle. But the third time, she tapped him lightly on the shoulder. He looked stunned for all of 2 seconds before he simply took off in the other direction. Just as he was about to circle the flock again, she put her paddle down in front of him, and without even a touch, Fergus weaved in the opposite direction. Within a couple of minutes, he had learned to weave back and forth behind the flock, without running laps around them, and without being redirected by the paddle.

It was incredible.

And I was viciously proud. "Baby!" I said to Hubby. "Look at our boy!!!  Look at how fast he is figuring this out!!! I just knew he was going to be good at this! I just knew it!!!"

(There might have been a tear glistening in the corner of my eye...)

Fergus got another break - and downed about half a litre of water - while the trainer gave us her assessment. "No doubt about it, you've got a good little herder there. When I first saw him, I could have sworn he was more Border collie than Aussie, but he herds like an Aussie. Notice how he runs upright, and how he uses his voice to move the sheep? Border collies slink down low and use their eyes. Whatever he is, he's going to be really good at this. We will work him a little bit more today, but we can definitely give him some lessons if you guys are interested."

So. Very. Proud.

She spent the next fifteen minutes or so teaching Hubby and I how to direct the Beast in the sheep pen. Suffice it to say that Fergus may be a natural, but this city girl is a little rusty when it comes to communing with the livestock. I probably need the lessons more than the Beast does...

And when the hour was over, Hubby and I had one exhausted sheepdog on our hands. Exhausted but completely exhilarated to have been given a "job" to do. So exhilarated that it would be cruel not to bring him back for another round.

So this city girl is probably going to find herself heading out to the country a little bit more often. To breathe in that fresh country air, and to give her dog the chance to satisfy his need to herd. And most importantly, to cheer him on like a ridiculously proud soccer mom.

That's love, baby!

In the meantime, a few snapshots of the Beast.

Not so interested in the sheep just yet. But there is some fresh sheep shit just over there...

Hey... When I get close, they move out of the way...

Woooohoooo! I love this job!!!

Trying desperately to stay awake during the car ride back home after a hard day at the office...

...and failing miserably


Friday, July 6, 2012

Why I won't train for a marathon

It's that time of the year again...

Everyone is training for some kind of race.

Everyone.

Half marathon... Full marathon... Ultra marathon... 5k...10k... 16k... The Fall Classic... The Fall Colours... The Army Run... The Run for the Cure... The Terry Fox Run... Name the distance and the event, and I know at least 10 people getting ready for it.

And they are all asking me the same question.

...

"Why aren't you training for something? You're a runner!"

It's true. I run. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Rain, snow or shine. With or without daylight. Frigid, temperate or hot and humid. Here at home or away on vacation. I have an iPhone app to keep track of every kilometer and every route. I post about my runs on Facebook. I read running blogs. I spend enormous amounts of time and money in Bushtukah, and get weirdly excited when I hear that they have a sale on. Indeed, the fullest drawer in my closet is the one that holds all of the various layers of running wear that a Canuck girl needs to practice her sport year round in this varied climate. And that says a lot for someone like me who is a seasoned shopper of all sorts of apparel and accessories...

Yet I have never trained for or run a race. In fact, I've never even been tempted to do it. Well, except for that one time I went out to see some friends run the Winterman half marathon, and I got all inspired and shit. But that lasted about fifteen minutes, long enough to see how stiff and sore they became as soon as they stopped running. No, I'm the kind of girl that likes to sit on the sidelines and cheer people on as they cross that race-day finish line, but I don't ever want to wear a number on my back.

My hardcore running friends - the ones that train for these races - kind of don't get it. I hear a lot of this: "We could totally train together!" Or this: "If you can run 12k on a Wednesday morning, you can run a half marathon!" Or my personal favourite, this: "Look, you are already running 25k a week anyway. What's another 20k!"

The truth of the matter is that I hate the idea of racing.

