Woman’s best friend

I’m getting fat and it’s my dog’s fault.

A little before Christmas, she and I were out exploring the snowy trails at Valley View Park in Oak Park Heights. This gem of a park is located just north of the Minnesota Correctional Facility and has both remnant and restored prairie, as well as steep and winding mountain bike trails that are also quite fun to run on. On this particular day, as I was trotting along in my snowshoes, I noticed that Molly was holding one leg up in the air as she followed along beside me. At first, I thought it was snow in her paw, but by the time we got back to the car, it was obvious that there was a bigger problem. A trip to the vet the next day confirmed my fears; she had torn a cruciate ligament in her knee and would need surgery to walk again. 

We’ve since upgraded to a soft blue donut collar.

Now, seven weeks later, my loyal outdoor companion is still stuck indoors with a cone on her head, struggling to recover from the surgery and now an implant infection. Meanwhile, I’m missing our lunchtime jaunts in the woods and lacking motivation to stay active outdoors when its 5° below zero.

Huggable wolves.

I’ve always found it amazing that humans were able to form such an unbreakable alliance with wolves – the anti-hero of countless fairytales. There is a fair amount of argument about when and where dogs were first domesticated, but genetic evidence shows that they are directly descended from wolves and may have even been domesticated more than once by different groups of people in different parts of the world.

The paths between fearsome predator and man’s best friend diverged in the wood, some 27,000 to 40,000 years ago, and scientists do agree that dogs were the first domesticated animal. “We raised puppies well before we raised kittens or chickens; before we herded cows, goats, pigs, and sheep; before we planted rice, wheat, barley, and corn; before we remade the world,” writes Ed Yong, in a widely shared article in the Atlantic.

Getting ready to go dog-sledding. In some breeds of dogs, the resemblance to wolves is quite apparent.

As a lifelong lover of both the outdoors and dogs, my fondest memories of the two are inextricably linked. Growing up, we had a springer spaniel who would stand perfectly still at the edge of a pond, dangling just the tips of her ears in the water to lure bluegills. The first time she actually caught a fish, I thought she’d faint with shock.

Cocoa, preparing to run off into the frozen BWCA wilderness.

My husband and I adopted our first dog Cocoa the week after returning from our honeymoon. She and I were kindred spirits and she kept me company on countless early morning training runs, as well as hiking, camping, and even mountain biking. I still tell stories about the time we took her winter camping in the Boundary Waters and she lost her side-pack full of dog food within minutes of entering the wilderness. After snowshoeing in and setting up camp, our group would sit and watch as her reddish-brown body disappeared across the frozen lake – a speeding speck that grew smaller and smaller until at last she would vanish over the top of an island at least half a mile away. Five minutes later, she would reappear from another direction, a speeding speck now growing in size, until at last she would blaze past in the opposite direction, turning her head to catch my eye as she passed. If joy were alive, it would be Cocoa in the wild.

Son Charlie and dog Molly play in the St. Croix River along a backwater sandbar.

Molly is the third now in the line of Hong family dogs. She stays closer to my side while exploring the outdoors but is always ready to take on a challenge, whether that means balancing atop a standup paddleboard on the St. Croix River, scaling down the side of a cascading waterfall, or bounding through the snow in northern Minnesota. The whole family is eager to see her recover and return to the life that she loves.

Meanwhile, I’m cross-country skiing. It’s great exercise and gets me outdoors, but I’m lonely. Exploring nature just isn’t as fun without my best friend.