On the Trail with Punchy

Punchy and Swirl

Punchy is an old working dog.

He lacks many social graces although he is peace loving which makes up for many other shortcomings.

He is very handsome if standing alone with green grass and blue sky as backdrops but seems coyote-like when near other dogs, particularly his roommate Swirl. There is something about how Punchy moves. He skitters. Keeps himself low to the ground, probably in the old days during his sled dog career, this made it easier to carve through wind. He would be a dog you’d want pulling you through a storm. But now, he looks a bit feral.

He is an easy dog to respect but a hard one to love. He wants to be well-regarded, appreciated as people appreciate dogs, but has had a lifetime of worry about people. This, I believe, is a born characteristic and not one acquired through mistreatment. The term “shy away” was created for Punchy for that is what he does if someone, even us, moves to pet him or talk to him face to face. He scurries off to lie down under a tree in the backyard.

Punchy is 14, slim and energetic, a good eater, traveler, and all-around dog but there is something quite alarming going on with his ass. Though he mostly travels with his tail down, the opposite of Swirl who travels always with his tail in the air like the British flag on an 18th century warship, we have had glimpses of his rear end. Swollen and red, so much so that we’ve marveled that he hasn’t been howling about it, but no, no yelps or other indication of pain.

The vet, a beloved person who seems to care as much for our retired sled dogs as we do, blinked in amazement at Punchy’s problem. She took him in the ‘back’ so she could have a vet tech help her do a more thorough exam. She brought him back to us saying she had no idea what was wrong with Punchy’s ass but she took a picture and was going to spend the weekend doing research.

Today, the vet said the problem was either cancer or just inflammation. We are to put a steroid cream on his rear end – I don’t know how many times a day nor which one of us will pull that duty – for a good while to see if it gets better. If it does, I guess, it’s not cancer.

This means that the dog who travels with his tail down and likes best lying under a tree will have to tolerate his people messing with his ass. There are such obvious parallels here with aging in general that they don’t even seem worth mentioning. Everything is a metaphor for everything else. Don’t think for a minute that we don’t get that message from this uncomfortable and generally unmentionable (in polite company which hopefully this blog isn’t) that we are on the trail of life with Punchy – for better or worse.

It’s sobering.

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