Zorro

I spent the last week recovering from Wapack and Back. This meant only running when I felt like it and only for as long as it felt good. I mostly felt fine, but there was a deep tiredness in my muscles and a little hitch in my right Achilles (the one I had a partial tear in a couple years ago), so I took it very, very easy.  I’m happy to say that while I only ran about 20 miles last week, I’m going into this week refreshed and healthy!

In other news, Zorro and I were selected to be part of Kurgo’s 2017 running team! He got some great Kurgo gear to run in, and I’ll be attending events and promoting the Kurgo brand. I really believe in their mission and their products.  They have let me bring my dogs up mountains, keep them safe in the car, run canicross races, and open up a few beer bottles along the way! 😉

This past weekend was the 4th Annual PAWS New England Run for Shelter. It’s a small, very low-key dog-friendly 5k in Chelmsford, MA. I ran the 2014 race with my dog Tulah, but she is very dog-reactive so that was her last dog-friendly 5k. Now she sticks to training runs where she and Zorro are the only pups. In 2015, I brought Zorro to hang out at the race because I was only a month out from the partial tear in my Achilles and couldn’t run.  I missed last year’s race since it was the same day as my spring marathon, but this year I was able to run it with Zorro!

Zorro’s last two 5ks were about 30minutes each. He stops – a lot. I always let him since doggie 5ks are more about having the dog enjoy the experience than running fast. We sit on the side of trail and we stop for water and treats. He just loves hanging out with other dogs and getting petted by everyone before and after the race.  This year, he stepped up his game.  Zorro was off and running in 3rd place in the race right from the get-go! We ran a 7 minute first mile and even took the lead for a bit before he needed to stop to pee, and pee again.  He finished in 22:49 – a 6+ minute PR!!  I cannot get over this improvement – not just in his time, but because he is the happy, goofy dog that he is today!

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Zorro is a special dog. He was completely feral when I adopted him over three years ago. He was supposed to be a foster. I had just given my first foster over to his forever home the day before, and I decided to go straight into my  next foster.  PAWS New England showed me pictures of a small, terrified dog who was scooped out of the shelter hours before he was going to be euthanized in December 2014. At that point he was called Gibson. He spent a month in a foster home in TN where he cowered in a corner by a couch for most of the time he spent inside.  I was told he was happy when he was outside playing with other dogs, but that the second he saw a human he shut down. I live alone, have a playful dog, have a small fenced-in yard, and live on a street that dead ends on to a cemetery.  It seemed like a perfect situation for a scared dog to learn how to be a dog.

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I picked him up from a transport truck in a parking lot in Maine, and I was shocked to see how deep his fear ran.  All the other dogs, even if they were a bit skittish, would come off of the truck on their own.  Zorro had to be put into a crate that I brought inside the transport truck and then carried to my car. He curled himself as far back into the corner as he possibly could and averted his eyes any time I looked at him. He had a big gash on his leg that was oozing and he shook uncontrollably. I had no idea when I was driving to the drop off point that I was adopting a second dog that day, but within a day or it became pretty clear that Zorro wasn’t going anywhere. I had a visiting vet (Seacoast Veterinary House Calls) come to the house and we started him on Prozac. We hoped it would take the edge off his fear so that he could learn.

For the first couple months, Zorro sat in a crate all day by his own choosing. He would go outside to go to the bathroom on the front step of my porch twice a day. I had to leave the back door open for 30 mins at a time and leave the room so he would get up the courage to make the 10 steps from his crate to the porch to go outside. This was the winter of the Northeast’s Polar Vortex. My heating bills were astronomical.

After having Zorro for about 4 months we moved from working with his regular vet to a behavior specialist, Dr. Michelle Posage, because we weren’t making much progress. She came to the house and did a consult with me for 2 hours.We worked on teaching me how to approach Zorro in an appropriate way, how to use food to reinforce, and how to know when it was OK to have Zorro take steps out of his comfort zone. Dr. Posage let me know that Zorro, while he had promise, was going to be a life-long project and that he may never get truly “better.”  I felt like she finally gave me permission to be devastated about his prognosis and even gave me permission to start thinking about the horrible possibility that I might need to humanely end Zorro’s suffering if he didn’t improve. We added Trazodone to his medication line-up.  He was taking enough medication each day to kill a person my size, but it was just helping him to calm down. The hope was that it would relax him enough to start allowing me to touch him and for him to start to move freely on his own.

After about 3 weeks on the medication and with my new knowledge on how to approach and train a fearful dog, Zorro started to learn. It was such slow going, but he was starting to take steps toward me.  We worked on him targeting my hand with his nose. If he nosed my hand, he got pieces of boiled chicken or cut up hotdogs.  For a vegetarian, I was going through a lot of deli meat. After 6 months with me, he took his first step out of my kitchen into my dining room. After another 2 months he was regularly spending time sitting in the backyard. About 9 months into having Zorro he played with a small foster puppy I brought into the house to help Zorro feel confident. Around this time Zorro was diagnosed with heartworm disease (he had probably contracted it when he was a stray, but the tests take 6mo to show up as positive). He had to be treated with painful injections and lots of rest. He took it in stride.

Thanksgiving week, 11months after he came to live with me, Zorro went out my front door for his very first walk. He was nervous, but he trotted next to me for about 100m up my road and then came back. The next day, I put him on a 30ft leash and let him walk around a neighbor’s backyard. The day after that, he went for a half mile walk in the cemetery at the end of my street.

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The progress came in leaps and bounds after those initial outings. He went on walk  carrying huge sticks in his mouth proudly all winter. He started to wrestle with Tulah.  He had his first overnights at other people’s houses and climbed his first mountain. By the following spring he was going on runs with me and Tulah.  A year later, he was off his medications and he’s now the friendliest, happiest, and most gentle little soul you’ll ever meet.


Zorro still has his quirks. We don’t really snuggle. It’s only happened twice where he’s just laid himself down next to me to cuddle. He’s terrified of thunder. He’ll flinch if someone goes to pet him without letting him sniff them first. He whines when he doesn’t know what to do with himself or how to get comfortable. He still won’t sit on the couch in my living room.

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A rare snuggly moment!

Tulah is the canine version of me – a best friend to do crazy stuff with. Zorro has taught me patience and love like I never knew was possible. I absolutely love my other pets and I would do anything for them (the vet bills alone prove that), but I know that they’d be OK without me.   Zorro is my souldog. He has a part of my heart that I don’t think any other animal or human could ever have.

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Training recap

Mileage: 19.8 running; 8.2 walking

Time on feet: 5hr 39min

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