Tag Archive | siberian huskies

Samson: A Special Dog

Many moons ago (in 2001) my parents moved from Missouri, where I live, to Arizona. A couple of years after they moved there, they found a dog running around and managed to catch him. They were able to contact the owner and somehow it was agreed that my parents would keep him. He was a big, beautiful brown-red husky mix that looked rather wolf-like, and he and my dad became best buddies. My mom loved the dog too, but she’s more of a cat person, and plus the dog was just…Dad’s dog. His name was Samson.img293The vet estimated he was around 2 or 3, and he was extremely well-behaved. My dad did a training class with him but didn’t need to work hard. Samson somehow knew what Dad wanted him to do and then did it. His one fault was that he loved to run, and would escape in a flash given the opportunity. I’ve since learned that’s very common with huskies. It made for a few traumatic experiences, but somehow Dad and Samson always got reunited.img215Several years later, in 2011, Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. He went through several months of chemo and radiation and we were all optimistic for a while. But by early 2012, it was clear that he wasn’t going to get better. It took all his energy to get through each day, and he had nothing left for Samson. My mom was the same: she wanted and needed to focus on Dad, and she loved Samson enough that she wanted him to have a happy home and get some loving attention again. I didn’t want a dog really, but neither of my siblings could take him, and I couldn’t bear the thought of Dad’s dog going to strangers. And I think there was a tiny part of me that wanted the dog as a part of Dad. I knew I’d be losing him soon and at least I could hang on to Samson.

He traveled well on the two-day road trip back to Missouri, curled up in his bed in the back of the minivan. He wasn’t eager to leave Dad, but wasn’t opposed either. The worst part was when he got home and Samson wouldn’t eat. I tried dry food and moist food. I tried people food I knew he liked. He just didn’t want to eat. He never had a huge appetite, but it worried me. After two long days, he finally started eating again, and seemed to start settling in to the family.IMG_0841I think he was happy with us. He loved the back yard where he could run around freely. He loved the big tree with all the squirrels. He loved the patches of dirt where he could dig big nests to lie in. Within a few months, he was acting much younger. He’d play outside, running after a ball or playing tug with a toy. When we went on walks, he’d get so excited, jumping and bouncing like I’d never seen before, and he pulled on the leash like he never had with Dad. I know part of it was that I wasn’t truly his person, his boss, but I think part of it was that he knew he could let loose now. He was careful and sedate with Dad because he sensed the fragility in Dad, especially toward the end. Instinctively, he knew we could handle more from him.IMG_0994 IMG_9509The kids adored him, and he loved them too. He was so patient with them, letting them do whatever they wanted to him. I sent happy updates to my parents so they’d know Samson was doing well, and I like to think it brought my dad a little bit of peace. And when Dad died in April of 2012, I was grateful to have Samson there to hug. I couldn’t take care of Dad, but I could take care of his dog.IMG_8433IMG_8503One of my favorite things was to watch Samson in the snow. Being from Arizona, he wasn’t familiar with snow, and the first time we got a big snowfall he didn’t even want to go outside. We lured him out on his leash and within moments he was bounding around the yard joyfully. It was wonderful to see. He was in his element and he was beautiful.IMG_9520Last year we got a big snow, and my daughter took him out for a long walk on Christmas Eve. He loved it, but the next day he seemed extremely tired. He slept a lot, moved slowly and with discomfort, and just seemed…not right. We chalked it up to him being an older dog, almost 11, and worn out and sore from the extra exertion. Within a day or so, he’d mostly recovered, though he still seemed to tire easily.

On the 30th, I let Samson outside and left to run a few errands. He often spent most of the day outside, happily curled up in his nest watching the squirrels, so when I got home and he wasn’t inside, I wasn’t too worried. But when I went outside and called him and got no response, I started to wonder. I called him again, going out further in the yard, and didn’t see him or hear him. I knew he liked the narrow alley between the garage and the fence so I walked back there and found him curled up. He looked up at me when I called his name again and slowly, carefully stood up. I coaxed him out to the yard, scared at how slowly he was walking. It was clearly a lot of effort for him, and I couldn’t figure out why the front of his paws kept getting folded up. I got him inside and called for my husband. We watched as Samson stood there, glassy-eyed and swaying, and agreed he needed to go to the vet. Stupidly, I said I could do it alone.

