Wordsmith Tim is back this week for his take on a run with Athena. Take it away Tim…
Last Sunday, or St. Patrick’s Day as it was known to most, I participated in my second endeavor with the Miles and Mutts pack. The group’s straightforward motto is Rescue. Run. Repeat. And so we do. Our fearless leader, Abbi with an ‘I’ collects the canines from the Better Days Animal shelter. Volunteers meet at the picturesque Shippensburg Bike Trail. The well groomed gravel trail is gentle on the puppies’ padded paws and is equipped with mileage markers for the OCD humans to keep an accurate tally in their log books. In addition to us dog fanciers; you never know who or what you’ll bump into on the path. You could be passed in a cloud of dust by Olympian and Shippensburg track Coach Steve Spence or see an Amish family in their horse-drawn buggy on the way to the Sunday service – sorry no Amish websites to reference. Personally, I relish the solitude, the country air, and the oft chance to see an agile red-tailed hawk swoop down and pluck an unsuspecting vole from a recently tilled field.
Enough Ansel Adams analogies; let me tell you about my running partner Athena. Athena is an anomaly among her caged comrades. She’s a purebred – not a mutt, not the result of an unlocked gate in your neighbor’s fence. Athena is a Treeing Walker Coonhound. Why would a dog that normally sells for between $250 – $400 end up in the pound? It is perhaps the most fundamental concept of a market economy – supply and demand. The breeder had the supply but not the demand.
Athena’s future along with her sister Xena’s was bleak. Their fate was to be a deep bucket baptism or drowning. The pair was spared and they have been long time guests at the aforementioned Better Days Shelter. The thought of such an atrocity which is unfortunately not uncommon in the dog world emit flashbacks of the Michael Vick tragedy.
Abbi handed me Athena and the fun run had begun. The sinewy coon dog sped off with me in tow. You didn’t need to fully comprehend Isaac Newton’s second law of motion to realize my gravitational mass was not going to be easily moved by the twenty pound hound. Athena had a unique running style, an effortless lopping gait. While her muscular legs propelled her forward, she rhythmically lowered her head like a diving dolphin darting through the depths. Her form mimicked the undulating dipping flight of a woodpecker. The breed routinely tracks animals for miles before as the name implies – it trees them until a hunter or more optimistically, a photographer snaps a photo of the bewildered bear. The distinctive running technique, honed over years of evolution must be aerodynamic and/or physiologically efficient.
I vowed to take the beast six miles that day, Athena accepted my pledge. As I called her name, gasping encouragement during the trek, she glared back at me perplexed as to why I only used two of my four limbs. She surmised that that was why I was so slow.
The second time I called her name, a song instantly popped into my head. It was the Who tune, aptly titled Athena. Athena was Pete Townsend’s ode of unrequited love to actress Theresa Russell. Not a Who fan, I injected a bit of pace into the run and successfully shook the ballad out.
I thought this animal was more suited to Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog – I lip-synched that ditty sans the gyrating hips. We passed the two mile mark, I saw my hawk and all was right with the run.
Again, I yelled needless encouragement to Athena. This time I thought why would someone name an abandoned puppy after the Greek goddess of Wisdom? Jude, the patron saint of lost causes and desperate cases would have been more appropriate. Plus, I like that song, Hey Jude! I called out to Athena, “Hey Jude.” She ignored me. There will be no formal name change today. Of course, I sang that song all the way to the turnaround at three miles.
The way back was much faster. After more than a half hour together, we adjusted to each other’s stride and we reached an aerobic synchronicity. I couldn’t remember the lyrics to the Police song, Synchronicity so I sang the more apropos Every Breath You Take from the same album. Why do I even bring my iPod nano when I am my own jukebox?
The penultimate mile passed by and after a brief respite walk up the final incline, the finish line was literally in sight after the next bend.
We finished with little fanfare. I remembered to push stop on my chronograph which made me wonder if my calf was sore. Why? The brand of my running watch is Soleus. Huh? The soleus is one of the muscles in the calf. That’s just the way I think.
When the run is complete, your partner gets some much needed hydration and most times a treat. If you don’t have to rush somewhere, this is also the moment where you get to spend some quality time petting the puppy. Waxing anthropomorphic, I believe the mutts appreciate the attention almost as much as we do.