Audrey the Dog: My Perfect Companion

Just after I was diagnosed with arthritis, so was my dog.

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A woman enjoys time outdoors her standard poodle, taking it for a healthy walk on a sunny day.

Audrey looks up at me from her bed. I don't even have to say the word and she knows. A walk. She gets to her feet. It takes great effort. She's 11 and a half years old. She doesn't leap up like she used to. "Can you do it today?" I ask. She wags her tail. "Okay," I tell her, "if you can, then so can I." Maybe not a long walk, but we should be able to go for a mile or two. Our little college town has a lot of good flat trails.

The two of us head out the front door, Audrey sniffing the warm spring air. The dogwoods and azaleas are blooming, the fields studded with color. Audrey's nose goes straight to the ground, darting from one dandelion to the next. I'm glad she's feeling perky. I am too, as a matter of fact. When she perseveres through the pain, I feel I can too.

We don't go fast. I can't jog and she can't run. But we can enjoy the little things together. The scent of fresh-mown grass, a friendly wave from a neighbor's front porch, the feel of the wind in our faces.

Four years ago I didn't know what I would do when I was diagnosed with arthritis. It didn't seem possible. I was still in my thirties with young kids. I'd always taken good care of myself and eaten properly. Then I had problems with certain stretches at my gym class and I developed a sharp pain in my hip, sometimes so bad I couldn't sleep. That's when I finally went to the doctor. "You have the hips of a 75-year-old," he told me, studying the X ray.

Surgery was an option, but surgery is tough. I wanted to postpone it as long as possible. I had to learn to live with arthritis. But how? How do you live with limitations? I did research and found some good suggestions online: meditation, glucosamine tablets, warm baths—I love a warm bath. And walking. Thank you, Lord, for Audrey, I thought. A dog is always the perfect companion for a walk. And thank you for all your blessings in my life.

We started out a couple of times a week. That first time she looked back at me questioningly. Were we really only going to go this far? Couldn't I go a little faster please? Then a squirrel caught her interest and she bounded ahead. When we got to the woods, I threw her a stick. At least my throwing arm wasn't affected, and Audrey was always up for chasing a stick. One day, though, she wouldn't fetch it. The stick landed on a thicket of vines and stayed there. She lumbered awkwardly after it, then sat down and stared at me, confused.

"She has arthritis," the vet told me.

I rubbed Audrey's back. "We're a real pair," I said. I asked the vet what I could do.

"Walks are okay," he said. "She'll let you know her limits."

And glucosamine tablets, same as me. Maybe we'd get a bulk discount now.

Our favorite walk follows an old trolley trail that winds out of town. Wildflowers spring up along the way and there's sure to be a squirrel to catch her interest. But then she gets to a point where she just has to stop and sit. I sit with her. It's a lesson in patience for both of us. I stop complaining and say a little prayer of thanksgiving for the things I do have: the sunshine, the breeze, a loving family and a dog like Audrey who helps me carry the burden. She leans her head against my knee and I feel a warmth go through me. I think she feels it too. "Yes, Lord," I say, "we're quite a pair."

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