I got Sam to the car and struggled a bit to help him step inside. He was a big dog, probably at least 75 pounds, so I couldn’t carry him. By the time we got to the vet, he was lying on the seat and had no interest in getting out. I still don’t know how I got him out, but I did, and we made it inside. I signed in and sat down to wait, petting Samson and hoping against hope that he’d be all right. I kept thinking, “But this is my Dad’s dog. He has to be okay. This is my Dad’s dog.”

The vet called us back a few minutes later, but Samson was lying on the floor and nothing I did or said could coax him to stand. I looked at the vet, helpless, and she asked, “Is he sedated?” I shook my head and burst into tears. She came forward to help him stand, and suddenly one of my brother’s friends was there helping. Jake was there with his family and their dogs, and he had his wife hold their dogs so he could help me get Samson into the exam room. I’d always liked Jake and somehow it was comforting to have a familiar face there. He offered to stay with me, but I said I’d be okay, even though obviously I wasn’t.

The exam was quick. The vet noticed his paws immediately and said it was a sign of a stroke, that normally animals know exactly what their paws are doing at all times. He had a heart murmur, was anemic and had poor circulation. She took some fluid from his abdomen, and the blood that came out indicated cancer. By then, Samson was struggling to breathe. She offered surgery as an option, but we both knew it wasn’t the right thing to do.

I called Alex and sat on the floor with Samson while I waited for him to come up with the kids. We all sat around Sam, petting him and telling him we loved him, and then it was time. And even though I knew it was the right thing to do, I hated doing it.

The next day I got rid of every sign of him. It hurt too much to see the bowls, the leash, the food. I donated some of it and gave some of it to my brother for his animals. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting another dog. I hadn’t wanted a dog in the first place, I’d wanted Samson, and I’d lost him too soon. It was horrible. It was like losing my dad all over again, and I was lost in the grief yet again. I missed Samson terribly, so much more than I thought I would. I’d gotten so used to his easy company, his big body leaning against my legs. I regretted all the times I told him to get off the couch, and all the days I didn’t take him for walks. I wished I’d bought him more toys, more pig ears, more rawhides. I wondered if I loved him enough, and concluded that surely I hadn’t. But that’s always how it goes, isn’t it? You never know how much you love someone until they’re gone.

Within four months, I was ready for another dog. I knew we wouldn’t find one as good as Samson. He was smart, sensitive, playful, gentle, intuitive, loving. Samson was everything good and nothing bad, and there are so few dogs out there truly like that. But there are a lot of dogs out there that come awfully close, and I needed that special brand of puppy love again. By the end of June this year, we’d found our new baby, Captain Jack. He’s not perfect, but he’s close, and he’s getting better with every bit of love and training we give him. Jack is my dog in a way that Samson never was. I am his person, and I love that feeling. Thanks to Sam, I know the special joy that comes from loving a dog, and I imagine I’ll be a dog person forever now.

I’m so grateful that I was able to take care of Samson until he could join Dad. I think of them often, picturing them together in the great big dog park in the sky. I’m grateful that this year, I get to ring in a new year loving a dog instead of grieving a dog. When the clock turns midnight, I’ll kiss my husband…and then hug my puppy. And I’ll send a little mental hug out to Samson too, to thank him for being part of our family.IMG_9553

The Great Spring Shedding Event

I am not a new dog owner. I grew up with dogs, and I’ve had two dogs in my adult life. But now I have Max and he is unlike any of those dogs in so many ways. I knew dogs shed, some more than others. I know that huskies blow their coats twice a year, resulting in lots of big fur balls everywhere. But nothing prepared me for Max’s spring shed. About a week ago he started sprouting white tufts all over his body, then a day or so later they started falling. Or we’d pet him and be covered in fur. I did brush him, but given that A, he’s a puppy and B, everything is food to him, he kept trying to play and bite the brush. So I’d get a few minutes in each time, and it just didn’t really even make a dent. It kept escalating, and I started sweeping every other day to try to keep up. Still, there was fur all over my floors. Fur all over my clothes. Fur in my cereal and fur in my peanut butter jar. Seriously. Fur everywhere. And Max looked terrible because his coat was so uneven.

