As I See It: Our animal companions teach us much about our living

08/12/2014 1:32 PM

08/12/2014 1:33 PM

“Who’s walking who?” calls out a utility worker who had glanced up from his task just in time to see Patch and me heading out from the Great Plains SPCA Merriam Pet Adoption Center for a morning walk. Indeed, Patch, a beagle mix, is clearly leading the way.

The day is sunny and cool with a slight breeze. Heavy dew on the grass quickly soaks my running shoes through to my socks, and I envy Patch’s all-weather treads. After the initial rush out the door, Patch settles into his usual gait, using his tail to tell me how much he’s enjoying the walk.

Together we climb the hill up to Antioch Road and make our way to a neighborhood park. Once there, we walk side by side on the trail enjoying each other’s company and the quiet serenity of the morning.

Medical science tells me I’m reaping some important health benefits from our walk through the park. Research has shown that walking lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

Although not nearly as many scientific and medical studies have been conducted on the health benefits of walking for our four-legged companions, most all support the notion of daily exercise for dogs, suggesting between 30 to 60 minutes. Without exercise, dogs run the risk of gaining weight, and as in people, this brings with it plenty of health issues. Obesity contributes to a dog’s risk of diabetes, respiratory disease and heart disease. It also contributes to orthopedic concerns such as hip dysplasia and arthritis. Obesity can stress joints, ligaments and tendons.

Which brings me back to Patch. Not long ago, this spunky hound found himself at Great Plains SPCA tied to the fence at the intake center with a note that read, “We can’t take care of him anymore. Born 7-10-2005.” He was 8 years old, and the state of his health was not good. In addition to skin and ear issues, Patch was morbidly obese, weighing in at about 70 pounds. Great Plains SPCA’s vets immediately put him on a restricted diet, and then the staff found a wonderful foster family willing to exercise him. Patch’s foster Dad described the early days:

Patch began his stay at our home with a regimen of morning and evening walks. To be honest, ‘walks’ might be stretching the truth a bit. They were glorified trips to the corner with multiple stops for smelling and resting. If we made it 100 yards total it was a good attempt.

Fortunately Patch is a very different dog today. Like watching an episode of “Extreme Weight Loss” or “The Biggest Loser,” Patch’s transformation has been nothing short of inspirational. Certainly, a restricted diet was important. But so were the daily walks. Patch’s foster Dad chronicled the dog’s improvement over the course of the next six months:

Patch’s walks became steadily longer. He wouldn’t need to rest as much or for as long. The intervals between our stops became longer. We had increased our walks to about 1/2 mile each, totaling 1 mile per day. As weeks passed, Patch became less and less content to idly sit and watch. He explored more, he chased more, he was simply a DOG more. Patch became more and more mobile as weeks passed. He began to physically play with our other dogs.

All told, Patch has lost 45 pounds. He and I take our time on our way back from the park, stopping frequently so he can investigate scents he missed on the way out. When we get to a slight dip in the road, Patch picks up the pace, and I find myself jogging to keep up.

When we get back to Great Plains SPCA, we rest in the shade, Patch content to let me scratch him behind the ears. We humans are always learning important life lessons from our animal companions. I discovered our walks are more than just a prescription for weight loss. They are about enjoying our physical mobility, natural surroundings, and most important, time spent together.

As Patch would tell you if he could, the adage is true — it’s not about the destination, but the journey. And that journey will continue with his new family who adopted him this past Saturday.

If you’re interested in a terrific walking companion like Patch on your journey through life, there are many dogs waiting to be adopted at Great Plains SPCA in Merriam — if you think you can keep up.

Laura Luckert of Prairie Village is a volunteer at Great Plains SPCA Merriam Pet Adoption Center. To submit an As I See It piece, send 700 words to Grace Hobson, ghobson@kcstar.com.

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