“Running Dog and I” by Joceile M.

Running Dog and I are soul mates. Across species soul mates. Running Dog, aka Sheba, and I both have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from childhood abuse, or puppy hood abuse in her case. Sheba and I met in December 2013 after I saw her on a website for dogs needing adoption. They said she was three years old, had been taken from a home in Idaho with too many animals, and weighed 67 pounds.

I am a 60 year old woman with significant mobility issues. We’ve had Sheba with us for four years. Sheba doesn’t have any mobility issues. But, she has trouble being around other dogs and kids. She is very loving to my partner, Ronnie, and I. A real gentle being. But, if there is anything new, it registers as dangerous to her. She gets protective.

This means she can’t go to a dog park. She can’t play with other dogs. We go through a few minutes of stress when new people come to visit. We have to lock her up when kids visit. With my mobility issues, I have had to be creative about getting her exercise. We can’t just load her up and take her for a walk in the park. On a leash, her behavior gets worse. I am always looking for places to safely exercise her as our yard is not big enough for a big dog romp. Also, she happily grew to a healthy weight of 90 pounds. We are talking BIG dog romp.

The first year, I discovered one of those run off ponds near the train station. It was completely fenced with a gate. It was safe for her there. I discovered she loved to chase the ball. I use a flinger so I can give her a good run. I would park, let myself and Sheba in, then throw the ball for 20 or 30 minutes and quietly leave.

I learned that Sheba required two balls. She isn’t able to part with one unless another is ready to be thrown. Not that big a deal unless I forget a second ball or lose it. I carefully cleaned up any poop with the thought that the less mess I made the less notice I would get. I knew someday someone would say something because that’s just the way the world is.

After a year and a half through spring, winter, summer, and fall, I noticed a county owned car moving around the parking lot and giving me a look. I had a little camp stool I sat on between throws. The guy drove slowly past me and then sat idling away a bit. I didn’t figure this was good news.

A guy in a uniform got out and sauntered up to the gate, “What are you doing?”

“I’m throwing the ball for my dog.”

“This isn’t a dog park, you know. We’d prefer you not be in here.”

“I’m not hurting anything. My dog is a rescue dog. It’s hard to find places where she can run around.”

“I called my supervisor. This is county property. We’d rather you weren’t here. You may be safe but somebody could get hurt.”

“I tell you what. Tell me who to write to. I’ll sign a release. I really want to exercise my dog. I won’t tell anybody, and I’ll keep a low profile.”

He walked away, shaking his head. I knew that someday our little place would end. All they had to do was put a lock on the gate.

Sheba and I had another year of enjoying the yard. It was about half an acre. In the winter, the pond froze. In the late summer, it disappeared entirely. In the spring, there were ducks. God only knows what the run off water had in it. I tried to keep Sheba from drinking it.

Sheba won’t swim. She can’t stand to have her feet leave terra firma. But, she won’t leave a ball. One time, she paced around for ten minutes trying to find a way to a ball when someone (me) accidentally threw the ball in the middle. We had to wait a week for it to move to the side.

When the pond was frozen and the ball skittered into the middle, we had to wait for the ice to melt to retrieve the ball. Sheba never forgot that ball was there. She patiently waited until it was retrievable.

Finally, those nudnik county folks figured they could store two small trailers in that yard. Sheba and I just walked around them and kept on throwing. I pondered how easy it would be for someone to steal those trailers. After about a month, it apparently occurred to those county people too, because one day the gate had a bright orange chain and a lock on it. They even bothered to walk around to the inaccessible side gate and put a lock on that too. It remains to this day. Sheba and I had to find another way to get her exercise.

I’m not able to walk very far anymore. When we took Sheba to the ocean, we discovered she loves the beach and chasing balls there too. In fact, we discovered that for some reason on the beach Sheba thinks everyone is a friend—dogs and people alike. Too our horror, she would chase the ball and then run down the beach to meet a dog or dogs she saw. We were petrified. It wasn’t like I could always anticipate who would show up. It wasn’t like I could go running after her. Screaming for someone at the ocean is hopeless. My yells are swallowed up in the sound of the waves and wind.

I learned to just turn and start walking away. I discovered there is an invisible tie between Sheba and I. As I started to move away, she was pulled back to me. She was playful and friendly with other dogs. It was such a change that I wrote to her dog trainer. The trainer told me that this isn’t unusual. Many dogs that are unsafe in a close environment found the beach big and safe with room for everyone.

Ronnie bought Sheba a headlight that went on a collar. When I was able to walk enough to go in the woods, Sheba would walk with me late at night. Running around like a lunatic with that light bopping around. She’s a dark, long haired brindle colored dog. With the light, I could see where she was when she was running or looking at me and tearing back to me. It was grand fun until I stopped being able to walk in the woods. I had to find another way to get her exercise.

With some experimentation in after hour parking lots, I learned Sheba could run with the car safely with her headlight. She would just bust out running 15 miles per hour as if her soul had been set free. I would keep my eyes out for places abandoned at night were she could safely run. I would go out each night with her before going to bed. We called it “Running Dog.”

I learned that she was as safe running as she is on the beach. Over time, we would bump into people, men mostly, walking. Sheba didn’t care about them. If she bothered to look at them at all, it was quick. If she went the wrong way, I just tapped my horn and she corrected. One time in a cemetery, we came upon a man sitting under a tree with a big pack. She was running right toward him with me in the car. I just yelled out, “Sheeb, come on.” She veered around the man and kept running.

Occasionally, someone would just stand watching her run around the parking lot with a smile on their face. One guy was dumbfounded. I passed by with the window rolled down and explained, “She loves to run and it’s safe here.”

He grinned and said, “I think it’s brilliant.”

She loves Running Dog more than chasing balls. I kept my window down and my eyes open looking for anything that might get us in trouble. It is so beautiful to watch her run with that gliding, wavy motion over the ground. It fills my heart to watch her enjoy moving full out with such grace.

Recently, my walking got worse. There has always been an element of Running Dog that is a little scary. We’ve been okay, because I keep my eyes peeled and she is primarily just interested in running. A week ago, I bought a little, light weight, portable (SmartScoot) electric scooter. We took it to the little ocean town we stay at. I discovered to my delight that Sheba and I can do Running Dog with me on the scooter. I wear a waist leash which is long enough for her to get some distance, but strong enough that she can’t pull away from me.

She has her headlight. The scooter has a head and tail light. Running Dog and I go out each night and several times a day. Me on the scooter. Her on the leash. We are two happy campers. Sometimes, it’s a little more like Fast Trotting Dog, but Running Dog is such a cool name that Ronnie wants to keep it. I agree.

It’s impossible to know how long Sheba and I will be partners in this Running Dog business. Because, life is constantly changing. There are no guarantees. Sheba will not live forever. Neither will I, but I’m hoping to out live her. For now, it is happiness extraordinaire. I have learned to focus on the pleasure of the moment and the enjoyment of the day. The two of us, Running Dog and her person, will enjoy our moments as long as we can.

Joceile M.