Five days before Christmas, we lost our dog, Jackson.
He was diagnosed with wobblers (tumors in his vertebrae) almost exactly a year ago, but his passing took us by surprise and broke our hearts. For days afterward, I cried and tried to console my three children even as I was preparing our home for Christmas and Santa’s arrival.
But as the sorrow began to abate, I realized there was one member of our family who would need added attention — not just in the mourning process, but for the rest of her life.
Our other dog, Misty — or as we began to think of her, Jackson’s partner in crime — suddenly finds herself alone. For six years she and Jackson raced through the woods behind our house, chasing squirrels or chasing each other. Each time we let them outside we saw streaks of gray bounding through the woods, and watched as they jumped up one side of our deck and leapt down the other side. After an hour of this, both dogs would come in well exercised and exhausted.
Even as Jackson struggled with his limbs in the final months of his illness, he still found the energy to play with Misty each day.
As a family we are athletic. We run, bike, swim and hike. But because the dogs have had each other and because Misty has never been great on a leash, we have let the two dogs be their own source of exercise.
With Jackson gone, we are suddenly faced with the knowledge that we are going to have to be Misty’s new source.
While exercise is obviously important to Misty’s physical health, the mental release that exercise offers is even greater for dogs than it is for people. I may get cranky without a run. I may find myself down in the dumps if I don’t get a workout in. But I won’t act out by eating shoes, getting into the trash or roaming the house finding mischief in the middle of the night.
According to the ASPCA, these are exactly the types of issues that will arise in a dog that does not get the proper amount of exercise.
Luckily for Misty, she has four runners living in her house who are willing to teach her how to walk and run better on the leash. After only a few days, not only did she start behaving better on the leash, but she also began to expect her daily walks and runs. If the day begins to slip by, she comes to me, begging for her walk.
Still, I realize that because she is a big dog, she may need even more than we can offer her on a leash. With this in mind, and because we know that she is a social dog, her secondary source of fitness will come from the dog park or our neighborhood doggie playgroup.
Watching Misty and Jackson play in the back yard, leap over fallen trees, up and down stairs and even over the swings on my son’s playground, I understand that Misty needs more than we can provide alone. But by combining daily, sometimes twice daily walks and runs with time at a dog park, it is my hope that we can meet her fitness needs and keep her as part of our family for years to come.
Interested in getting your loyal pooch out to socialize? Here are some area dog parks: