Running with Abby
Her soft hair is black and her eyes dark brown. She licks total strangers and likes to swim with the fishies. She only barks at squirrels or when mom and dad pull into the driveway. Her name is Abby and when I'm home, she's my running partner. She hasn't heard from me in a year, and since she doesn't know how to read or write and doesn't have an email account, we've not communicated for a while. But like all good friends, we picked up where we left off: with a leash and our favorite running trail.
Iraq was not an easy place to exercise. I'm not a weightlifting or a treadmill guy; I am a former marathon runner and an aspiring triathlete, which means I love the freedom of running and biking. I could never get a good run in Mosul. The air was just too polluted and there was always the fear of mortars falling on top of you. One mortar landed about 200 meters from me once on a run. Had I not pushed myself hard, I would have been torn to shreds by shrapnel. So, after my butt has put on 20 pounds and I'm in the worst shape of my life, I am very happy to run again, especially with Abby.
We found Abby when she was just a pup. She was abandoned by her original owners and left to die or survive in rural Oklahoma. This happens all the time... People dump unwanted pets in rural areas, hoping somebody else will adopt them and give the animals homes. Most of the time, the dogs and cats are picked up by the animal control centers after they've eaten a farmer's chicken or growled at a child and then put to sleep. The original owners don't care, however, as long as they don't have to pay for the $20 a week in dog food. My neighborhood, which is in the country of Oklahoma County, is a common dumping ground for negligent pet owners, who fail to take responsibility for their promiscuous pets.
If my mom were a vigilante, she'd track down these "alleged" animal dumpers and beat the crap out of 'em. She hates to see animals suffer, so she oftentimes adopts these animals and finds homes for them. Many have become young Sminklemeyers.
When I first met Abby, she was six or seven months old. She had a playful spirit, nudging my knee and licking my hand. It's as if she could sense that I loved running. The first time we went running together, I was outside stretching and she carried a rope and whined. She wanted to go too. Little did I know that we would form a special bond beyond "man's best friend." We were running buddies.
Yesterday, we ran our shortest path. I'm so out of shape that I was actually embarrassed to take her with me... I didn't want her to think that I'd become a fatty fat fat. But I had to take her with me. She looked at me with those big, brown eyes and stole my heart just like she did three years ago.
The first quarter mile Abby was in heaven. Her stride was perfect and she paced me perfectly. It's like she could sense that her old running buddy is a little out of practice. At about the half mile point, I realized she didn't sense anything... She's just as much out of shape as me. As we approached the mile marker, she started breaking the rules... She tried to go to the bathroom, which means she was trying to catch her breath. I had to remind her of the rules: 1) no stopping; 2)no sniffing the roadsides; 3)no chasing the cars. As she attempted to stop, I simply said, "Come on, girl, we're almost there." She looked at me as if she were scared. It's apparent that Abby was beaten as a pup. By who, we'll never know, because we never met the original owners. When you raise your hand to scratch your head, she shakes and hunkers down preparing to be hit. Puppies never forget, so when she gets like this, I pet her. After the encouragement, she was back in stride. I noticed she had a slew of grey hairs along her belly... I guess she's not the only one aging.
We hit the stop sign, the halfway point and both of us we're pooped. But she knew as well as I did that we had to finish strong, so we picked it up a notch. She was panting hard, and my muscles were burning. As much as we both love running, I think we both wanted to quit. But we received strength from each other. When I slowed down, she sped up and vice versa. We're a great team.
After we completed the two miles in a turtle pace of 17:23, I fell to the ground. She jumped on top of me and licked my face like an ice cream cone. I think this was her way of telling me that she missed me.