Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rusty's Comeback: A Race to Bark About

NOTE: The following article was printed in the November 2006 Columbia Track Club Newsletter. Also, The Complete Running Network will be publishing an article about dogs and listing this blog in the article.

Related Link: Dog Jog 2003: A Day in the Life of a Dog

On October 7th, I ran the 13th Annual Dog Jog 5K Run (sponsored by the MU College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2008) with my 9-year-old dog Rusty. Rusty loves to run and has only missed this race once since 1997. We call the Dog Jog "Puppy Christmas" at our house because it’s the most exciting day of the year for Rusty.

Rusty, a German Shepherd/Lab mix, was born in 1997 and has been running ever since he was a puppy. Rusty was just a puppy the first year we ran the dog jog, and I led him for most of the race because he could not keep up. He showed his competitive streak in 1998-2000 and pulled me during the race because I couldn’t keep his pace. I became a faster runner in 2001, and Rusty might’ve mellowed out somewhat, and from 2001 – 2004 we finished as the first place male-human-with-dog team with a minimum of pulling on either part.

I was out of town in 2005 at the time of the race but doubt Rusty would have been able to run very well; he had developed a problem with his left back leg in November 2004 and would not place weight on it. The vet took an MRI and found a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and prescribed glucosamine for arthritis and Deramaxx for pain. On some days Rusty seemed better, but then he would overextend himself running and limp and walk on 3 legs afterward. He still wanted to run during this time, and once he started running, he usually managed to run with all 4 legs, but he paid for it later.

The vet took another MRI in October 2005, and nothing had changed. Since Rusty wasn’t getting better and waiting would put him at risk for arthritis, we decided to try ACL repair surgery. An artificial suture was placed alongside the joint to "fool" the knee joint into thinking there is a ligament and permit it to move in a normal fashion. It was difficult to keep Rusty still during the recovery, but he recuperated quickly. Sometimes he would have a setback when he overdid it, but in the past year he seems to have made a full recovery with no major problems.

This year Rusty was at the start line, barking and ready for the race to start. We took off at a pretty good pace and were near the lead with 2 other dogs. Rusty kept a steady pace during the race and didn’t seem to slow down too much. He was not pulling me, and I didn’t want to push him, so I ran his pace. Near the last 250 yards, I decided to see if we could pass Mike Denehy and his dog Riley. Rusty pulled ahead with me, and we passed them crossing the finish line. We won by only 1 second, finishing with a time of 19:35. During the awards ceremony, Rusty demonstrated good sportsmanship by barking for many of the winners when the humans applauded.

Here’s a picture of Rusty and me sitting in the back of our Honda Element with all of our Dog Jog souvenirs.
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