Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fergus Gets a Job

Fergus, approximately 16 months ago, innocent and naive, with unblemished stuffed animals.

Fergus today, a dogman of the world, with stuffless stuffed animals, pondering his next victim.

Several years ago when I started having back problems, my life as I knew it changed. I opted out of working in Yellowstone, leading instructional hiking and X-country ski tours, and getting paid for it. A further bitter pill to swallow, I knew that long strenuous 16 mile hikes on my days off were a thing of the past.

Three orthopedic surgeons and many thousand dollars later, I was still hurting, confused, and ready to resign myself to senior citizenry. My faithful wilderness companion, O’Malley, was falling victim to more ailments than me and had slowed down to a vegetable pace. As his demands declined, I took advantage of self-indulging. My back condition worsened. In the mornings I was so stiff that I had to go down the stairs one at a time. It never occurred to me that, since I was exercising less and less, that I was losing strength and tone in my trunk muscles. My upper body was like a sack of potatoes sitting on my hips. Ouch!

I started a self-directed program combining yoga, stretching and pilates. It helps with flexibility but doesn't do much for chronic pain. Only complaining helps that, and lots of Ibuprofen. For me, mat exercises has always been synonomous with boredom, and it is hard to keep an on-going routine. They tend to fade away. And, at my age, the hard-earned results dissolve quickly and return oh-so-slowly. I needed a push, a mentor, a coach.

After 15 months of experiencing a canine separation complex after O'Malley's demise, I succumbed. Fergus joined our household late October 2008. I hoped he wouldn’t be as incorrigible as O’Malley during his formative (eight long) years. Fergus has a sweet, eager-to-please disposition; but I’m also sometimes relieved that he does have a sneaky side. Whatever is left on the coffee table disappears; he carts shoes out through his doggie door; he attacks the drip emitters on the irrigation system; he barks at passersby; he prunes the vegetation; and he digs. Well, OK, we’re working on paring these down to just a few.

We weren’t always so religious about taking our dogs out for walks. Life got in the way. But we don’t look for excuses anymore, we just do it. Whoever goes to work later is on walking duty. Fergus knows the morning routine, and most mornings he doesn’t crawl out of bed until it’s light. But, once it is light, he starts lobbying for activity by following us around….everywhere….until we get the hint.

Thankfully, spring has finally arrived in Moab. Even though it is still cold, you know it will warm up once the sun hits you. With the time change to daylight savings, my work schedule starts later and Fergus has me believing that we should be ‘hiking’ instead of ‘walking’. I’m not in total agreement as the stream crossings are rude awakenings if you don’t get your foot placements just right. I must use my trekking pole for balance now, whereas before it was an annoying accessory. Just one more thing to carry. I plod along, sometimes remembering that 10 years ago I was running this very same trail. But when I catch a glimpse of the ‘black flash’ shooting by with legs reddened by Moab dirt, chasing some unknown imaginary critter, I can’t help but smile. Hell, I am still out here, one way or the other!

So, on those mornings when it’s my turn this spring, I pop a few extra Ibuprofens and off we go. The euphoric high lasts through the morning and helps me forget the pain for awhile. Demi Moore, Madonna and Gwennie Paltrow can pay thousands to their personal trainers; but when you really think about it---are they really any better than a canine companion? Fergus is my personal trainer, and he's got a few slots left open.


Anonymous said...

It's good to see that Fergus is "earning his keep"! HA!

I sympathize with your back of the reasons I always live on the 2nd or 3rd floor is to force my back and knees to do some daily stair-climbing!

Take care, Luke

Anonymous said...

Boy...Do I ever hear you. Back and knees are's shoulders for me that are the bugger. Pilates and my own dumb floor exercises continue to keep me somewhat flexible. What a weak sister I am though because on cold and windy days in Nebraska, I just hunker down and read ow do quilting. I've always been amazed at your stamina. Good for Fergus to keep you going. That's where a dog has it all over a cat! Judy

d said...

i'll bet you could ratchet things up a notch by velcroeing a couple of stuffed animals to your butt and trying to keep them out of fergus' surgical jaws during the "walk"