Year of the Dog

For one reason or another, I’ve never wanted kids. It’s just not in my wiring. But something that I’ve always dreamed of, something that I always knew I needed in the very depths of my core, was a dog.

We didn’t have pets in my family growing up, and my nomadic nature made responsible pet ownership difficult, if not impossible, for most of my 20s. Sure I shared dogs with roommates and live-in boyfriends, but it’s just not the same. So at the dawn of my next decade, suddenly finding myself with relative stability, I finally said F it.

I can’t believe they just let you take an 8-week old puppy home. They are so delicate and helpless, so small. I didn’t sleep well for months, not wanting to take my eyes off her for a second. She is a red merle Australian Shepherd, named for the Kanayut conglomerate unit in the Brooks Range that shares her splotchy coloration. Yuti for short.

I picked her out from a puddle of wiggly pudgy potato puppies in a kiddie pool when she was about 2 weeks old. Always believing more in adopting shelter pups over supporting breeders, I had scoured the shelter for months waiting for my puppy to come in. I knew I wanted the experience of raising a little one, so most of the shelter’s occupants were out, and with the threat of winter housebreaking on the horizon, I resigned myself to searching the internet.

Who knows why I wanted an Australian Shepherd. I never knew any personally, and only had the vaguest memory of some rockstar frisbee dogs launching off their handlers’ shoulders at the fair. But there it was, stuck in my brain. I wanted a herder for their intelligence, trainability, and strong bond development, but Borders were too intense, and cattle dogs too independent. But really, it was the fuzzy butt. I mean, have you seen their pants?

I started going to visit her every week, just holding her little peanut body against my chest. I wanted her to recognize my smell as a safe place, to feel how big she made my heart. Puppies don’t do much besides sleep, stumble around, and chew on each other for a while. It was good fun none the less to just lie in a puddle of puppies…until their teeth started growing in. Then it was terrifying.

She rode home on the front seat, my fingers pressed into the vent holes of the kennel so she knew I was with her. I put on a favorite album and clenched the steering wheel. This felt big, and scary, and like the best decision I’d ever made.

In no time she knew all the tricks I could teach her. She peed in the house exactly twice. She learned how to fetch and roll over. She helped us dig potatoes and met a couple of horses. She helped us pick blueberries, and learned how to steal them off the bush before we could get to them. Stairs and hiking in the woods were still pretty scary, though.

Socialization was my mantra for many months. In an effort to expose her to ALL THE THINGS, we took the 12-week-old puppy out in the ocean to salmon fish. Because why the heck not.

She learned boating safety, how to take a nap at sea, and how tasty a freshly caught salmon is! Other topics of note included how to snuggle in a sleeping bag, what the heck is seaweed? and how to roll in rotten fish.

There was also a little hiking, for good measure.

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Since guns are sometimes present in our lives, we headed down to Delta to go grousing with her. She and I stayed pretty far away from the hunters, so she didn’t get to hear as many gunshots as I would have liked, but we did run into a pretty big moose!

Soon the snow fell, deeper than she was tall. If you didn’t know better, you’d think she was a bunny hopping to get around the yard. She still jumps vertically into the air anytime she wants to get a better look at her surroundings.

My good friends, who live in Anchorage, adopted Yuti’s sister. They came up to Fairbanks to visit in October, and we all went out to a cabin in the White Mountains. The 7 mile hike was a little much for poor Yuti, whose outer coat hadn’t grown in yet. She protested pretty good for the last couple of miles, and crashed hard upon arrival. Exhaustion didn’t stop her from playing with Lyra, though!

Yuti was a pumpkin for Halloween. She was less than enthused.

Winter slowed us down a bit. We played in the snow, and took lots of naps. LOTS of naps.

 

We skied out to Tolovana Hot Springs in March. It’s a 10-mile trek in, but little dog did well. At this point she had been out skijoring a bit, and helped me on some of the uphill sections. She even had to chase a snowmachine for a couple miles when a friendly passerby offered to give us a ride. I’d never seen her run so fast!

One day she just started looking like a dog. A real, grownup dog. She was born on my birthday in mid-June, and I’d have to say she went from puppy to dog around 7 or 8 months.

Having read that aussies are a breed that gets boreimg_2372d easily (read: will eat all your things), we started obedience classes early. She had her Canine Good Citizen by March. Regardless of breed, those classes are really worthwhile from a socialization perspective. We got exposure to loud noises, had tons of interaction with strange dogs and people, and took field trips to local pet-friendly businesses like Lowe’s. Despite our socialization blitz, she’s still not too keen on kids walking right towards her, or guests in our house. But since I know her triggers, I feel pretty good with her in most situations because I can predict her behavior to a certain extent.

Though I wish it was me, Yuti’s favorite thing is this world is her buoy. It’s a horse toy that works great for dogs that destroy tennis balls. She chews the handles off, but then it’s easier to herd with her nose. Being a fluffy beast, she loves the snow. When it was melting in the spring, she would lay in the last patch like she would never see it again.

Summer brought work like establishing the beehive, planting the garden, and building the chicken coop for our new laying hens. Yuti was a great helper.

We headed down to Homer for Memorial Day to hang out with our Anchorage buddies, Yuti’s sister Lyra, and their new aussie Dax. Collectively known as the Aussie Posse, we terrorized anyone foolish enough to hike up to our yurt or walk the beach out front. The dogs swam for the first time, and learned how to fetch from the water. They were all pretty good sports, even through our hellish 6-hour devil’s club/blowdown bushwhack.

Summer just flew by, and before I knew it, fall was here again. Yuti helped me pick berries, mostly by waiting for me to find a good bush, then coming over and eating all of them.

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In November, we headed down to see our Anchorage friends again. We took a brief stopover in Talkeetna, which is quite nice in the off-season. Little dog had fun exploring with us – especially that mud puddle she found!

She got to see Lyra and Dax again for a few days, and get nice and exhausted for the long drive home…

She’s just about a year and a half old now, and I’ve never loved someone so much. It’s a powerful thing, to be responsible for another living being. While I may never decide to have children of my own, this little dog will keep my hands full for what I hope to be a long while. On good days, she’s right beside me exploring the world. On days that I don’t want to get out of bed, she’s still right there, needing to play and be fed and be loved. She gives me a reason to keep moving and drag myself out whatever dark place I crawled into. She is my heart’s tangible link to this world, and I’m so much better off for it. It’s been a good journey so far, can’t wait to see what’s up ahead.

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