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It got overwhelming on Friday. I was just so tired of feeling fur in my mouth and being covered in fur by 9 a.m. I was afraid it would take forever for him to blow his coat and I would never be able to brush him enough to make it help. But a good night’s sleep helped and I decided Saturday was the day. With some help from the hubby and some treats, I brushed and brushed Max. Then I brushed him some more. I fought with him over the dog fur because of course my weirdo dog likes to eat his own hair and I think maybe he shouldn’t do that. I had lunch and then I brushed some more, and he was looking really good. I could see a huge difference. I waited until he was worn out and sprawled out, resting, and I pulled out the handy little Furminator and brushed again. And now he looks so very handsome. He looks like he’s lost five pounds, his fur is sleek and silky, and I don’t have any more huge fur bunnies bounding around my floors. I was so happy with him that we went outside for a little photo shoot!

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My puppy training is progressing

This was supposed to be a yarn blog where I talk about my adventures with knitting and crochet, but somehow I’ve gotten off that track. Now it seems to be a life blog, and maybe that’s okay too. In any case, I thought I’d share an update on my crazy dog, Max, since I’ve shared so many of his misadventures.

It’s good news today: Max is doing really well. Or maybe we’re doing really well in learning from him what he needs/wants/likes/eats. After the book-eating fiasco, he gets shut in the kitchen while we’re gone. He has plenty of toys and usually a peanut butter-stuffed ball. He has not scratched or chewed at doors or chairs at all, so thank goodness for that. It’s not perfect; we know that if we’re gone too long, we’ll come home to a smelly puppy present. But that’s not his fault, and he’s getting so much better at going outside when he has the opportunity.

We know that if we leave the bathroom door open, he’ll play with (AKA eat most of) the roll of toilet paper. I’m shopping for a baby gate today. He still destroys toys more quickly than I’d like (watch for my Kickstarter campaign to fund his toy habit, haha) but that’s what they’re for. If he’s chewing those, he’s not chewing bad things.

And he’s so smart: he’s very consistent with the Sit command, and stays so nicely when we’re putting on his harness and leash. He’s at maybe 75% with the Leave It command; it really depends on what he’s found. Some things are more tempting than a treat. We’ve taught him to Shake since we brought him home. Now we have to focus on Come, since that’s the most frustrating thing we’re dealing with. He loves to be outside at night, which I found surprising given his limited vision. But when we let him out before bed, he doesn’t want to come in, and it turns into a battle of wills. I always win, of course, but I want to make it a shorter battle. I’m more optimistic now than I was a few days ago. Puppies sure make life interesting!

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This cut is the deepest

When Max unrolled and ate the toilet paper, I laughed. When he destroyed toy after toy after toy, I smiled, cleaned up the mess and bought new toys. When he chewed up two of my Twilight figurines, I sighed and but again laughed at the sight of headless Bella. When he chewed into my yarn bag and ate part of my shawl, I kept my calm, swept up the mess and moved all knitting and crochet stuff out of his reach. But what we came home to tonight was the worst.

It looked like a battlefield coming in the door. He’d found a bag of dried apricots (kept at the back of the counter); all that was left was bits of the bag. He’d gotten into my daughter’s school bag and tossed her shirt across the room, chewed up part of her gym shorts, and eaten her Pop-tarts. That wasn’t the worst. No, the worst was the … I don’t even want to say it … the books.

I’m a book collector. My mom owned a used-book store when I was growing up and I worked with her for ten years, learning everything about collectible books. I’m also a reader, a fast and voracious reader. Those make for a substantial and really cool book collection. We have four 6′ tall bookcases in our dining room. They’re all hardbacks, and most are first editions with dust jackets. Some are valuable only to me, but many have monetary value too.

Now some of you might be hyperventilating right now (as I was as I came home) but rest assured, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. He only managed to pull out two books, and one is still salvageable.