Mainly, I hate it because it has become too mainstream. Everyone is doing it these days. Everyone. And not just the people who love to run. People who hate running, have always hated running, and will always hate running, but who have just got the idea stuck in their heads that everyone is doing it, and if my co-worker Tom can run a marathon, well then dammit, so can I! If I took an informal poll, I would not be surprised to find that "running a marathon" is on a whole bunch of bucket lists.

Now don't get me wrong. I think everyone should challenge themselves. Hell, I'm the girl that took up bodybuilding. Which I can say, with an abundance of confidence, is the most physically and mentally draining (not to mention psychotic) sport out there. So I get it. But why does everyone have to pick running as the challenge-du-jour? The non-conformist in me can't take it!

And then there is the fact that I am, by my very nature, a fiercely independent person. I don't need the energy of a crowd to propel me forward. I need my headphones and my iPhone app reminding me that I am seconds away from beating my own PB - set last Monday morning at 5:45am - to motivate me. Other people just kind of get in my way, and ultimately, on my nerves...

And I need alone time. Which is what running is all about for me. It's time to think through crunchy work or personal life problems. It's time to blow off some steam after a bad week at work. It's time to clear my mind and concentrate on nothing other than the feeling of a strong breeze on my face. And for me to truly enjoy all of these things, I have to be alone.

Well, not quite alone.

The Beast, of course, runs with me these days. Running, after all, is why I chose such a high energy breed. Because while I don't want human companionship with me when I'm out there pounding the pavement, even I can admit that it's nice to have four-legged company. And a little protection on cold, dark mornings.

And therein lies the real reason that I will not train for a race. Because of the Beast. Odd as that may sound to my running friends.

Here's the thing. The Beast has gotten used to our 3-x-a-week run dates. Dare I even say that he likes our run dates. Running is, after all, a much funner pace than boring old walking. More importantly, he needs these runs. I am firmly convinced that one of the main reasons that Hubby and I have turned most of his behavioural issues around is because of all of the physical and mental exercise that we give him, and running is a huge part of that. It calms and soothes him.

Now if I started training for a race, the Beast could run with me for a time, but eventually, I'd have to start leaving him behind. Like when we start creeping up to distances beyond 10-12km. Which means he'd start losing out on his run time with me. And frankly, I'd start losing out on my run time with him. Which at times is the happiest part of my day.

And then there is the increased likelihood of injury. The more kilometers that I run each week, the more likely it is that I injure myself. This isn't hypochondria talking. This is experience. I am one messed up and injury prone lady. From my hip flexers, to my groin, to my hamstrings, to my IT bands, to my calves, to my Achilles... My lower-body is more than a little messed up. I don't want to mess it up more. Because messing it up more means that I have to take time off running. And taking time off running means that the Beast has to take time off of running. And neither of us is ever happy about that.

The fact is that I want to be able to run when I am 40, 45, 50, 55... So I don't want to burn my body out now by training for race after race after race. And Fergus doesn't want me to either. Because he wants to be running by my side for as long as his joints will allow it.

I know this to be true. You would too if you saw the smile that breaks out on his handsome little face whenever he sees me tie up my running shoes and strap on my water belt. Or if you heard his excited panting as he patiently sits by the door and waits for me to get going on our run. Or if, midway through a run, you saw how he looks up at me with his big brown eyes full of love, waiting to see where our adventure will take us and just genuinely happy to be out with his Mom.

I didn't fully appreciate just how much Fergus loves to run with me until yesterday. After spending two weeks at the border's while Hubby and I were on vacation, Mr. Beast was literally exploding with excitement when I was getting ready to take him out for our first post-holiday jaunt. Like a Mexican jumping bean, he was incapable of sitting still while I put his leash on. When we got outside, he nearly pulled me over as he took off at top speed down the street, ready to feel the breeze on his face. As we approached the Arboretum, he started to bark excitedly, practically drooling as I let him off his leash to run free through his favourite place on earth. And when we got home, he drained his water dish and contentedly flopped over onto his side on the cool, ceramic floor, basking in a post-run glow.

Who am I to take that away from him?

More importantly, why would I want to take that away from myself?