Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mountain Goat Sighting

I should have known from the dramatic sky that the morning would bring something special.

The elusive mountain goat leaped up the vertical hillside, leaving a thin green trail.

After waiting motionless for seconds on end, I saw the mythical creature emerge.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Hills

Just as Kona hopped out of the car for our morning Ridge run, another car pulled up to the trailhead. There seems to be more hikers out this week with the spring holiday. The unexpected car spooked Kona. She spent much of the morning with a tense posture, but nerves wouldn't stop her from exploring.
I was the cheerleading squad. Each time Kona stopped to sniff I gave out a, "Woo-hoo! Go Kona girl!" I was too busy cheering to notice a little wooden sign. See it?
Here's a closeup. Kona soon buried her head into those nice green bushes. "Woo-hoo!" I kept with the theme.
The plants on our Ridge announced spring this morning. I saw my first poppy of the season. These are California's state flowers. They sometimes blanket hillsides, painting the landscape gold. This one stood on its own.
Kona had bursts of enthusiasm mixed with her nervousness. During a brave moment, she swished into tall grass. She has developed an obsession with lizards and seemed disappointed to find nothing during this search.
As we headed into the second half of our run, Kona gained some spunk, but she wasn't relaxed enough to stop for a picture. Off we went.
We soon came to a discovery we made over the weekend. Kona stopped to sniff and then pee on this pile of coyote fur. There was so much hair it looked like someone had taken a brush to the coyote's undercoat. This was only part of the pile.
On our way back to the car, I stopped to marvel at green hills. Living in such an arid climate, I know the days to enjoy flowers and grass are numbered. I'm glad we may get another dose of rain in the next couple days.
Mystery mouth update
Kona's jaw has improved. She started to give full yawns on Sunday. She seemed so excited to have a functioning mouth again that she spent much of Sunday evening eating everything in the yard. She chomped grass, sticks, collard greens. She then threw up a pile of foliage during the middle of the night and woke up the next morning with-what we call around here-a serious case of the stinky bum.

She's getting better.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cloud Eruption

We headed to the ridge. I attached Kona to her long line, hoping the extra room would rev up her spunk after a couple rough days of mystery mouth. After I sent Kona off to explore, I stood up and saw clouds to the north that looked as though they erupted from one pocket of ridgeline.
There wasn't another cloud to dot the sky. As we moved up the trail, the clouds shifted but stayed isolated, hovering over the distant ridge.
At first, Kona looked back at me with suspicion. She wasn't sure about the lady on the other end of the leash who tried to open her mouth and took her to the vet. But it wasn't long before Kona wooshed through grass and dodged burned sumac. She was on her game.
I paused at the top of our first mega-mini hill.
Kona stopped her wild frolic when a good sniff caught her attention.
I checked in on our erupting sky and found a straggling cloud that poofed upward.
On our way back, we crossed paths with two other dogs. The Ridge is one of the few places where we can spend the morning without running into anyone. Kona seemed excited about sighting two fellow canines. After we passed each other, Kona paused at the top of the hill to watch the dogs as they ran the other way. I was glad that Kona was excited about her buddies, but even with the freedom of her long line, didn't chase after them.

Heading into the east, we watched the clouds shelter us from the sun.
At the bottom of our steepest hill, Kona went to work. She added to what must have been another dog's creation. Kona flew by the hole on the way in, but she was relaxed enough as we headed out to put in her share of scratches.
Kona took advantage of the final minutes of our hike. She bounded through grass, disappearing over the lip of the trail. Then she bounded back in view, only to repeat the process.
While the mystery mouth continues, it felt good to get back in the swing of things. I was happy to see Kona full of spunk and energy. I'm feeling confident that Kona feels pain only when she tries to open her mouth past a certain point. She's not your typical stoic dog and I don't think she would have had such a good romp if she was in constant pain. While I hope she heals soon, I'm glad we're able to continue on with our routine.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Vet Update

Just a quick update on Kona's mystery mouth.

We made it back from the vets. Yikes. Prying open the mouth of a dog who's hurting and terrified of easy task. But we made it.

Kona didn't have any dental issues, no foreign objects. She was physically capable of opening her mouth all the way. So the diagnosis is officially mystery mouth! The vet's best guess at this point is some sort of soft tissue problem. There's the possibility of TMJ, but we don't know. She may just have a strained muscle in her jaw.

