The column I’d planned for today — yes, I do plan these (sort of (a little)) — was going to be all about running in Montreal in the winter, when my beloved Lachine tow path is an ice sheet. Life, however, did what it does sometimes.

Lucy’s the one in the front. Lobo, the big white one, seemed to pick up that she was feeling poorly.

Ten days ago, our almost 7-year old corgi seemed a little off. A few days later, despite the meds our vet put her on, our Lucy lost control of her back limbs and had to pull herself around by her front legs like a seal. She was also clearly in pain. We gathered her up, went to our local vet, who sent us 2-ish hours away to the Cornell Vet School. Because it’s better to send your injured pet to an Ivy rather than a state college — and because that was one of the few places in a 200-mile radius of Oneonta that was able to do a dog MRI after hours on a Monday.

Two things you should know now, just so that you don’t have to live with a grinding sense of dread:

  1. Lucy is alive.
  2. While we are happy #1 is true, the next six weeks might be the death of us all.

Lucy isn’t my first pet. I know the reality of dog and cat lifespans. It’s one of the deals you make. Unless I wind up the proud (and perplexed) owner of a tortoise or macaw, I will face that awful day when it’s kinder to end my beloved companion’s suffering. It is the last act of mercy we give them.

This wasn’t that day.

That weird blob in the middle of the image is not what you want to see in an MRI, canine or human.

Imaging showed Lucy had slipped and/or ruptured one of the discs in her spine, which is a hazard for dogs with long backs and stumpy legs. The disc material was pushing on her spinal cord and, at this point, only surgery would stop the pain. The odds of her regaining control of her bladder and bowels, to say nothing of walking, were about 50/50.

Oh, and it would be several thousand dollars to even get us that outcome.

Lucy’s front half was in perfect working order and was remarkably chipper, even with the pain — and, frankly, that made all of the difference. While we can’t throw thousands of dollars at anything quickly, we are fortunate enough to be able to make it work. We will be uncomfortable, mind, but not bankrupt. We can also now claim that one family member went to Cornell, even if we can no longer afford to send any other family members there.

Long story short (too late, I know), Lucy’s home again, not in agony, and recovering. Her bowels and bladder are operating voluntarily (hurray!) and her back limbs are sort of working. She still might wind up one of those corgis on a wheelie cart, which isn’t the worst thing to have ever happened. If that is the outcome, we will put flame decals and glitter all over it. The other corgis will be jealous of her sweet ride.

The running around will have to wait. Until the end of January, she is on crate rest, which means she can go on short walks to pee but has to spend most of her time locked up so that her back can heal. She is already against the confinement. I can only imagine how much barking and general grousing will fill our new year. When she gets on my last nerve, I’ll need you all to remind me how glad I am that she’s still with us.

My legs still work so I ran what I was scheduled to run, which included 8 x 400 at the track in the snow.

Which brings me back to Montreal. We’d planned to spend Christmas week with friends of ours up in Canada. It’s a quick drive and a pleasant change of scenery. Yes, it’s cold — but we were going to be cold anyway. I’d rather freeze surrounded by poutine and Tim Horton’s.

With Lucy’s confinement, the plan had to change because there’s just too much to ask a dog-sitter to do. I took one for the team. On Christmas Day, we had our traditional waffle breakfast and did the gift thing, then my husband and the kids took off for the Great White North. I teared up briefly when they left.

Hang on to that image for just one second.

A couple of days ago, I finished up my long run on our high school track. There was woman there in her late 20s, walking fierce laps while being trailed by two pre-school kids. We made eye contact as she was gathering the kids (who were resisting being gathered) so that they could leave. She sighed and said, “We’re only five hours into winter break and already … “

She trailed off because her daughter was trying to climb her while her son dragged his coat through a puddle by the bleachers.

“Been there,” I said. “Dig deep. You got this.”

While I’ll miss spending this holiday week with my most favorite humans, I won’t miss the bickering and the grousing. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to the only one I need to feed/amuse/drive around/clean up after is me. I can exhale after the last week of worry. This unscheduled and unstructured time one of the best Christmas gifts I could have received.

That’s not to say I’m happy about how I wound up with this little staycation. I’d much rather have a dog who is healthy. But when life hands you a wheelie cart, bedazzle the crap out of it.

What has been your most unexpected gift, running or otherwise?