Denali

Note:  This is an old post about our dog, who died a couple years ago.  This seemed like an appropriate place to keep it.

She was the sweetest dog. The people at Wisconsin Husky Rescue called her a “mutant,” because of the mild temper which set her apart from others of her breed. She’s the first dog I ever lived with (well, except Ellen’s crazy mutt, who doesn’t count because he kept running off to the warehouse where Ellen’s boyfriend Roy and his punk band stayed.) Denali always did love this time of year, when she could dig her way into a pile of leaves, zonk out in the sun and dream about the first snowfall. Now she’s died into that dream.

When we brought her home we didn’t have much idea what to expect. Danny and I were working on a homeschool project that involved looking through newspapers, and when we read the want ads he glommed onto the one for the rescue organization. A wolf dog! We had two cats, and I was reluctant to get another animal. You know how it goes, no matter what anybody says about a new pet, Mom ends up taking care of it. But his dad backed him up, and we made a deal that the two of them would take care of the dog. The rescue people were reluctant to give her to us, because huskies are such demanding dogs, but when they brought her for a visit they relented. We bought dog treats and showed them our big fenced yard, and when they were leaving, Danny ran to the car to say good-bye to her. After that they couldn’t say no.

Denali made nice with the cats, and earned their grudging acceptance by acknowledging Scarlett as the Queen and Mistress of the Whole Universe. On her first day home, Danny and I took her for a trial walk. We got as far as the corner fire hydrant before she barfed – yellow. We just looked at each other, no idea whether this kind of thing was normal. It turned out she’d had a taste of some Sunny Delight that Danny left lying around, and citrus juice didn’t agree with her tummy. We later found out that throwing up was her way of expressing excitement.

When the rescue first found her she was living neglected in some basement, hypothyroid but undiagnosed, and so overweight she could barely stand up. The older couple she lived with didn’t want a dog; they only had her because her former owner went off to college. So it worked out for everyone when she came to live with us. We took her for two walks a day and gave her thyroid pills, fed her good food and brushed her, and she became a healthy dog. Soon I had her out running with me – she’d sprint out for the first half mile so that I could barely keep up, but after three miles or so her tail would be dragging. I stashed old TV dinner bowls near bubblers so I could get her a drink. I taught her to respond to sled team commands: gee, haw, and “mush!” when I wanted her to push it. Then whenever we stopped she’d be ready for a good roll, on snow, grass, leaves, decaying fish, or whatever else appealed to her doggy senses.

She became such an active dog! She chased tennis balls and ran alongside Danny’s bike. My husband walked her every evening, which did him as much good is it did her – he had heart problems, and that’s about the only exercise he’d ever get around to.

Danny and I took her to obedience classes, but it turned out she wasn’t much into school. Denali was the dunce of the class, but I think the experience helped bond her with my son, who can’t deal with classrooms either. Both of them loved the obstacle course, though.

When my husband came home from a week in jail after his second DWI, Denali ran to the door to greet him. He wasn’t feeling so good about himself just then, but the love in her eyes and her shaggy-waggy ways helped him come back to the family. Her favorite thing was to sit on the floor when we talked, understanding the companionship if not the words.

Then she got old. By the end of her life, she could barely see. The dog that used to run to the back door when she heard the rattle of a leash could no longer even hear me call her name. Arthritis made it harder and harder for her to move. By the end, all she could do was lie in the sun and sleep. She had to stay outside because she couldn’t make it up the steps any more. The vet said she had arthritis throughout her body,.the disks of her back were fused, and she would die soon. So Danny and his dad made the decision, and now she’s gone.

Denali, we love you.

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