On the run with Ipo and finding new joy

It’s a little after 7 on a Tuesday morning and I’m on the lanai getting ready to go running. Just as I’m standing to leave, I hear the quiet scratch at the screen door. I turn and look, and our dog Ipo is watching and wants to come outside, so I open the door for her. Usually, she wanders around for a few minutes, checks on things, then returns to eat breakfast before finding a place to lay in the sun.

Instead, she hits my leg with her left paw, one, two, three times. She’s energized, dancing around, almost. She stands near the step, looks out and glances back at me. Hmmm. It’s clear, at least to me, what she’s saying: “I want to go running with you! I can do this! Let’s go!”

I have my doubts this 10-year-old lab/hound is really going to run much farther than the end of our driveway. She can sprint fast for short distances, and races circles around me when I return from runs, but a few miles is likely more than her paws and stocky build can handle. And I generally run alone. It’s easier that way. As I’m ready to usher Ipo back inside, she drops her head and puts on her best sad face. I fear tears are about to fall.

“Oh, OK, you can come with me.”

She understands. She grins with delight and her tail wags wildly in excitement as I attach her leash, and a minute later, we’re jogging our way to the road that winds through the Marriott. Ipo surprises me. She charges ahead, loping along gracefully, easily. She’s not bothered by the traffic whizzing past on Rice Street, but I realize it was a mistake to run with a dog along a busy road. Too dangerous. But it’s quiet when we reach the Marriott road and she runs farther and faster than I expect, slowing occasionally and stopping when she catches the scent of who knows what. She pays little attention to the chickens roaming everywhere and holds a solid pace. She is happy to see new things.

As we jog along, I think of my past canine running partners.

The best of the bunch was Sandy, our old yellow lab. In her glory days, she could run forever, streaking through the pasture in front of our odd A-frame home. When I ran, she didn’t like to be left behind. One day, I was a few miles into a long run on a country road and heard something. I looked back and there was Sandy, trotting behind me. We covered 10 miles that day, stopping twice at a creek so she could drink, but I felt guilty later about her going so far. Long runs aren’t good for dogs. Such was her loyalty she would have run as long as I did. Another time, she fended off a larger, ferocious dog that charged down a driveway toward me. She was with me, too, the day I slipped on ice while running near the river and broke my leg. “Sandy, run home and get help,” I told her. Yeah, no movie magic here. It didn’t work. She refused to leave me. As I hobbled the mile back, she guarded my every step and saw me there safety. We had her 13 years and she was a beautiful warrior.

Maximus, my daughter and son-in-law’s boxer who lived with us for a time, was lean, fast and strong. Even without a leash, he stuck close to me and was rarely distracted. He loved running. Through forest trails, over rocks, up steep climbs and around brush, he made it seem so very easy and so very fun.

Then, there was Beethoven, our crazy border collie. Crazy, yes, but loyal and boundless energy. We finished third in a three-mile race for humans and canines. Poor bugger was tuckered out as I kind of pulled and cajoled him along, but he reached the finish line and we got our medal. We had a connection. There was the time I was injured and in rehab, and Beethoven got clipped by a car, was injured and was soon in rehab, too. We recovered together and I still remember that day we raced pain free on the beach, splashing in the water and soaking in the setting sun. I don’t know that I’ve ever sensed such joy in a dog.

It had been years since I had run with a dog before Ipo joined me Tuesday. I’d forgotten the simple pleasure it adds to those miles. In the final stretch of our 2.5-mile run, she was tired and sniffed every post, rock and tree. We’re more walking than jogging, but she never stopped, which I expected she would (because sometimes on our neighorhood walks, she’ll plop down when she doesn’t want to go on). When we reached our driveway, I took the leash off her. Free, she slowly ran ahead and stopped at the yard. She looked back, tongue hanging, eyes shining, tail wagging. I swear, she was proud.

As she should be.

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