I'm going to try to get Kona back into her routine of morning runs. Her energy hasn't been affected at all and she's eating fine, so I feel comfortable getting out for exercise. At this point the challenge is gauging how much she's actually hurting and how much of her pitifulness is "simply" her fear of me. (She started shaking when I took her out of her crate this morning). If her enthusiasm as she bounded down the yard after her vet visit is any indication, I'm hopeful that she's not in too much pain.

Thank you all for your well wishes. It's so nice to have other crazy pet people who can empathize. Kona seems comfortable and will probably be sleeping off that vet visit for awhile.
I hope we'll be back to regular Running with Kona adventures soon!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mystery Mouth

Yesterday afternoon, Kona became scared of me. This has happened enough times in the past that I know it means one of two things. Either she's physically not well, or she associated something that scared her with me.

Her fear confused me yesterday because I couldn't link it to one of the two usual causes. It really seemed to be out of the blue. But I know Kona too well and thankfully, she doesn't get scared of me for no reason.

Today, she has given me more clues and I'm afraid we're headed to the vet tomorrow. The first thing I noticed this morning was that she restricted her yawn. I had suspicions yesterday that her mouth hurt, and she kept confirming them today.

Along with the restricted yawn, Kona is reluctant to put things in her mouth. She did eat this morning, but this afternoon she has started to spit out whatever I give her. She'll pick it up and eat it after she spits it out, but her initial reaction is pain.

When I tried to open her mouth to see what was going on in there, she yelped. That was it. She's been pretty darn pitiful with me since then.

I have to admit that I absolutely hate taking Kona to the vet. She ends up at such a high level of fear it's hard for me to watch her. Then, it often takes her a few days to be comfortable around me again because of the fear-by-association thing.

But I have a feeling this one isn't going to figure itself out on its own. Fingers crossed for nothing serious and a healthy Kona Dog.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Quiet Please

I packed Kona's long leash for a fun run on her favorite trail. I kept her on her normal lead until we reach the top of our first hill. The twists in the beginning of the trail create blind corners for other users to sneak up on us. Kona kept her eyes on a mountain biker as he zipped down the trail below us.
I tried to leave extra early to catch the full sunrise show. Unfortunately, today was one of those days when the sky seemed to forget sunrise, changing simply from dark to light. But as we crested our second hill, a puff of clouds gave me my fill of morning color.
On our long descent, Kona sprang from one side of the fireroad to the other. She frolicked through three feet high foxtails and scampered up near vertical hills. Occasionally, she paused to find something worth investigation.

Since her stressful CGC test, I've tried to make our outings low pressure and fun. I haven't done much trail training at all, but I did recall her twice today while she was on her long line. The first time, she came hesitantly. The second time, she ran to me with enthusiasm. I always sent her away quickly, letting her get back to exploring.
Kona seemed relaxed until we came across a few service workers who pulled up to a parallel road in their trucks. Kona fixated on them, but her stress didn't escalate too much. Just as we almost cleared the trucks, a familiar group of high schools boys made their way up a hill just to the right of us.

Unlike last time, when they flew by without a peep, today they stood at the top of a hill, cheering each other on as they struggled to the top. Kona lost it. She rarely reaches a high level of fear on our trails, but today was one of those rare days. Kona would have been fine seeing them run by, but hollering is one of the few things that almost always sends her into a panic. She tucked her tail, lowered her body, and became a freight train.

It was one of those situations where there was nothing I could do to help her. I found myself really irritated that the group of runners had to be so noisy. But really, there isn't anything wrong with cheering on a teammate. In fact, if Kona wasn't with me, the whole scene would have made me smile.

When the cheering stopped and the boys disappeared from view, I put Kona back on her long line. She headed towards her favorite stretch of trail and I hoped it would help relax her. It took her a couple of minutes, but she seemed to make a full recovery. As we hopped onto a singletrack trail, hollering started to echo around the contours of the hills and Kona transformed back into a freight train.

I hated seeing Kona finish on a down note. I did feel good about seeing her be able to recover after her trigger was completely gone (the first time the hollering started). This shows me that Kona does generally feel safe in her environment. When Kona is unsure of her surroundings, even after a trigger leaves, she's often incapable of calming down.

