I'd be surprised if in any of the least five years with Roo there were ten days when she didn't get her daily, full-blown exercise. The only things that have prevented it have been thunderstorms, and even then I check the weather radar to try to work her exercise in. Even the longest drives have always been stopped to find a trail for her.
When we lived in western North Carolina, there was no way to avoid walking her anywhere but in the steep hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and we would climb and descend at least 1000 feet, per day, and 1500 about once a week. It kept Roo in shape, but it was a lot of wear and tear on her old man. I never let up for two reasons. The more important reason was because without exercise, Roo is much more fearful and stressed. I adopted a fearful dog. I signed up for doing whatever it took to help her with that throughout her life. And though she's indistinguishable from any dog when she's out running around, she is still easily frightened. She needs not just the exercise, but also to hunt, because that's who she is.
Maybe she’s more obsessed with it because of her tortured puppyhood. A prominent dog behaviorist theorized that the minds of neglected dogs regress to a wolf-like predatory state. If that’s true of any dog, it would be true for Roo, who appeared to have been confined to the point of isolation. She knew nothing about humans, other than that they were dangerous. Her need to hunt defines her. If she can’t root around the forest or mountains or desert, detect and pounce on prey, chase, dig holes, explore waterways, mud banks, fill her head and soul with the smells of every creature, where and how they live, the paths they run, how they hide, she seems to become lost. She doesn’t become pouty. She doesn’t complain. Clouds just seem to drift over her. She needs to hide more. She startles more easily and is more upset by random sounds. Every dog needs lots of exercise (and don’t get me started on people who get high-activity dogs like Labradors or Goldens or poodles or cattle dogs who get nothing but walks on leashes) but for Roo, there’s more to it. They seem to be the only thing that put some distance between her and what she came to expect from the world when she was a mistreated, frightened puppy. I know Roo. And though I spoil her in some ways, getting her her daily exercise isn’t part of it. It’s essential to the process, which gets better but will never let up altogether, of healing her wounded spirit.
Still, there used to be lots of times when I was so beat up by the walks that I wished she would slow down a little. One time, someone with another Golden who we ran into on a trail somewhere said that their dog didn't calm down until she was five, and I thought, well, that might be something to look forward to.
When Roo got sick in Oklahoma last winter, she started to slow down. The illness came on gradually enough to make me wonder if she was coming up against that five-year wall. And the second I wondered that, and remembered thinking how nice it would be if she needed just a little less hard exercise every day, I regretted it. I knew I wanted nothing less than for her to slow down. The worst curse of the dog is how short their lives are. The idea of Roo aging, slowing down, wasn’t pleasant.
Anyway, she didn’t slow down. Not at all. She is as much of a hellcat as she has always been. In fact, lately she has developed a new technique. There doesn’t seem to be much point to it. I think she does it for fun. She either spots a mouse somewhere or pretends to and makes a series of five or six high, running pounces though the bushes. She digs her holes. She dunks herself in every available stream or pond. If I clock a four-mile hike on the GPS, it can not possibly be less than four times as long for her.
At some point on her walk I tell her, “You’re finished now. We’re going home.” She argues. She stands there, trying to will me to continue. I tell her to forget it and once she is resigned to a return, she starts dragging herself, especially if it’s as hot as is has been lately.
On at least four or five occasions in the last month, during this phase of her walk, someone has said something about Roo being old. “Hello there, old buddy,” one guy said.
“She’s not old,” I said, under my breath.
Someone else said, “How old is your dog?” in a way that meant, “That sure is one hell of an old dog.”
“Not old,” I said. “She’s been running around like a maniac for two hours. She’s just exhausted.”
And someone else said something like, “Aw, it’s good to see your dog still getting her exercise.”
Hasn’t anyone ever seen a hot, tired dog? Man.
And, damn it, Roo is not old. Her life, like the lives of all dogs, is going by too fast, but she’s nowhere near old yet. Not if I have anything to do with it. I intend to keep this dog running free for as long as possible.
In the above picture of Roo, she looks a little grizzled at first glance. I was reluctant to publish it until I blew it up and saw what she really looks like in it. I think she looks great. Enlarge it on your screen. I’d be curious to know what you think.
Just don’t you dare tell me Roo’s starting to look old….