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See those scratches across the front? Yeah, those weren’t there before. Now granted, this is not my favorite Dean Koontz book. I am a huge fan of Koontz, especially his early books, and I have a pretty thorough collection. The fact that he chose this one and not the signed first of Whispers or Strangers…well, that’s something to be grateful for. I guess. Whatever. But still. This is a pretty unusual title and a first edition. Not cool, Max.

So what was the other one? I couldn’t tell at first: the dust jacket had been torn from its protective plastic cover and both were in shreds. As I got closer, I saw the initials L E on the front of the book. I also love Louise Erdrich. I first read her in college and was obsessed with her books for a long time. One of my most treasured books is a near fine first edition of Love Medicine, her most famous book, and I was sure that was what Max had chewed up.

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Thank goodness, it wasn’t. It was The Blue Jay’s Dance, her memoir of early motherhood. Again, not my favorite of hers, but still, I really enjoyed this book. Not anymore.

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But it wasn’t really even which books got damaged that affected me. It was that they were Books. Books are part of me. They’ve always been a huge part of my life. I treat them with respect and reverence and love. They are vessels of joy and heartache and wonder and imagination. To see one destroyed like this…it hurts more than it should.

So I’m frustrated now. We were gone maybe an hour, and he had a number of toys to entertain him. He’d been fed. He’d already gotten two walks and two playtimes in the backyard. I don’t know what else to do with this dog except to shut him up in the kitchen or crate him when we’re gone. I didn’t want to have to resort to that but I don’t know what else to do. I love him, but I also love my belongings. I want us to be able to coexist peacefully. So how do I make that happen?

Oh, I could just cry

My first clue was the yarn label I saw on the floor as I unlocked the back door. A small, intact yarn label…that was in the middle of a ball of yarn when I left the house this morning. As I came inside, I saw a long dark trail along the dining room floor, and I gasped. It was yarn. A long tangled mess of purple yarn. Behind it was a pile of pink yarn. These were neat and tidy balls when I left. After an hour in the house with a bored dog? Not so much.

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Near these travesties was another: my cute new YarnPop Gadgety bag was on the floor, intact but muddy and damp.

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I was trembling with fear by this point because I knew what was coming. I knew what this yarn had been attached to. I had started a spring shawl for myself yesterday with these gorgeous colors, and I was loving how it was turning out. See, I’ll show you. Before:

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Here’s the after:

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Sighhhhhh. I know, I know. It could have been so much worse. If I had been gone any longer, the shawl would probably have been gone too. And I wasn’t too far into it, so I wasn’t losing too much time. As it was, I frogged it all very carefully. The yarn is beautiful Simply Sweet Whipped Cream, a blend of wool, mohair and silk. The mohair, which gives it that fuzzy halo, loves to tangle if you pull too quickly. So I worked slowly, making sure to keep my breathing even and steady. And when I was done, I realized I wasn’t really missing much yarn, though it looked my pink yarn ball had babies.

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So now I get to start all over with my shawl, as soon as my Gadgety bag is dry. The silver lining is that I can switch to a bigger needle size, which I think will make a better shawl anyway. I’ve also learned that absolutely nothing is safe around this dog. Nothing. I’d cry…but he’s eaten all the tissues.

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p.s. for those who are wondering, no, I did not yell at, or punish, the dog since he didn’t know better. It was my mistake to leave it within reach. He got to stay in the kitchen with the door closed while I removed all the evidence.

 

Meet Max, our new furry friend

This is our new baby, Max. He’s a Siberian Husky, around 11 months old, and we adopted him from a local animal shelter, Wayside Waifs.

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Alex and I met him Saturday without telling the kids. Max has juvenile cataracts, which means his vision is impaired, and he wasn’t recommended for a home with small children. We were concerned about taking on a dog with a vision problem, so we wanted to check him out on our own. While we visited with him, we could see that he has adapted quite well to his vision, and he had no problem seeing us, the treats in our hand, or the ball we threw for him.