It was one of those mornings when I was reminded that, yes, I have a special dog. She really isn't just shy. There are many things about the human world that still terrify her. At the same time, I saw how her confidence has grown. Don't worry Kona, I like your specialness. Really, the human world is kind of scary. To quiet trails we'll go!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Retracing History

Inspired my John Muir's writing, Kona and I set out to the Creek. Today, we retraced the steps of the man who set the spiritual fire of the conservation movement.

Here are Mr. Muir's words, written in the 1918 book, Steep Trail. He talks first about our backyard mountain range, then takes us up the Creek as he saw it so many years ago.

In the mountains of San Gabriel, overlooking the lowland vines and fruit groves, Mother Nature is most ruggedly, thornily savage. Not even in the Sierra have I ever made the acquaintance of mountains more rigidly inaccessible. The slopes are exceptionally steep and insecure to the foot of the explorer, however great his strength or skill may be,

but thorny chaparral constitutes their chief defense. With the exception of little park and garden spots not visible in comprehensive views, the entire surface is covered with it, from the highest peaks to the plain. It swoops into every hollow and swells over every ridge, gracefully complying with the varied topography, in shaggy, ungovernable exuberance, fairly dwarfing the utmost efforts of human culture out of sight and mind.

On the first day of my excursion I went only as far as the mouth of [the Creek],

[The next day,] Half an hour’s easy rambling up the canyon brought me to the foot of “The Fall,” famous throughout the valley settlements as the finest yet discovered in the range.

It is a charming little thing, with a voice sweet as a songbird’s, leaping some thirty-five or forty feet into a round, mirror pool. The cliff back of it and on both sides is completely covered with thick, furry mosses, and the white fall shines against the green like a silver instrument in a velvet case. Here come the Gabriel lads and lassies from the commonplace orange groves, to make love and gather ferns and dabble away their hot holidays in the cool pool. They are fortunate in finding so fresh a retreat so near their homes. It is the Yosemite of San Gabriel. The walls, though not of the true Yosemite type either in form or sculpture, rise to a height of nearly two thousand feet. Ferns are abundant on all the rocks within reach of the spray, and picturesque maples and sycamores spread a grateful shade over a rich profusion of wild flowers that grow among the boulders, from the edge of the pool a mile or more down the dell-like bottom of the valley, the whole forming a charming little poem of wildness — the vestibule of these shaggy mountain temples.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thoughts on the Canicross Kit

Kona and I have used our new canicross kit everyday since it arrived in the mail. I thought I'd share some thoughts on how it's worked for us.

First, Canadog makes one good product. Kona's harness looks handmade and should last us many, many miles. One of the things I like the best is it gives her full range of motion in her front legs. There have been times with Kona on her no-pull harness where she's taken a tumble because the design of her harness limited the extension of her legs just a little bit. This wouldn't be a problem if Kona was just walking, but Kona isn't too good at just walking. So no more harness-induced tumbles!

On my side, I attach Kona to a waistbelt that's several inches wide and fleece-lined. Now I get to use both hands to run. I can't tell you how much more relaxed I feel now that I can run with a normal stride and don't have pain from Kona-tugs. Because the waistbelt is so wide and Kona's line attaches to a bungee, I hardly feel her pull. (Until a rabbit comes along. Then Kona helps me fun fast).

I'm only running into one potential problem with the waistbelt. Like a lot of women, my waist is smaller than my hips. The belt works it's way to the smallest part of me, which means two things. First, Kona's pull goes to my lower back instead of my upper hips. Right now, my back is bruised from an evil Kayak seat, so I'm hoping when that heals I won't continue to feel that ache in my back. I think this should be fine since my back is pretty reliable (and Kidneys are overrated, right?) and Kona really isn't that big.

The other issue is that the belt shimmies around the couple inches between the top of my hips and the bottom of my ribcage and takes my shirt with it. I'm not too into unplanned belly exposures, so I need to find some long shirts so I don't have to tug my clothes into place.

The line itself is very light. It weighs significantly less that Kona's normal leather leash. The down side is that at only around 8mm thick, if I need to bring Kona close to me, or keep her away from something, I have to be careful not to hurt my hand. It's not easy to grip such a small line.
Kona also gets more room to run. I'm guessing-I'm terrible eyeballing numbers-that Kona ends up about ten feet in front of me. This gives her good exploring room without me running from one side of the trail to the other. The challenge with the extra distance from me is reigning her in when I need to with that narrow line.

