She can run faster than a whippet and can turn 180 degrees like the crack of a stockman's whip on a five cent piece. Fellow dog walkers frequently comment on her speedy skills and she barely stops for any congratulatory pats until after our session is completed: after all, there’s running to do NOW and any cutesy touchy-feely stuff can occur afterwards at any time.
For four years she's been my Personal Trainer. She insists that we get up at 6am about three or four mornings a week, trot to the school oval and do our fifteen laps totalling 6km. Well, what's fifteen laps for me is about sixty for Milly if her additional distances criss-crossing to chase magpies, sniff other furry buddies’ butts, roll in old school sandwiches and making sure she leaves her ~ ahem ~ 'Chum Nuggets' in the middle of the cricket pitch are taken into account.
However (and I hate having to write 'however' in Milly's case), she had been starting to limp for the rest of the day after our runs together.
The limping would stop on the second day, so I just assumed she'd pulled a muscle and it would soon go away. Last week, however, she started slipping on the floor when she tried to stand up in the mornings. The problem now seemed a bit more serious, so we trotted down the street to the vet.
The vet isn't Milly's favourite place and she tends to start shaking as soon as we arrive in the waiting room. Conversely I find the reception area hugely entertaining as it is filled with all sorts of dogs and cats of various shapes, sizes, colours and temperaments. Sounds, smells, floating fur and even wet patches make it a potential location for a future blog article.
Once in the examination room it is increasingly clear that Milly considers her vet appointment about as much fun as a mouthful of sugarless carob. For in spite of the vet’s reassuring voice, head pats and liver treats, Milly’s ears immediately flatten when the thermometer is inserted without so much as a "Do you mind if...." beforehand. And who can blame her - each time she there she gets poked up the bum to get her temperature taken; has her skin scraped until blood appears for skin samples, a long needle jab under the collar for protection against various worms and kennel cough and, this time, her hips and legs manipulated until she cried out in pain.
$500 later, she was knocked out for x-rays and taken home with dilated triangles for eyes and a tendency to tip over sideways like a cow in rigor mortis. She was too stoned to do anything more than whimper occasionally, clearly puzzled as to why the room was spinning like a frisbee and we humans were appearing in triplicate.
It was bad news for a four year old in the prime of her running career. Milly has acute arthritis and was no longer allowed to go running. Ever again. In fact, we were informed that she must have two weeks of total rest, which means no walks, no time off the lead in the park or any form of happy laps around the garden when Love Chunks gets home after work.
It also means losing three kilograms of weight to ease the strain on her back knees. Here she is standing by the fridge, hoping that I'll open it again and say, "Oh sorry mate, that tiny handful of 'diet crunchies' I gave you was merely the appetizer. Let me open the magic white door again and give you the bone, bacon rinds, doggy moosh in oily juices and leftovers you so richly require and deserve." No such luck: not only is she bored and puzzled, but she's also hungry; her two favourite activities now being denied her.
On the first day without her, she managed to slip under the side gate and I could hear the ‘clicka clicka clicka’ of her nails on the footpath. I turned around to see her exuberant face, telling me, “It’s OK Kath, everything’s all right. I’ve got the situation in hand. I managed to get out and I’m joining you.” I felt like the scummiest person on the earth when I picked her up in my arms, walked back to the house, locked the gate and saw her confused face behind the bars before I jogged out of the garden into the distance.
In two weeks' time she will – depending on the outcome of her next vet appointment - be allowed to go on two five-minute walks on a lead each day, maybe building it up to ten minutes after a few weeks of seeing how her legs hold out.
In the meantime, I run on my own, saying my usual ‘Morning’ greeting to the other oval regulars such as the owners of Sheba the German Shepherd, Hoover the kelpie, Ben the sheepdog, Rowley the terrier and Izzy the spaniel, calling out, “Not any more, she’s got arthritis” when they invariably call out, “So where’s Milly today?”
I feel glad when the salty sweat trickles into my eyes because it blends in to disguise my tears. It’s just not the same running on my own and not be able to hear the joyful jingling of Milly’s tags as she hoons along beside me.