Well… they’re not actually MY children. They’re all adopted.
Saudi was the first. He came to me as a puppy. I named him after the place I was born. I was told he was half Malamute… probably at least part German Shepard. I don’t really know. In any event, he was a fantastic dog. He taught me a lot about how to care for dogs. Unfortunately, I had a lot to learn, and I learned much of that from my mistakes.
In 1975, my sister Pat and her husband, Darrell, graciously invited Saudi and I to stay at there home when I went back to school to get a mechanical engineering degree.
Saudi was an amazingly athletic dog, a world class Frisbee catcher. We used to go over the arboretum that was south of the University of Washington. I’d rent a canoe, and the two of us would go over to a place with an unfinished freeway on-ramp to the 520 floating bridge which passed through the arboretum. This unfinished on-ramp was suspended at least eight feet above the edge of Lake Washington. I would tie up the canoe to the edge of this unused piece of freeway, get Saudi out of the canoe and hoist him up onto the on-ramp. Then I’d climb up with a Frisbee, toss it off the on-ramp (or bridge), and Saudi would take a flying leap off the bridge to retrieve the Frisbee. He would swim back with the Frisbee in his mouth, I’d help him back up onto the bridge, and we would repeat this for a half hour or more.
Kibo also came to me as a puppy. A gift from my good friends the Arndts. He was named after the taller of the two peaks on Mount Kilimanjaro. Kibo was a purebred Malamute.
After I met Ellen, Kibo and Ellen’s dog Houston, or Houstie, became best friends. We’d see them go out every morning doing their rounds of our Lone Lake property. Kibo and Housti were the ring bearers when Ellen and I were married.
One day I was walking through downtown Langley with Kibo when I ran into Georgia Gerber, a very well known sculptor who also lives on Whidbey Island. She asked me if I would be willing to have Kibo stand as a model for a large bronze statue she was commissioned to create. I replied, “Sure. What’s it for?” Georgia replied, “They are going to put it in front of Husky Stadium at the University of Washington.” After picking my jaw up off the ground, I replied, “Are you kidding?!?!?!? I would give my right arm for that privilege!!!” Over the next several months, Kibo and I would go to Georgia’s studio many times as she gradually crafted the statue. On the day of the installation, Kibo, Ellen, Houston, and I were all invited to the installation ceremony. The local TV cameras were there. At the moment of the unveiling, the 240 member Husky marching band came out playing the Husky fight song. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. To this day, that memory fills me with joy.
Several years after the statue was installed, we were driving past husky stadium and saw that Kibo had been decked out with hundreds of peace cranes.
Sarge, the Mayor of Maxwelton Beach
This story was published separately on Medium in 2017, and on Newsvine in 2008.
Sarge was a Malamute… Well, what kind of story do you expect from someone named MalamuteMan? “Officially” he belonged to someone who’d adopted him. He had killed some chickens, and was adopted to save him from being put down. I say “officially” because his “owner” did very little to look after him. He lived in a little beach community here on Whidbey Island, and he was actually cared for by the whole community. We’d ride our bikes down to this community and see Sarge lying in the middle of the road in front of the public park at the beach. From the very first time I met him I sensed his huge heart and gentle spirit.
One year, after the Maxwelton Beach Fourth of July parade, as we were cycling away from the beach community I saw that Sarge had walked almost 2 miles from his usual stomping… er… laying-around grounds, a very long way for his arthritic body to go. A county sheriff had him by the collar, so I rode up to the officer and explained that I was pretty sure he lived up by the public park. The officer said he would drive him back to that area and drop him off. Before riding away, I also noticed that Sarge was a mess. He was a sad sight to behold. He had no hair on his sides… this is a Malamute… a healthy Malamute has glorious thick hair. Sarge’s naked sides were covered with skin sores, he was filthy dirty, and he was suffering. He was one great big ITCH! But he was so arthritic he couldn’t scratch himself, a blessing in disguise because he probably would have made the sores worse if he could have scratched them. I could see his hind leg was kind of quivering the way a dog’s leg quivers when we find that special spot on their back or chest to scratch. But Sarge didn’t have anyone who would scratch him because he was so filthy. The officer put Sarge in his car and we rode away.
A couple of hours later, pacing up and down in our living room, I told my wife, Ellen, that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t go back to help Sarge. I drove back to the beach, found the “official” owner, and asked him if there was anything I could do to help Sarge. I mentioned that my own dog, a Malamute, had recently died. I’m not sure what I said that was so compelling, but Sarge’s owner offered to give him to me right then and there.
