Aero was adopted at the end of April but I wanted to finally share his story here. Mostly to show how much work Animal House puts into the dogs that they rescue.
My year didn’t start out the way I had hoped. I got sick in January and even after the crud finally cleared up in February, I just couldn’t get back to normal. Any extra physical exertion, stress, or even a long day of work would leave me feeling like I was run over by a truck. I still don’t know exactly what it was. Possibly mono, over training syndrome, or some mix of both? I didn’t start to feel normal again until mid-April. I scrapped my racing plans for the beginning of the year and dropped out of the New Orleans Marathon and the Pocatello 50. I wasn’t sure when or even if I would be able to get back to racing this year.
Fortunately I met Aero in February and he gave me a new project to focus on. If I couldn’t run, I could at least be productive just getting him out to work on his training.
The first time I took Aero out, we could barely make it across the street. He was extremely reactive to everything – even leaves blowing in the wind would send him into a frenzy. He was especially reactive towards cars and had flunked out of his last foster placement after he escaped and tried to attack car tires …while they were moving. Most dogs will relax and settle down as soon as they get out of the shelter and start running. But Aero just kept getting worked up into more and more of a frenzy. He pushed into the gentle leader hard enough to make his gums bleed and any time a car went by, he’d thrash around like a fish on a hook. I tried redirecting him with treats but he just wasn’t responding. He wouldn’t refocus on anything and just kept hyperventilating, working up a froth of bloody drool. So I cut my run short with him and retreated back to the shelter.
Aero was a mess. Most shelters wouldn’t hesitate to put a dog like Aero down. Even at a no-kill shelter, he could have easily ended up in the small percentage of dogs who just can’t be rehabilitated and saved. He’s extremely lucky to have ended up at Animal House. They have dozens of other volunteers just like me who put in many hours of time with each of their dogs. And they have a full team of Canine Coach trainers organized by Cathie Lee from K9 Wisdom.
The next day I went back to try again and decided to take him out to Lory Park where we could get away from cars and people. For most of our run, he behaved like a perfectly happy, normal dog. We ran into Kristel and Rob on the back side of Arthur’s Rock and he barked, jumped, and snapped in the air …not a great way to make new friends. He had a couple more reactive episodes with deer on the trail and some hikers and their dog near the trailhead. But overall the outing was a success. Aero had some real potential …if only I could take him out to remote trails every day.
Unfortunately getting him to and from Lory Park was almost impossible. I spent 20 minutes trying to lure him into my car at the shelter before a car pulled out of the parking lot and scared him into jumping in. I didn’t have the same help parked at an empty trailhead at Lory Park. I spent almost an hour with half a bag of cheddar sun chips to lure him back in. So transporting Aero away from the shelter wasn’t going to be a practical solution on a regular basis.
I tried running him around the fields and streets around the shelter but it was incredibly difficult to make any progress. At best, Aero was always tense and on high alert ready to react to anything. Getting anywhere on the streets took forever stopping every couple minutes to try to redirect his focus from traffic with treats, changing directions, and doing downs and sits. On one particularly bad day, after taking about 20 minutes to make it a mile away from the shelter, I decided to end our run early and head back. It took 40 minutes to cover the same mile on the way back stopping to sit and practice redirecting Aero’s focus literally every two steps.
Since we weren’t making much progress during the day, I changed my schedule to start taking him out after dark. I could pick him up at the shelter just after sunset and we’d be able to get out around the fields and ponds behind the shelter just after the regular evening dog walkers cleared out for the night. Without distractions, Aero was a completely different dog. Once we got moving, he’d calm down after the first mile. After two miles, he would noticeably relax. His shoulders dropped and his ears would flop down and he’d lope along with his tongue hanging out like any normal, happy dog.
This worked pretty well until daylight savings time. Aero had made significant progress but wasn’t quite ready to handle the full crowd of off leash after-work dogs so we switched to running in the mornings when it wasn’t as crowded. We were able to find plenty of space on our own and gradually start encountering other people and dogs. Unfortunately our mornings out around the ponds didn’t last long. The area is private property but has been an unofficial local off leash area for a long time. Evidently the property owners decided to put an end to this and put up barbed wire fences and no trespassing signs. So Aero and I were stuck heading back out onto the streets again.
During this time, Aero was getting even more work through the Animal House Canine Coaching program. While I was out running Aero in the evenings and mornings, Cathie’s Canine Coaches would come in during the day to put Aero through even more structured training exercises.
Aero soaked up all of the training like a sponge. Underneath all of his issues he was actually an incredibly smart and affectionate dog. His attachment to any volunteer who worked with him was intense. With just a little bit of attention, he would just melt and try to crawl into your lap. In the right home, he had the potential to be an amazing dog.
We still had some good days and bad days. But on most bad days, I realized it was really me that was having a bad day. It took a lot of patience to work with Aero and if I was just the slightest bit too tired or frustrated. But week over week, Aero continued to improve. Aero’s reactions were limited to just the big scary trucks and buses and obnoxious dogs that we encountered.
At the end of March, Aero had made enough progress that it seemed like it might be possible to run him in the new 5k race that Animal House was organizing in May. I was recovered enough to be able to run short 3-5 mile easy jogs on a regular basis but was still in no shape to consider getting back to my normal trail running. So this seemed like a worthwhile goal for both of us to work towards.
I introduced Aero to my own dog Baxter to practice running with another dog.
With some advice from Kim and Cathie, I managed to get Aero into my car.
It still took a long line and a ton of treats to lure him in but at least I could reliably transport him places. Once he could ride in the car, I started taking him to our Tuesday night social runs at Reservoir Ridge. The first night out we had to split away from the rest of the group but he gradually got used to the other runners and dogs.
Since I wasn’t actually racing the Horsetooth Half Marathon this year, I decided to use the event as a final training test before taking Aero out to his first 5k at the Fast and the Furriest. I had assumed that we’d jog down to Lee Martinez to watch the runners coming down the bike path to the finish, do a few training exercises, and then retreat back to the shelter whenever it became too much for Aero to handle. Instead we jogged right down to the race and jumped right in on the bike path running back and forth pacing Katie, Alex, Cat, and Mary in the final mile to the finish. After we ran with Mary, we headed down to the finish line and walked right through the crowd and spent the rest of our time hanging out with friends in the beer garden listening to Slush’s ska band play. I can’t tell you just how amazed I was at how well Aero did at the race. It was awesome!
The next weekend, we successfully ran the Fast and the Furriest 5k. Aero was the 2nd overall dog and if I had been in better shape, I’m sure he could have been the 1st dog. He was fantastic the entire time and handled the crowd at check in, the mob at the start, and the excitement of chasing other runners and dogs perfectly.
I never got to run the Animal House 5k. The day after the Fast and the Furriest, Aero met his new mom. I met her on Sunday for a short jog around the park and it was a perfect match. She came back and took him home for good the very next day. The last I heard, he was doing extremely well. His mom has been teaching him new tricks, has taken him hiking, and has been training him to run along next to her bike. I can’t think of a better match for a perfect home.
Since then, I’ve started Cathie Lee’s Canine Coaching program and really look forward to helping more dogs like Aero. I’ve managed to get myself back into shape to start the Hardrock 100 this week. But I’m still not in any shape to race competitively and I’m not sure if I really want to put all of my time and effort into racing. If I can run on a regular basis and help more shelter dogs, I think I’ll be pretty happy.