The problem with reigning Kona in gives me training motivation. With the Canicross set-up, it's ideal for Kona to be able to respond to me on the trail when distractions show up. Specifically, I need her to come back to me, sit, or move to the side of the trail whenever someone or something comes by. On her short lead, it's easy to simply use the leash to put her where I need her to be.

So far, Kona's done pretty darn well responding to me. I usually have to give her a little tug to break her attention on whatever comes our way before she'll follow the command. She's nowhere near 100%, but I am asking her to do something new. She's great at following commands on the trail when we're doing an "official" mini training session, but responding on the fly seems to be another story. She's had some practice with recalls when I take her on her really long leash, but I'm careful to only call her when I'm pretty sure she'll come. I also try to use her long leash only in areas where it's rare to run into anyone else.

So far, I think we're both happy teammates.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Special Delivery

With another hot day forecasted, Kona and I left early for the Ridge. The sun burst open the surrounding sky.
The first leg of our run twisted along the fireroad, changing views from the east to the north. It seemed like every bend of the trail offered a different picture of our sunrise.
It's been awhile since we've been out this early. I had forgotten how the trail swims in rabbits at that early hour. Kona had a grad time and I was glad I had her attached to my new canicross belt so I didn't have to sacrifice my arm. With arm pain at bay, I let Kona ping-pong from rabbit to rabbit and tried to catch every view of the fast changing sky.
On our second leg of our run, I finally snapped a picture of Kona. She was having too much fun to stand still. I had to be stealthy to catch this one.
We began the series of mini-mega hills. This mile section rolls to create climbs so steep I'm often running on my tip-toes.
I was glad to have my teammate encourage (er, pull) me up these hills.

Kona took advantage of the extra room she had on her new leash to check out what she was missing downslope. New flowers have begun to fill in last season's burn areas.
We headed straight into the sun on the way back. Kona frolicked in knee-high grass. Her enthusiasm gave me a surge of energy to make it up the final climbs.
This afternoon, I took a break from work to pedal home a special delivery for Kona. Kibble! I pedaled to the pet store on my cargo bike. I'm not on this beast very often, but it sure is fun. Cargo bikes aren't too common around here, so I get a lot of stares when I ride this.
I actually had two conversations at stop lights with other people on the road. While I'm no extrovert, I do enjoy interacting in situations that usually isolate people.

So I took in my afternoon break on my bike. The weather was warm, but the beauty of cycling is that you create your own wind. Gotta love that speed! I took a back road home and enjoyed the shade of oak and sycamore trees. Then, I hit the Big Hill. Suddenly, I was glad that the pet shop ran out of 30 pound bags of kibble and I only had to haul a 15 pound bag.

Kona and I will eat well tonight.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Just Another Morning with the Kona Dog

We were out for another sunrise. I tried to shake my Daylight Savings sleepies, while Kona shook off some pent up energy after my long Sunday away. As usual, my attention landed on the morning sky.Kona's went straight to the sniffs.
At the top of our first hill, I looked to the east. Southern California's tallest peak bathed in the warm morning's sunrise. While the summit still rests, covered in snow, it may soon take on it's dry, summer appearance, as three 80 degree days are forecasted.
When the weather warms up, the sky seems to lose it's soft colors. An airplane left it's mark on the bright sky.
Kona tried to quench her thirst on a mouthful of grass.
No one tell the dignified doggie that she looks like a goat.
I don't think Kona took in much water. Her grass has started to turn into foxtails. These are never fun when they dry out. Luckily, Kona's fur is so short that they're easy to spot in her coat. The real danger-those radar ears.
We kept running into the sun. Where's Kona...
Oh, hi Girl.
Our fellow hikers seemed to have had a case of the sleepies as well. The trails were especially quiet this morning. That is until we reached the peak of our run, where I discovered that we were being trailed by a group of 7 high school boys and their coach. Oh boy.

Kona didn't care! She hardly oriented to them. It sure helped that they were spread out and came over the hill several seconds apart. They also didn't make a peep. A good hill run will do that to the most boisterous teen.

We made it back to the car thirsty, but ready for the day. Nothing like a little morning jump-start...Kona style.