Beast

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve been following our preparations for relocation to Maui. Part of that adventure included getting Beast, our Alaskan Malamute, to the island as well. Sadly, those plans have now changed.

Beast had been having some throat issues for a while, and we thought we had it pretty much taken care of. Last week, the coughing became suddenly worse, and he started refusing food. Sarah took him in to the vet, and the X-ray revealed a huge tumor in his throat, distorting his trachea, and putting him at risk of asphyxiation, a horrible way to go. Sarah was with him in Newport with family while I was in Kula setting up the house. I turned off the saw, realized I had a text from Sarah, and called her. Her first words were “he’s gone, baby, I’m so sorry.” Sarah had been trying to reach me, and I either couldn’t hear the phone or wasn’t getting reception, so she had to make the hard call by herself, a hellish task. We can only be thankful that the choice was clear.

Change is hard for dogs, and the last month or so had been especially challenging for our boy, with strange people viewing the house, packing, things disappearing into boxes. We set his travel crate up in the living room with us and he really took to it, preferring to stay in there quite a bit, denning. Then out of the house and into a hotel for a week. Sarah was working, so Beast and I were on our own, together constantly, going for walks, exploring the pet store, finding the hotel room, learning about elevators. He was game, curious, playful and, a bit unusual for him, snuggly.

On the 30th, I gave him a hug and a belly rub, and departed for the airport for Maui. I didn’t know it was the last time I’d see the dog I’d adopted seven years before.

Since my departure, Sarah had him roaming the beaches in Oregon, playing with his new dog friend Odie on the ranch in Newport, and seemingly rediscovering some of the puppyhood he’d never had. His last weeks were filled with adventure, and he embraced it.

When I first brought Beast home with Belle, he was the troubled one, lacking any sort of confidence, glued to Belle’s side. Touching him anywhere back of his shoulder blades caused him to cower and cry in fear. Three years later, I could grab his tail and he’d understand it was play – but that was a long, gentle process to get him to realize he had a place in our home that was his. We watched him blossom, learning it was all right to play, to ask for attention, to demand dinner. When we lost Belle, he became our only child, the sole center of our dog-world. He moved out of her shadow and started expressing himself more than ever before. He watched more television than any dog I’ve ever known.

Beast was a gentle giant, curious but insecure, loving but only just beginning, really, to understand how to ask for love, fascinated by little children. I like to think he’s running with Belle now, free and happy. Our pack is smaller, and we miss him terribly.

Belle

Six and a half years ago, I adopted a couple of Alaskan Malamutes – Beast and Belle. Those were the names they came with, and I decided to let them stay that way. Two very different personalities, both somewhere between two and four years old, one black with white accents (Belle) one white with black and sable accents (Beast). 

Since that time, these two characters have made our life richer by far, and I love them both to pieces. But I have to admit I’ve had a favorite, as Belle, in her quiet, confident, pushy way, took up more room in my heart than any dog I’ve ever known. At over a hundred pounds, she still managed to convince me that she was, in fact, a lap dog. 

Mals frequently live to be somewhere between ten and fourteen years old, and both of these guys have been for the most part healthy and definitely happy.

But cancer doesn’t care about healthy and happy. On July 19th, we found lumps in Belle’s armpits, and took her in the next day for an exam. The diagnosis was multicentric lymphoma, pretty advanced, and the prognosis wasn’t good. We discussed the options with the vet, mainly no care, palliative care using prednisone, and full-on chemotherapy. Doing nothing simply wasn’t an option, but with her age and the fact that the vet found swollen lymph glands all over her little body, and after searching everywhere for every bit of information we could find, we decided that we’d go with prednisone, manage her pain and love her all the more until the end.

Belle tolerated the medications pretty well, but the tail rarely wagged any more, her frequent vocalizations were almost nonexistent, and the playfulness wasn’t there. She lasted a few weeks, and had some good days, including a few head-butts and even a couple of here-I-am-in-your-lap moments, and I held her all the more closely, knowing they’d be among the last. 

On August 13th, something was clearly different in her behavior, an extra amount of stillness. When we arrived home from work, we had a long talk, cried a bit, and decided it was time to put Belle down. The animal hospital was backed up a bit, which turned out to be a blessing as we sat out on a lovely lawn, Belle clearly enjoying lying in the cool grass. The staff was sensitive and kind, and Belle passed away quietly with her nose up against my leg and our hands holding her.  We were, and are, devastated.

On returning home, Beast clearly knew something was up, ranging around the house, stopping and staring, parking himself at the head of the stairs, waiting for Belle to appear, even barking, just once. When I realized that he was simply doing, physically, what Sarah and I were doing in our hearts, it broke my heart all over again. 

Run fast and far and free now, my lovely girl. 

 

 

Chinook

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Chinook is defined in some circles as a warm wind out of the north in winter. That’s why I picked it for a name of the Alaskan Malamute I adopted out of rescue in 1998. She was a warm, quiet, some would say regal, soul in the form of a big snow dog. We spent eight years together, and she was the  center of my life for much of that. They say that rescue dogs end up rescuing their humans; Chinook was no exception. We leaned on each other as we grew older together.

The 7.5:1 ratio isn’t fair, but it’s what you get with a dog. Chinook outpaced me on the aging front, and with rescue dogs you sometimes don’t know how old a dog might be. When I figured Chinook was about 10 or 11, a new vet told me “look at the jaw musculature: this old girl is closer to 14”. The time came, we curled up together for a couple of hours to commune, and the folks at Alpine Hospital were sensitive and wonderful. I put my hand up to her nose as she drifted away,  hoping she’d carry my scent with her on her next adventure.

Months later, I still had the urn with Chinook’s ashes. I’d told myself that I’d take her up into snow country to spread them, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave her up there alone somewhere, as if she still might be in that jar. One Sunday morning, I woke up to bright sunshine and eight inches of new snow. It occurred to me that I was, for the moment, in snow country, and that Chinook could share my new home even if belatedly. I pulled on trousers and boots and coat, and hiked up the property to a place with a great view. I knelt in the snow and started to unscrew the lid to the urn. It stuck, and as I fumbled with the damn thing the tears came, months after the event, thinking how this little plastic bag in this little jar was all that was left of my dog that I could touch. Such a small container for such a huge presence.

The ashes are in the soil now, and the view is still wonderful, and I have two more Malamutes, rescuing me once again. I think they would’ve liked Chinook.