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The vet at the shelter said he didn’t think Max would ever need cataract surgery, though it was something we could opt for if we thought it necessary, which supported the research I had done. Huskies are prone to eye problems, especially cataracts, but juvenile cataracts are different in that they often don’t progress over time and the dog can live quite happily as he is. That eliminated my concern about his health, and I was excited for him to meet the kids.

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We made sure to talk to the kids beforehand about his vision, stressing that they would have to make sure not to startle him or come up to him from behind. We were told he had food aggression, so we talked about that too, and how we’d have to keep him separate during meals and have an adult feed him. We talked about his “mouthiness”, which is just him wanting to latch onto things with his jaw and play. As a result, our son, who is smaller and only 10, was a little tentative and hesitant, but couldn’t help but be charmed by Max. Our daughter was in love at first sight. The meeting was smooth sailing, and before long we were all smooshed in the car heading home. I sat in the backseat with my son and Max, and Max had no qualms about sitting, leaning, and laying on me. We also learned that he gives doggie kisses.

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It took very little time for Max to adjust. His vision seems to be keeping him from going upstairs inside, but the stairs leading to the yard are no problem at all. A quick trip to the store meant he had new toys, and his favorites are the tennis balls. He’s perfectly content to throw it around and chase it all by himself, though the kids like it when he lets them play too. He’s got a nice backyard with plenty of room, and seemed thrilled when he caught the scent of a mole in the dirt!

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Dinnertime was a sweet surprise: we put his food out while we had dinner, and he displayed no aggression whatsoever. He nibbled at his food, then came and watched us intently, but didn’t try to steal any bites and remained calm and civil. He’s more of a beggar than some people might like, but I can work with it, especially since it’s so much better than I expected.

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We took him for a walk after dinner, hoping to make sure he was worn out for his first night in a new home, and again he behaved better than expected. He didn’t pull excessively and he didn’t bolt after the squirrels or bark at the other dogs. It’s really amazing how quickly he’s adjusted to being with us, and vice versa. He seems so happy to have a yard, and kids to play with, and people to love. I think he was just waiting for a family who understood him, and I’m so glad we’re that family.

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Make New Friends (but remember the old)

We’re taking the kids to meet a dog today and I’m nervous. Not that they won’t like each other. Alex and I met the dog yesterday and he’s friendly and charming, and I already know my kids have the potential to be the same. I’m nervous because this is a big commitment. More than the purple hair even. The stakes are higher.

We’ve had dogs before. Our first was when our daughter was a baby, and it didn’t go well for any of us. There just wasn’t enough energy and patience to go around. After that we were cat people…until we determined that same daughter is allergic to cats. By that point, we had two cats. One we had just gotten, and we were able to re-home him with a loving family. Our other cat had been with me for over 15 years, so we dealt with the allergies for a little longer. Once we were cat-free, we bought leather couches and declared ourselves happily pet free. No cat boxes, no dog poop, no fur all over the house! Whee!

Two years ago we got Samson. He was 9. We lost him December 30 of 2013. I’ll tell his story sometime, but not yet. I’m not ready for that yet. Suffice it to say he was the best dog ever, and we realized how much we enjoyed having the company of a furry friend.

We told ourselves we were going to wait before considering another dog. But thanks to animal shelters and dog pictures on Facebook, a dog caught my attention, and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to wait. It would be simpler if we did. Animals need attention and exercise and food and toys and medicine… For a few reasons, we would be better off waiting a few more months before adding to our family. Life isn’t always simple and easy like that, though. Sometimes things happen unexpectedly, good and bad, and you have to roll with them.

This is not going to be a universally popular decision with the extended family. There will be, and have been, people who disagree with our choice. People who think they know better what we need. People who focus on the negative rather than the positive. But even more than the purple hair dissenters, I don’t care, and this time I mean it. I woke up early this morning, excited to go back and see the dog, excited to take the kids to meet him. This feels right to me.

So we’re taking the kids today, and if all goes well, I’ll get to introduce you to our new friend soon.

And remember, if you’re thinking of a pet, please please check your local animal shelters. We’re going to Wayside Waifs today but there are shelters everywhere full of great animals who need a home.