Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hiking with and photographing old dogs

Ginger was eight last May, but she seems more energetic than she was when she was younger. I attribute this to our more frequent hikes at the river. I may have mentioned that my doctor scoffed when I told him I was going to the river no more than three times a week because the girls couldn’t handle any more than that. He suggested I was rationalizing my own limitations and the girls would be just fine. At some point my old Point-and-Shoot camera gave out so I entered the Digital Single Lens Reflex world thus giving me two reasons to hike more often. I acquired a few cameras and a few more lenses, all of which I was eager to try out at the river.

During the hot months of the past few years I switched from river hikes to late-night farm-road hikes on-leash, but the temperature has been staying high at night. The lowest temperature seems to occur right before dawn – the exact time I ought to get up if we’re to take an early-morning hike. Being an old dog myself I would have said as recently as a month ago that I couldn’t get used to getting up that early, but my energy level seems to have increased as much as Ginger’s has.

It may be that three times a week at the river will be enough during the hot months. It was 69 degrees when we left for the river yesterday (at 06:30) but over 80 by the time we got home (at 09:00). We hiked the whole time in the lee of the mountain which made for darker photos but a cooler time. Of course it would be too boring to take this same hike every time; so we will on future hikes be in direct sunlight as the day heats up rapidly above 80 before we manage to get home, and 90 won’t be outside the realm of possibility.

But I notice that Ginger spends less time looking for shade as we hike along, and she is as ready to chase a rabbit or a ground squirrel as Sage is. This morning I was reading the paper while Ginger and Susan’s 13-month old Schnoodle Duffy wrestled on the floor nearby. Because Duffy is so small, 18 pounds and 15 ½ inches at the withers, Susan thinks he can get adequate exercise in the yard and running up and down the stairs and around the house. But part of that exercise includes wrestling with old Ginger who seems up for it most of the time.

Most Ridgeback owners, I gather, haven’t a nearby place to let their dogs run loose and hope to approximate that sort of exercise with frequent walks on leash. Trooper (the male Ridgeback I had prior to Ginger) was eight years old when we retired to San Jacinto.  I recall that Trooper at eight and nine was quite as fast as a rabbit when we he and I started going regularly to the river. I could see them running across the sand at the same speed. It was only when the rabbit took a quick turn and dashed underneath a bush that it got away. I am inclined to think that the sort of exercise Ginger and Sage are getting running free was superior to the exercise Trooper got, prior to moving to San Jacinto, jogging on leash, but in thinking back, Trooper was doing fine, in terms of energy, well beyond the age that Ginger is now. It was his development of cancer that slowed him down – the wild card that no diet and no exercise regimen can utterly exclude.

While I may have given Trooper adequate exercise on leash, I had to work and couldn’t be at home with him during the day. When Susan and I were both gone his separation-anxiety was acute. He would tear things open looking for something to eat and though we would put anything he might eat high up on shelves, he managed to get them anyway. This carried over into retirement. One time when we were both gone he gorged himself on some leather bones Susan bought for a friend’s Lhasa Apso. His stomach was distended alarmingly. I walked with him while he vomited and struggled along. Perhaps that event weakened his immune system because his health deteriorated rapidly after that. He died on April 22, 2004, a month shy of his 13th birthday. His last year wasn’t very enjoyable for him. Will Ginger and Sage do better than Trooper? I don’t know, but they only know San Jacinto. They never lived in a congested city. Also, I am home with them almost every day. When I am gone they wait for me to return without tearing anything up. If some cancers are caused by anxiety or stress, they won’t get those.

Sage, while only six, has her fair share of white whiskers, and while still a powerfully built girl with rippling muscles, she is starting to look a little less gracefully beautiful and a little more ruggedly handsome. I used to get some shots of her as she held a pose, staring off in the distance, that were stunning. She hasn’t done that in a while, perhaps because we go to the river much more often and she knows where everything is and doesn’t need to look for it.

I saw an article recently indicating that dogs are subject to mental deterioration much as humans are. The article suggested that mental stimulation will slow down that deterioration. What “mental stimulation” you might ask, the writer of the article said that dogs were best stimulated by walks. After reading the article I watched the girls at the river to see if they were being mentally stimulated, and even though they had been to a spot a few days before, a few things had changed that needed to be checked out. Also there were rabbits and squirrels and even lizards that needed to be chased. Notice Sage (in the blue collar) the day after she vomited and missed a couple of meals.  She and Ginger “cornered” a ground squirrel in these bushes.  The never managed to dislodge it, but I venture to suggest that what Sage and Ginger are here exhibiting signs of very advanced “mental stimulation”: 

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etcetera.  Sage’s appetite was back to normal after this outing. 

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