Sparky and the mutts

2013-01-21 00:00

YEARS back, when I was lean, lithe and lissom (poetic licence has its uses – ed.), my jogging mate was a good friend, superior athlete and an eminent attorney. He can’t be named for professional reasons, so for the sake of this column, he will travel under the pseudonym Sparky Itcher.

We essentially ran to keep fit, but competed in many prominent road races as well. We both benefited from the exercise and the enjoyment was compounded by the friendly banter that ranged from the flimsy and gaudy, to highbrow philosophy. No topic was sacred, from current politics and local scandal, to the marketability of dehydrated water and other hair-brained schemes. In the mid-nineties, I acquired a dilly Dalmatian called Daisy, and as she matured she became the third leg of our running triumvirate. At times we were also joined by my Labrador, Ted. Eventually, though, both Sparky and I succumbed to lassitude and probably early-onset senility, but eventually recurring feet problems curtailed my jogging mate’s running career. Daisy demanded otherwise from me. Without our jog she became destructive, the inevitable consequence of an active animal in suburbia succumbing to boredom. At various times, she consumed my wallet, a couple of cellphones, my golf bag, some tennis racquets, soft parts of my vehicle and other disposable commodities. So, like Forrest Gump, I kept running. It was good for her and it was good for me. As time progressed, I missed the interaction with my good friend Sparky, but enjoyed the unconditional camaraderie of my dogs more and more.

Jogging with a dog has definite advantages. Companionship is one thing, security is another. Pedestrians treat a jogger and his dog with far more respect than a geriatric wobbler on his own, often preferring to brave the oncoming traffic and allowing us unhindered access to the pavement. The dogs share their joy of running unconditionally. There are no excuses offered. They are always willing, often capable of immense endurance with no complaint. The Iditarod sled race in Canada is an example. Sleds are pulled across country over ice and snow by teams of dogs. Over 1 800 km in all. The record is eight days and some change. That’s just over two Comrades Marathons a day for eight odd days. And my mate in the Gundog Club says our pointers would outrun those Canadian crossbred mutts.

Running dogs have frailties, however. Their paws are not covered in thousands of rands of designer-rubber real estate like our feet are. They are consequently prone to abrasions and lacerations. And their pads, fascinating natural shock absorbers that they may be, may not adequately cope with incessant pounding of the tarmac. Dogs also generally don’t handle heat well. They don’t sweat like we do and therefore, are more prone to overheating than dehydration. The Labrador, for example, is not really designed for endurance. They are water dogs with a thick layer of fat under the skin, which tends to keep them buoyant but which also acts as a kind of insulator. On a number of occasions, I had to treat Ted for heat exhaustion. These considerable breed differences would impose limitations on endurance. Bulldogs, for example, should obviously not compete with a greyhound. But try to tell them that. They all think that they are wolves and should run like them. Pete and Stella, who farm near Wartburg, have a bulldog who careers around the farm like a spring hare. Not an ounce of fat on her. Jogging dogs also tend to attract the attention of unfriendly, mal-socialised, territorial, fence-bound suburban canine competitors. Which is not a problem if they are confined behind their hedges and walls. Strays and escapees can present problems, though. I recently treated two huskies that were seriously savaged by a boerbul while running in the plantations near Celtis Road. Their handler also required attention. But by and large, dogs outside their territories do not usually fight. Jogging dogs are usually mellow and well-socialised individuals anyway, so don’t usually pose a threat.

Daisy and Ted have now departed (with great angst and sadness) to a far more peaceful celestial medium, and their space is now occupied by Bella (a pointer of the German, short-haired variety, whose energy should be marketed as an alternative to jet fuel) and Ed (a laid-back pudding of a Labrador pup). Bella demands action and Ed will require it when he matures. So I still have to be on the road. My gait is more shuffle than jog nowadays, but it is met by my canine companions with the same amount of enthusiasm as if I was Bruce Fordyce in his heyday. All I need is to find Sparky a pair of new feet and then coax him out of retirement.

Then all will be well.

• The author is a practising vet with a passion for his profession and a giggle in his heart.

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