...with a husband and 5 sons, I am truly outnumbered....stories and thoughts on life from a mom in a houseful of little men!

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Story About a Dog

This has been more than just the death of a pet.

Just a few weeks after setting foot on Alaska soil, I pulled up to the old Knik-Goosebay Post Office. It was still "old Wasilla" in "old Alaska" back then.  The post office was a glorified shack with rotting, wooden, ramshackle steps leading up to the front door.  Inside, there was only one tiny room with worn carpeting.  Behind the counter was a space about the size of a walk-in closet, and that was where the post mistress worked.  She always wore jeans and an old (the same one?) plaid shirt and had a wad of keys hanging from her pants' loop.  There was an enormous old poster of Jesus with his arms outstretched, hanging on the back wall.  

I was feeling melancholy and without direction that day.  The job I'd secured before moving to Alaska had not turned out as I hoped, and I had quit.  It was an ugly separation.  I wondered what we were doing.  Why were we here?  Getting out of my car, I saw some wriggling under the front steps.  What a sweet, little ray of sunshine it was to see two tiny puppies on that day.

She was the brave one.  Libby cautiously stretched out a gangly puppy paw, and then another, and pulled herself out awkwardly from the dust and weeds.  She kept her eyes on mine the entire while, with an expression of relief that there was someone there to help her.  I looked around.  There was no one but me.  I scooped her up, and coaxed her litter mate to come out as well.  Inquiring of the post mistress inside, who seemed only mildly concerned and nearly nonchalant, as if it was normal for people to dump puppies under the steps.  I put those puppies that I was already smitten with, into the backseat of my car, and drove down to Settler's Bay to ask more questions.  As I drove, the pups proceeded to climb under the seat into the front with me.  They emptied my purse, and got into the mischief that only two wiggly puppies can muster.  The nearest homes were at least a mile away.  I met some kind people, but nobody had a clue about two Alaskan Husky puppies.   Most looked at me with a sympathetic expression reserved for cheechakos which said, "In Alaska, Honey, dogs get dumped."  I took them home.

We already had two dogs.  They had traveled 3,000 miles with us up the Al-Can, just a few weeks prior.  They finally were settled in their freshly-built pen, and we were freshly-settled into our rental.  We rented from some dear and wonderful elderly folks.  They were kind to us, and treated us like family, but they did not want more dogs on their property.  I had made the decision I was not parting with those puppies.  My amazing husband was willing to pull up the stakes and move across the Valley, to another rental that was ok with us having four dogs.

Because we had moved across the Valley, we found All Creatures Vet Clinic nearby.  I began working there shortly after our move.  It was comprised of some amazing people, that original group whom remain loved by us to this day.  These people took us into their hearts, as we learned that what we'd read about Alaskan hospitality is true.  We did life together, with all our imperfections.  Eventually, we pulled up stakes once again, literally moving into All Creatures' upstairs apartment.  We rebuilt our dog kennel in the horse pasture there at the clinic.  

sweet Libby on the far right, with her pals, in the days she got along with everyone!

The rest is history.  Our dogs were our kids during those days, and they were. spoiled. rotten.  We spent hours with them--petting and playing and feeding and grooming and even brushing their teeth!  We took them out for walks, and set ourselves up with skijoring gear.  We stuffed them in the back of our truck and took them running on trails, all over the Valley.  Good days.

Libby was the happiest in a harness, pulling me on skis.  Tiny as she was, the girl had energy, strength, and stamina.  That was what she was bred to do, and she was good at it, though the musher that had culled her from his dog lot obviously hadn't thought much of her potential.

After all that time of treating our dogs like children, we learned we were going to be the parents of a REAL BABY soon.  At the birth of our first-born son, we moved out of All Creatures, into our newly-built home down Knik Goose-bay.  It was just a half mile from our original rental.  Our family continued to grow, and the dogs became more of what dogs probably should be--our dogs, rather than our babies.  We have loved them and cared for them and introduced our sons to them.  Dogs have been a constant in our lives.

Time has yielded growth in so many ways.  The community has grown exponentially over the 15 1/2 years since we first found those sweet Post Office puppies.  The old ramshackle Post Office is now four times the original size, with new everything, several employees (but not the original,) and all the official raiment.  Our family has continued to grow in size and number.  Our dogs, however, have lived their prime, then aged, and have passed one by one until just the post office puppies have remained.

Libby lived out her prime running and being loved by us.  She was not a model dog.  She was actually quite a bad dog in many ways.  For several years between puppyhood and her elderly days, she had to be housed in a separate pen, or she would pick fights and injure our other dogs, including her own litter mate.  She had her faults, but when we brought her home, we promised to take care of her and see her through.  We have learned and grown so much from being pet owners, especially being owners of a "bad dog".  A bad dog teaches a person loyalty.  We loved our sweet little bad dog.

As her health has faded in the last couple years, Libby has been able to be penned with her litter mate again.  They've lived their days, two old codgers, with arthritis, blindness, and deafness.  Our other three dogs all passed on their own here at home when it was time.  These two "puppies" have kept going and going....and we've found ourselves wondering how long to let them go on.

When it was time, the answer was clear.  Libby was suffering.  She could no longer get up on her own, and was in constant pain.  I confess I prayed and asked God to help her die in her sleep.  I didn't want to make that decision.  I didn't want to take her away from her home to end her life with an injection.  But ultimately, that is what we had to do.  Except, it was much different than I had imagined.

On Saturday, after making a bed for her in the back of our van, Tony scooped her up, let Chuggie lick her face, and then carried her out across the yard to the vehicle.  I will not soon forget that scene.  Her legs hung limp like they had hung when she was a puppy and Tony had carried her just that way.  She had a look of relief and trust on her face.  I recognized that look, and realized it was the look she had when she first crawled out from under those rickety post office steps.

Despite the fact she's always loved car rides, as we drove off she struggled a bit in the back.  We talked her through it, she calmed down, and rested peacefully.  We arrived at All Creatures early, so I went out and sat on the trunk with Libby while we waited.  She looked at me and shivered.  I covered her up, breathed in deep, and exhaled with many tears.  As I sat in that parking lot, so many memories flooded in.  It was quiet.  We were mostly alone.  I looked around at all the familiar things--the trees, the fence, the kids playing in the yard next door.  I heard the familiar sounds, and breathed the familiar air.  Libby did too.  Then I realized, this was home to her as much as our house down on Knik.  Almost exactly fourteen years earlier, we took her inside this same building.  She scrambled up the steps along with our other four dogs, and we celebrated Christmas.  So much has happened since then.  So much change.  So much growth.

Our name was called.  Tony came out and carefully scooped up Libby in her blankets.   Our dear, then-boss-now-friend came in and gave me one of the hugs that only she can give.  For the first time in her life, Libby would not take a treat.  She would not lift her head.  She just peacefully laid on the table and trusted us to do what was best for her. 

When a pet dies, it is sad because you loved that pet. It is equally bittersweet though how your eyes are opened to how that pet weaved into a certain time & season of your life. When you say "good-bye" to your pet, you are also letting go a certain chapter of you life. 

 It's been a good chapter.