Monday, July 11, 2011

Johnny and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I originally wrote this in August of 2010 for Love-A-Bull. For the record, Johnny is now 3.5 years old and weighs 75 pounds. He remains fearful of thunder- but has gotten a little better. He also shows a little more enthusiasm when I come home.

On any given day, when I come home from being gone all day, my 2.5 year old pit bull mix, Johnny, is stretched out on the sofa in complete nap mode. He’ll raise an eyebrow in my direction, maybe lift his head but he doesn't race to greet me like other dogs I’ve had.

When I first adopted him, I thought he had separation anxiety because when I left him outside for more than three minutes, he’d begin to bark. Later, at obedience training, I expressed my concern to our trainer, the late Lee Mannix. Lee looked at Johnny, cracked a smile and said, “If you dropped his leash, what do you think he’d do?”
“He’d probably run up to all the dogs and people and try to play, then attempt to sniff every tree,” I replied.
“That’s not separation anxiety. He’s being a brat and he’s testing you,” Lee said. 
Ah, good to know. I don’t have an anxious dog. I just have a bully of a bully. Don’t get me wrong, Johnny is by no means aloof or unfriendly; he just doesn’t need to be at my side every minute of the day.

That is, unless there is thunder, which brings me to my story.

A few weeks ago, I had to take Johnny to the vet to remove a benign skin growth. He had not eaten or had anything to drink since 10pm the previous night. When I picked him up in the afternoon, he was still out of sorts from the morphine and had seven stitches under his right armpit. He was hungry, a little confused and was ready for some comfort. Fortunately, due to the placement of the stitches, the vet said Johnny wouldn’t need the cone of shame (also called an e-collar). Instead, I could put an old t-shirt on him and fasten a knot in the back to keep him from going after the stitches. Perfect!

Pit Bulls for the Cure!
So we got home and I grabbed an old Komen Race for the Cure 5K t-shirt and slipped it over his head. In the past, he’s been very tolerant of t-shirts and while this was no exception, the morphine was making him extra “chatty.” So as I pulled his forelegs through the arm holes, he groaned and moaned- like a teenager forced to change clothes before going out. I wasn’t used to all his extra vocalizations, but the doc has warned me about this, so no need to worry.

Everything was fine. Until about 7:30 p.m. - when the thunder started.

Johnny has never liked thunder and generally seeks my company when the rumbles get really close. But this time- the first distant boom had barely finished when I heard him barreling across the hardwood floors and up on the couch. With each successive boom and crack, Johnny trembled and tried to scoot up closer to my face. So picture a 65 pound pit bull in a Komen t-shirt sitting in your lap, shaking, panting hot dog-breath, alternately whining and grumbling and you have my Thursday night.

Now, I don’t try to comfort him when he does this because I don’t want to praise fearful behavior. But I do allow him to remain next to me. I’ll also talk to him- again not in a praising tone but in a conversational tone. “Boy that was a loud one, wasn’t it? Isn’t macaroni and cheese yummy? Do you want to watch some Shark Week?”

After a few minutes, I’ll have him get down and lay on his own bed at my feet (although if the thunder is close enough to make loud cracking noises, he’ll press himself so hard against me that I’d swear we were violating a law of physics). Johnny has escaped his crate during thunderstorms past and has actually destroyed one so I don’t crate him any longer. Instead, I have a “quiet time” spot where the crate used to be. When the thunder has moved on, I’ll have him go to his quiet time spot and relax there.

So how does your dog react to thunder or other loud noises? How do you cope with their behavior? What has worked and what hasn’t?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Race Report for the Race that Wasn't Run - 2011 Austin Half Marathon

When I registered for the 2011 Austin Half Marathon in September, I had no doubt that I would be in my best shape to date. After all, it was to be my launch pad for my half Ironman training for Barb's Race in late July. If I was in peak condition going into tri season, I'd be practically unstoppable come race day. Theoretically speaking.

When I deferred my race entry to next year's Austin Half Marathon two weeks ago, all kinds of doubt flooded my being. This was the first time since I'd begun this multi-sport journey that I didn't race because I simply wasn't prepared. I've had setbacks due to injury but never because of attitude. And I say attitude because there really is no other reason for it. I didn't have other time commitments that got in the way. No financial reasons for not training. There were plenty of people to run with during the week- even if we ran a different paces. So what was the deal?

Well, truthfully- I'm still figuring it out and that discovery may be shared at a later time. But what's more important is that even though I'm still struggling with an attitude adjustment, I'm changing my actions. If I wasn't going to race, I was going to do the next-next best thing. The next best thing would have been to volunteer, but I'm a little volunteered out. The next-next best thing was to spectate and cheer on my training buddies and friends. Even though I was unable to get myself out of bed to make my 7:30 am long runs on a consistent basis, on race morning I hopped out of bed at 6:15 am, grabbed the hound and headed downtown.

It was important for me to catch both my marathon and half marathon friends so I started at Cesar Chavez and 1st Street. This way I could see both groups of runners twice potentially. As I walked toward my spot, I could see the runners running down Guadalupe I got really emotional. This is *always* my initial reaction to sporting events, whether or not I am competing. (The same goes for video of horses running in slow motion- don't judge me). But there was another layer there- shame maybe? Jealousy? Meh. Whatever. Time to move on from that crap.

I was happy to see Jen, Angela and Kristy as they rounded the corner and headed to the Congress Avenue Bridge to begin their climb up S. Congress. Jen and Angela waved but Kristy had headphones on and was deep into her "race place." I don't think she saw me. When the runners began to come back down the 1st Street Bridge, I shifted my position to the west.

At this stretch I saw Buffy, Missy, Megan, Donnie, Stacey, Terri, Marion, Marta, Steve, David, Rachel ... and with each passing athlete, I felt just a little more renewed. This self-imposed distance I'd placed between myself and my running began to shrink. Each wave and smile and hug pulled me closer and reaffirmed that this is where I need to be- in whatever capacity I can manage.

I hopped in the car to move to my next location- the Enfield Hill. I remembered how hard this hill was when I ran the race last year and knew that I could give my friends a boost when they needed it. I yelled people up the hill, I ran people up the hill- people I didn't even know. I saw Emlea, Sarah, Brenda and Christina digging into that bastard and, after already running nearly 12 hilly miles, continue to push themselves to the top.

While I didn't get to see all my friends on the course, I hopped on Facebook to read their statuses. Before the race I had avoided their posts- it was hard to share in their pre-race excitement but now I felt like I could share in their experience- I was there too!

Some people had a great day, many had a rougher-than-expected race- but they are all wearing the same medal. I'm so proud of all you! And I'm so thankful to be inspired by each of you. You really have no idea how much I needed to be present on race day- in whatever shape it took. Sometimes the most important races are the races you don't run.