--by Mike Murray
Had Janna blown into our lives on the currents of a March wind (instead of arriving, as she did, during August), she would have ushered in the spring of 2000 as a lion. Because she was then a force of nature. Janna was fit and proud: she was “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
And she was as lively a dog as I have ever known. She was more than merely enthusiastic; she was full to bursting with vim and vigor.
Years have passed, and Janna is still Janna in many ways. She is still outgoing, still sweet. And she is still a character. But time has taken its toll. Where she once gusted as a wind of gale strength, she today drifts as a gentle breeze.
Rabbits and squirrels who hazard entry into Janna’s territory still have something to fear – though not nearly as much as they once did. There remains the possibility that furry intruders will pay the ultimate price for trespass. But their chances of surviving encroachment have substantially improved.
Janna once chased every critter that entered her yard. Now, she now picks and chooses. Her physical abilities diminished, she relies more on her wits. She has become cagier. She waits for prey to wander closer before springing into action. She tries to trick the unsuspecting with displays of indifference, hoping to lure potential victims closer. More often than not, though, she determines the odds to be not in her favor – and declines pursuit.
Fran’s years-ago website description of Janna indicated that she was “currently athletic and high-energy.” And how. When she arrived from her foster home (Fran and Steve’s farm), she was something to see. It required two brisk one-hour walks through the neighborhood per day – plus several vigorous play sessions – to provide adequate outlet for her enthusiasm.
On top of that, Janna and I took several early morning runs each week. Even those three- to five-mile jaunts did little to slow her down. Back then, she easily tuckered me out. No matter how far or how hard we ran, she craved more.
But Janna’s older now. She has an ACL injury that refuses to completely heal. And she has a touch of arthritis, too. Reduced activity (the runs are history), has resulted in weight gain – for both of us.
There’s no doubt about it, Janna has changed. She’s not the whirlwind she once was.
Still, she has her moments. In brief bursts, Janna flashes spunk and energy. On such occasions, she reminds Pam and me of her old self. But those episodes are rare. They are few, and they are farther and farther between.
Walks through the neighborhood have also turned leisurely. It wasn’t always so. For years, sojourns with that scamp constituted serious exercise. Each was akin to an interval workout: brisk accelerations interrupted by short “sniff and pee” pauses. Two such 60-minute sessions per day were enough to maintain fitness for all concerned.
No longer. Although Janna still starts off with her traditional, bouncy trot, it is not long before she slows down. Her pace slackens, and she alters her gait so as to reduce discomfort in her joints. She takes rest breaks.
She has also turned into something of a social butterfly, insisting on visits with people we encounter along the way. Although she was always friendly, Janna once would have considered such interludes unwelcome interruptions. Now they represent an essential component of each excursion.
“Dog people,” of course, recognize and welcome the social ritual. But even others – initially startled when Janna drags me or Pam up their driveways to say hello – are usually charmed. Few can resist a wagging tail and smiling eyes.
Because she is still proud (and still game for almost anything), Janna lobbies for her long, traditional routes through the neighborhood. But Pam and I, painfully aware of her current limitations, must dutifully disappoint. It is kinder (and more responsible) to navigate “J-Bear” through shorter, more manageable outings.
At home, Janna plays less enthusiastically. And she sleeps more of her day away.
Seasonal change makes it hard to accurately judge Janna’s condition. Increases in temperature and humidity slow her down – more, even, than they do most dogs. Janna is part Rottweiler and part Norwegian Elkhound (and who knows what else). She is densely muscled. Her thick body (made thicker by weight gain) and northern-breed coat make her especially ill-suited to warm temperature. Janna is a creature of the cold. Like me, she much prefers winter to summer. She perks up each fall when the mercury falls and the flurries fly.
Still, it is doubtful that variations in climatic condition fully account for Janna’s transformation. She seems to be growing weary with the passage of time. She was once the young dog on the block, the one who tried to persuade older canines to play. She had boundless energy back then; she was often let down by elders who lacked the vigor to frolic.
Today, roles are reversed. Cute new arrivals to the neighborhood drop down into frisky “play bow” poses, hoping to entice Janna. Janna was once the disappointed party. Now it is she – as the senior, less energetic dog – who usually disappoints.
When she first came to us, Janna was younger than we. In dog years, she was a young adult; Pam and I were comparatively older. But as everyone knows, canines age faster than do humans. And so Janna eventually caught up to – and then passed – us in relative age.
It’s hard to know precisely how old Janna is. She was a rescue, and she had a litter of puppies before she reached her foster family. She stayed in a community shelter for a while (until her pups were weaned), and then with Fran and Steve for 7 months before being adopted. And she’s been with Pam and me for nearly 8 years now.
If Janna was a two-year old when we adopted her, she’s pushing 10 now. But she could be even older than that. Nearly eleven, perhaps. She’s a medium to large dog, something in excess of 80 pounds. Dogs of her body type and weight seldom make it much beyond 11 or 12.
That fact, coupled with her recent slowdown, concerns Pam and me. We have enjoyed Janna at every stage: from wild child to settled middle-ager to senior citizen. She was a hoot as a young maniac. She was an even greater joy when she relaxed and developed enhanced levels of communication and cooperation. And she has become ever-more precious with each passing year.
Once a near-tornadic force, hurricane Janna has calmed considerably. Our hearts will break when she calms completely. Our hope is that the gentle breeze that is today Janna continues to waft through our lives – for a good while longer.
Copyright © 2008 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.