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I was always skeptical of pro athlete sponsorships. How many shoes can a runner actually sell? It would probably be more cost effective to give a discount code to a few people that work at Foot Locker, right?
That was before I knew of Nani Beags. I first heard about Nani in the training log of Scott Klettke, a badass trail runner who constantly mentioned his running partner. For a while, I didn’t even realize Nani was a dog. I like to think that it’s a testament to my character that when I heard that Scott’s running partner started really fast and occasionally chased squirrels, I thought, “I get that.” Game recognize game.
Eventually, I put two and two together when I heard about Scott picking up Nani’s poop. All runners know that when we poop, it’s in the yard of someone with an All Lives Matter sign, and we leave it there so it can be the smartest message on the property. Eventually, I asked about this superdog that Scott loved so much.
“She loves running more than anything,” he said. “She gets so worried I will leave without her to go running that she waits by the front door so I can’t sneak past.”
Oh cool, I thought, what a loving companion! I followed up with the standard list of dog questions. What breed is she?
“A beagle and Brittany spaniel mix.”
And how old is Nani?
“She is now 15 years and 8 months old!”
“The vets all say she is in amazing shape. They are in awe that she’s coming up on 16.”
“She is still putting in 15-20 miles a week running and walking.”
Like the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally, I decided that I will have whatever Nani is having. I asked Scott if she takes any supplements, immediately ordering them all for my dog Addie, highlighted by the glucosamine joint pill Cosequin. I now feed Addie 4 times the daily dose, and she’s running better than ever at 9 years old. If I’m buying hundreds of dollars of pills based on a beagle, then Courtney Dauwalter and Jim Walmsley must sell SO MANY SHOES. Someone get this beagle a contract.
Before we get into Nani’s origin story, a disclaimer. Scott is an extremely responsible dog owner, working with vets who approve of all of her activity and understanding “that dogs don’t like to show pain because they are pack animals and there is a hierarchy and they will do more than they should to please their owners.” I have learned the hard way that dog people have OPINIONS, and they like to share them in comments. Fun fact: someone once messaged me that feeding Addie a small slice of pepperoni pizza for her birthday was abusive. Maybe they misunderstood and thought I gave her cauliflower crust pizza.
Nani was born to run, and not just because she runs barefoot and has a tenuous understanding of anthropology. It was a roundabout journey to find her calling. In 2007, Scott was volunteering at the Pets Come First animal rescue in State College, Pennsylvania when a call went out that a pound in Tennessee was going to euthanize unadopted animals. Nani had spent her first year in that pound, with no socialization, when she was whisked away with a shepherd through a transport system that brought her to State College. Scott and his ex-partner fostered Nani, a temporary fix until they could find her a home.
But Nani wasn’t social, as you’d expect from a year locked away. They took her to adoption events with a fancy bow around her neck, and no one was ready for that jelly. A family came to see her, only for her to run away and hide. She went for a visit to a house for a whole weekend, and she never peered out from behind the couch. It wasn’t like that with Scott, though. Nani opened up and accepted his scratches first, and she accepted some short runs as a pack next.
You can imagine what she was saying with that run.
“I choose you.”
Scott adopted Nani just as he picked up running. Together, they found the sport. And they found something else, too. “She was super shy,” Scott describes. “But when she ran, she magically gained confidence. She would hate–absolutely hate–to not be in front. She would shoulder out all the other dogs for an alpha spot.” Running was a revelation–of confidence, of socialization, of coming into an understanding of what she was capable of.
In taking up the sport, Scott found something he was good at and enjoyed.
Nani… she found herself.
I get that, and I bet you do too. Game recognize game.
Over the next 15 years, Nani did it all. With a Pennsylvania trail running group led by Craig Fleming, she discovered the trails. “We just moved freely through the forest with dogs running in and out off leash,” Scott remembers. “We sat in a creek after, as the dogs drank and swam around. This opened a whole new world of running for the sake of moving through nature more efficiently and primally. It wasn’t about pace, time, tempo, farteks – it was about connecting with nature.”
Nani led the way on the group runs. Nani led the way on every run. She was a lady on the streets, but a freak on the trails.
She ran in Pennsylvania and California and everywhere in between, going as far as 16 miles in the Forest of Nisene Marks outside Santa Cruz. Her fitness grew with Scott’s, with her being part companion and part coach. “You better do your 5 mile run,” you can imagine her thinking. Then she cocks her head sideways: “Or the couch cushion gets it.”
Around 12, she cut back her mileage a bit on a vet recommendation, much to her chagrin. At 14, she cut back again, using more of the sprint-and-pee approach. While her mileage changed, and her pacing changed, her excitement didn’t change at all. “As soon as I get my shoes, she starts barking and stretching in downward facing dog,” Scott says. “When the Garmin beeps that it locked 3 satellites, she rears up and sprints away.” Call her Pavlov’s badass boss bitch.
The Big Journey
OK, let’s zoom out for a second. I just asked you to read about a very good dog in a running article, including some unnecessary humor as well. I’m sure a ton of people closed this tab long before now, and I wouldn’t blame them. Because I have closed out this story too.
I initially interviewed Scott in June 2020, when Nani had just turned 14. I thought it would be an uplifting read near the start of the pandemic, plus I could add some tips about aging. It would be your standard canine-interest story, guaranteed for a few clicks and another weekly article checked off. So I opened a new window and typed in “docs.new.” I added a temporary title “Miracle Dog.” Then I thought about the pointlessness of it, the randomness.
I closed the window and didn’t open it again for 18 months.
Scott kept talking about Nani, though, that miracle dog with a butt that won’t quit. I finally started writing again, updating the questions from the intro to account for giving up the first time. I emailed Scott for an update. “Her kidneys are getting a little tired but she’s on a special diet to help out,” he said. “Good health other than that.”
She’s gone from 8-9 minute miles down to 12-13 minute miles (outside of some post-pee sprints). She has a slight hitch in her step. She sometimes falls over. She’s still running, though.
I’m writing this now because I imagine that if I wait another 18 months, the tone of the story will change. Even Nani the Miracle Beagle can’t outrun that inevitability. We can’t either. I think that mutual understanding is what makes this part of a dog’s journey so…. so …. heck, I don’t know the words for it. But I think I have the feeling for it.
It’s imagining Nani on the trails just past the horizon, leading the group runs at 8 minute pace again. It’s thinking about my miracle dog Addie, curled up in my lap after a slice of birthday pizza, soon going to a place where she’s guaranteed infinite birthdays and infinite slices (and no internet comments). It’s the bittersweet taste of smile-infused tears.
Why do we let these companions into our lives when this is how it ends? It’s some hearing loss and a hitch one day, and a whisper later it’s just some memories and stained carpets. So random. So pointless.
But then I think of Nani. She’s mostly deaf now. So how does she spend her time? She camps out by the door for more of the day, just because she can’t trust her hearing to let her know when Scott is coming by. She has been bamboozled by a silent exit before, and it won’t happen again.
Running can seem so random and pointless, full of limps and hitches, but she still camps out by the door. She still yelps in anticipation. On some level, she knows the changes she’s going through. And she still sits there, tail wagging, waiting for the satellites to give her permission to get the party started.
“She’s always been cautious and untrusting, but running brings out her confidence,” Scott says.
“Nani really is the perfect dog.”
And that perfect dog is still waiting at the door, tail wagging. She’s ready to sprint toward the light.
David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. With Megan Roche, M.D., he hosts the Some Work, All Play podcast on running (and other things), and they wrote a book called The Happy Runner.