It took a while to find him, but we eventually took Sarge home and cleaned him up. I will never forget the way he looked after that first bath. I doubt he actually enjoyed the bath itself, but after it was finished he looked like he thought he had died and gone to heaven. For the first time in a very long time he didn’t itch. He radiated gratefulness!
Over the next three years we looked after Sarge. With all the medications, bandages, and whatnot Sarge needed we could have opened our own pharmacy. He had various surgeries and innumerable visits to our vet and other veterinary specialists. We spent substantially more on Sarge’s healthcare over those three years than we did on ourselves, but it was worth every penny!
For the next two years, on the Fourth of July, Sarge was designated the Grand Dog Marshall of the parade. I have had several dogs, all of them have been wonderful, but Sarge was truly special. Whenever we brought him back to the beach community people were so glad to see him. He was deeply beloved by everyone who knew him. He taught me something about integrity and kindness I really can’t put into words.
Sarge didn’t quite make it to that third Fourth of July parade. After he died I wrote this:
I want to thank you for adopting us. You saved me from the guilt and sorrow of loosing Kibo. It was a privilege to know you, to care for you, to see you persevere with courage and determination through all the hardships you endured, to receive your friendly greetings, to hear your sweet soprano voice, and to experience all your dog wisdom. You were a wonderful friend and mentor to Arlo. We are bringing you back to your home at Maxwelton beach and to your home at Dog Song. We will all miss you. May you rest in peace. We love you Sargie…
Arlo came to us as a puppy from a Canadian show dog breeder. As a condition of getting him, we were required to put him in dog shows until he had won both an American and Canadian championship. He did that, and then he became just a regular dog, a part of our family. His kennel name was White Paw Arluk, but he was just Arlo to us.
Arlo was a real goofball. In the photo below, Sarge was mentoring Arlo in the ways of Malamutes.
We got Cassie from a breeder. She was meant to be a show dog, but someone stepped on her foot when she was a puppy, breaking several bones, so that ended her days as a show dog. We brought her home to be a companion to Arlo after Houstie died.
Cassie got diabetes in here later years. She got insulin shots every day. This began to impact her eyes. She got cataracts which slowly caused her to lose her sight. Being blind was difficult for her, but she relied on her other senses and her memory of our yard to get around. She would move very slowly and cautiously. One day as I left to run some errands she followed me up to the gate of our fenced yard. When I returned, Cassie was racing around inside the fence like crazy, full of doggy joy. It was clear that somehow her sight had returned. I took her to an eye specialist who said her cornea had ruptured which aloud the milky fluid blocking her vision to drain out of her eye. The eye vet said he had heard of this happening, but it was extremely rare, and this was the first time he had seen it. He said the milky fluid would start to accumulate again, causing her blindness to return, which it did. Even so, I was very happy for Cassie that she got this little reprieve of her condition.
Smokey & Bandit
Shortly after Cassie died, we sold our property on Lone lake and move into the town of Langley. Right after we moved, I heard about a pair of malamute sisters who originated in Bellingham, but had been surrendered to WAMAL (The Washington Malamute Adoption League). Apparently this pair were excellent escape artists, so the owner decided someone else needed to look after them.
Ellen and I adopted Smokey & Bandit. Smokey weighed about 110 lbs. and Bandit was 125 lbs. Even though she was smaller, Smokey was clearly in charge and the mastermind of every escape.
Smokey always had a lot to say.
Being a big girl, Bandy, as we liked to call her, could carry quite a bit.
Smokey liked to sleep on her back.
Just over a year after we adopted this pair, Smokey died of throat cancer.
The spring after Smokey died, Bandit and I were invited to attend Sue Raley’s 4th grade class to talk about the kind of things Malamutes do. As a way of thanking us, Ms. Raley had all her students create a note with a drawing, and then assembled all of these into a booklet for us. Below is just one example. This book which is absolutely precious to me.
In May of 2016 Bandie got bone cancer in her shoulder and died shortly after that.
Not long after Bandie died, we went back to WAMAL to find another Malamute to adopt. We found Maya, who had been living in eastern Washington, brought her home with us. While the eastern Washington winters are probably just fine for Malamutes, the summers are much too hot.
Well I guess that wraps it up. Maya is twelve and still with us. Doing pretty well for a big dog. If we get another pooch after Maya is gone, I don’t think it is likely to be another Malamute. I love them all, but they are much too strong for an aging MalamuteMan.
If you enjoyed this story, perhaps you would consider making a donation to the Washington Malamute Adoption League.