44. How Not to Jog

44. How Not to Jog

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

How Not to Jog

If you can look at a dog and not feel vicarious excitement and affection, you must be a cat.
~Author Unknown

“So you’re going for a run?” This from my husband the skinny engineer and non-runner.

“Yes. I thought I’d take the dogs.”

“All three of them? Is that wise?”

“I don’t know if it’s wise or not, but that’s the plan.” This from me, the elementary school teacher who’s trying not to slip into the disappearing waist, puffy thighs, flabby abs, end-of-youthful-figure zone, and who only started running recently.

I grab the leashes. The kind made of slim cords that extend with a flick of a button from a thin plastic handle. The dogs start slobbering. Jumping. Vibrating. Whining. They won’t sit still while I put on their collars.

“Can you help me?” I ask my husband. He’s watching me with an amused grin on his face.

I should explain here about the dogs: two Labs, Nate and Duke; one Border Collie, Jessie. They aren’t exactly sterling choices for a peaceful afternoon jog. Two have never been to obedience school. One flunked out. And I rarely even take them on walks.

But we are all collared and leashed and ready to go. I’ve even done my pre-jog stretches. “I’m going to get a good workout today,” I tell my husband. “I can feel it. Lots of cardio-building, thigh-busting exercise.”

He smiles again.

“Okay, open the gate.” I hold onto the leashes with a death grip, two handles in one hand, and one in the other. The three dogs hop and yip and foam at the mouth.

“Are you sure?” my husband asks.

“Yes, I’m ready.”

He slides back the latch and begins to open the gate.

Larry, Curly, and Moe nose through and take off like rockets, dragging me behind them.

The wind rushes past my ears, and I hear the faint sound of laughter behind me.

Okay. This is not the plan. “Whoa!” I yank back hard. All three dogs jerk to a stop. Jessie, the meekest of the three, sits down and looks slightly guilty. “Walk!” I say, forgetting that this is supposed to be a quiet afternoon jog.

“Have fun,” my husband hollers after me.

“We will!” I wave and smile. And the dogs jerk me onward.

We half-walk, half-trot down our long driveway. Then we turn left, onto a winding blacktop road, and settle into a brisk jog, the boys in front setting the pace.

My normal route is down this road, which runs past hayfields and then into an area with pristine woodland on either side, and back again. A nice two-mile jog full of the clean-air smells of the country. Unless you come across roadkill. That roadkill being a mashed-up skunk.

Now there’s something about dead animals that I realize is terribly interesting to dogs. Especially mine. Before I can say, “Don’t even think about it!” all three dogs are wallowing in the remains of the dead skunk.

I scream. I jerk. I stomp. I scream some more. The dogs run circles around me, tangling me in the thin nylon cords of their leashes, always going back to the skunk.

A pickup truck headed our direction stops beside me as I’m untangling myself. “Need any help?” the elderly driver asks.

I shake my head. “No thanks. I think I’ve got it under control.” The dogs wag their tails when they hear the man’s voice. They whine and try to jump on his truck, like the man is their long-lost owner, and I’m just a ranting stranger. “Cut it out!” I yell. The man drives away.

I reel in their leashes as short as possible, and we finally leave the dead skunk behind, but not the smell. It lingers in the fall air and makes me gag as the dogs jog in front of me.

We’re almost to the end of the road, where the woods are thickest and where I plan to turn around and head back, when I hear a noise in the bushes beside me. A loud, crashing noise.

The dogs hear it, too.

They stop. Ears prick high. No more panting. They all three stand like statues, staring in the direction of the noise.

And then it’s there. A deer. A large deer. A large running deer.

My dogs take off. Straight for the woods. I pull back on their leashes and scream, “No!” I dig my heels into the soft leafy soil.

They keep going. “Stop!” I holler. Whatever made me think I could take three large, powerful, slightly overweight dogs on a collective jog? I must have been crazy.

I’m skimming across the ground now, leaning back, digging ruts with my feet, and they’re still pulling me. Through weeds and briars.

I sit down for leverage. They keep running. Now I’m bouncing along on my bottom. I feel dirt sliding up under my shorts. My backside starts to burn. I bump across the ground, screaming. But I don’t dare let go of the leashes.

“It’s gone,” I yell. “The deer is gone!” But the dogs don’t believe me.

Finally, my feet hit a fallen limb, and we stop. The dogs are shaking all over. So am I. My heart is pounding, I’m drenched in sweat, and I think I have enough dirt in my shorts to plant a small garden.

I stand, rearrange the leashes, and take a quick look around. Then, as discreetly as possible, I yank down my shorts and dump out the dirt. I find a few biting fire ants mixed in with the dirt. And I think I have stickers in my butt.

I pull up my shorts. “So much for a nice peaceful jog,” I say to the dogs. “Thanks a lot. I hope you’re happy.” They wag their tails at me like they are extremely happy.

I limp home with the dogs. They strain against their shortened leashes, and my arms feel like they’re being yanked from their sockets. When we get to the dead skunk, though, I’m ready. We walk far around.

At home, I turn the dogs loose in the backyard. I will bathe them in tomato juice later.

I drag myself inside.

“How was your jog?” my husband asks, looking over his newspaper. “Dogs do okay?”

“My jog?”

He nods.

“I wouldn’t be lying if I said it was interesting.”

“Yeah? Get your heart rate up?”

“Yep. Did that.”

“Feel like you got a good workout?”

“Oh yeah.” I rub my hand across my backside and feel the prick of splinters. “Except…”

My husband sniffs in my direction. “What’s that smell?”

“Meet me in the bathroom with a pair of tweezers. I’ll explain everything then.”

~Sharon Van Zandt

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