Dogs get old too

Charlie in his younger, stump-jumping days.
Charlie in his younger, stump-jumping days. (John Kelly - The Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 26, 2010; 7:25 PM

As if the gray hairs on my dog's snout weren't enough proof that he's getting on in years, the other day he pulled a muscle in his leg and spent the afternoon limping around like an old man.

"Charlie," I said, "what is wrong with you?"

He'd just jumped over a stump. Stump-jumping is a trick of his. It's his only trick, if you don't count making a sneezing sort of sound when I hold a hand up to my ear and command: "Speak! Speak!"

He's been doing it for years, jumping on top of or over tree stumps whenever I say "Hup!" We pass several stumps on our daily walks, and because a successful stump-jump is rewarded with a tasty doggy treat, whenever he gets close to one he starts drooling like a Pavlovian lumberjack.

One morning last week, Charlie jumped over a fallen tree, snarfed the treat out of my hand and then limped off to sniff some grass. I've only seen him limp in winter, when we walk him in the snow and he gets little balls of ice in his paws. I inspected his front paws for ice (unlikely), thorns, acorns, glass or any other foreign object. Nothing.

But he kept limping, so severely that I wondered whether he could make it the three blocks home from the park. I pondered going to retrieve our minivan from the driveway but didn't have a safe place to leave Charlie in my absence. I tried carrying him, but a 75-pound black Lab is an awkward package, all legs, tail and ribcage.

The funny thing about walking a limping dog is that it produces a sympathetic limp in the person at the other end of the leash. We looked pathetic, the two of us. Charlie was especially pathetic, his left front leg apparently unable to bear any weight. He didn't whimper once, though. He must have thought, "Maybe if I don't make a big deal about this he won't notice."

A few hours later we were in the vet's waiting room, Charlie straining at his leash to investigate a ball of fur in the cat carrier a man held on his lap. When it was our turn, Charlie hobbled into the examination room.

"This is the third pulled muscle I've seen today," said the vet after working Charlie's neck back and forth and running her hands up and down what I guess are his shoulders and elbows. She gave him an anti-inflammatory called Deremaxx (which I'm pretty sure is the brand of condom they sell in sketchy gas station men's rooms) and told him to take it easy for a week. As she predicted, his limp was pretty much gone by that evening.

Charlie is 10, which by some calculations makes him 70 in human years. I guess it's time for him to come up with a new, low-impact trick. Sudoku, perhaps?

Bad humans


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