Harry is our Alaskan Husky. We think.
I mean, its quite obvious he is mostly a husky but there could be something else in there.
Something that makes him wary of people and shy around boisterous children.
Something that causes him to be stand-offish or run back into the dog kennel when there are loud noises or strange situations.
Something that makes him bend his head and move in the most unusual of canine ways.
Something that allows him to harmonize with the wolves who used to freely run the forest behind our house.
Like, maybe he’s got a bit of wolf in him?
Whatever he is, he is part of our family thanks to a telephone call from one of the technicians at vet school at the very end of third year. I had the truck packed, the cats in their crates and was just about to embark on the 8 hour journey back to Bismarck when I answered the phone.
“Tanya…. its Robyn. Harry is scheduled to be euthanized at 11 o’clock this morning…”
I paused for a second.
“Can you change that to a neuter?”
“YES, YES, I’ll do everything I can. Give us until about 1 o’clock and you can come get him!”
All of the technicians and third year students knew Harry and 3 other dogs because they were our Medical Exercise dogs.
Which means we practiced on them.
Not surgeries or painful things but generally every joint site was shaved and they all had circles on bare skin patches where allergy testing was done.
You can certainly have your opinions on live-animal labs and I’m not saying it was ideal. These Med Ex dogs had it a lot better than some of the animals used for study purposes. We could choose to be conscientious observers and not handle particular animals for particular learning purposes. Lets just say the only hands-on lab I skipped was the chicken one where things didn’t end well for the chickens.
The Med Ex dogs did serve us all well, though. It is one thing to read about hitting a pulsating vein on a moving, fuzzy, warm target versus a plastic model.
I wouldn’t want to say to my first few clients, “yeah, I should be able to do this… I read about it a few times.”
How on Earth could I justify leaving Harry to be put to sleep after he gave us a year of his veins, his joints, his skin, his retinae, his ears, and pretty much every other body part you can imagine?
These Med Ex dogs were generally culled sled dogs… meaning their sled dog breeders didn’t want them. The school was somehow connected with some northern Canadian sled dog peeps and at the beginning of 3rd year, every year, a few students would head to the Greyhound station (how ironic) and wait for whatever and whoever to be unloaded in kennels.
Harry was one of ours that year.
The idea was that, out of 72 students, 4 would fall in love with the dogs and they would all be adopted out and live with their student owners, even by Christmas.
Lightning was lucky. So was Thelma. But Harry?
Not so much.
It certainly wasn’t his looks. Harry is a gorgeous Husky with perky ears, kind eyes and a stunning, full coat.
It was more his… quirks.
His unwillingness to be house-trained.
His incessant “woo woo’s” that can be deafening when he really wants to get your attention.
And his spinning.
Harry most likely was tethered at his sled dog kennel, which isn’t a bad thing. The dogs can get in and out of the dog boxes, on top of the boxes, and can run in full circles in their pen area.
Some huskies, like Harry, can be a bit neurotic about it and they will only spin in one direction.
In Harry’s case, its to the left.
It doesn’t matter if he is walking on a leash or squatting to take a poop, the boy has to circle to his left while doing it.
He even runs around the house to the left.
Once. Once he spun one circle to the right when he first moved to Montana. I figured he was trying to unwind but as soon as he did it he stopped and looked so terribly confused that I was relieved when he went back to pulling Louies.
He may not be a very good house dog but he’s an excellent hiking and snow-shoeing companion.
He will follow little UB off on trails when UB needs some extra protection and he often will hike immediately behind me.
I always feel safe when he’s there. I don’t know if he’s doing it to watch me or herd me or if he just needs to know where I am.
If Casey isn’t around then he’s up for some individual loving.
He will slowly walk up to us and close his eyes at half-mast as he leans in for some scritches and kisses.
These times with our old friend are pretty magical.
In the winter his warm coat is so nice to lean into and he looks at us with such loving, dewey eyes that our hearts just melt.
Its a special feeling knowing that this maybe-part-wolf has allowed himself to be cuddly and sweet with us.
Its a strange feeling when he is howling with his brethren in the backcountry.
We don’t hear them much anymore but for the first several years I would hear Harry harmonizing with an incredible howl as he faced the forest.
Casey sits there and says ‘woof’ once or twice.
Cleo barks every now and then and then looks at Casey, as if to say, “What the heck are they saying to each other?”
Adding to the fact he is ‘different’, Harry is the only one who got caught in a leg-hold trap that was set illegally too close to our home a couple of winters ago.
It belonged to a neighbor who seemed to feel pretty bad about it.
I didn’t make a big deal about it because I got my big boy home. Casey, Cleo and UB all told me something was up, barking at me and then running to the trees… then racing back to bark at me some more and running to the trees again…and again… I was splitting wood when I finally realized they were trying to tell me something. And Harry wasn’t there.
Hiking in snow past my knees I called to Harry and he called back. He called me to him.
I found him lying still (thank goodness) with his forelimb caught in a trap.
My stomach fell.
We’re lovers, not fighters and I don’t know the first thing about traps. I don’t, personally think much of trapping and I think hunting would be more fair if you gave the deer a gun but its Montana and I don’t make waves unless I have to.
The only neighbors who were home rapidly came to Harry’s rescue (thank-you Sharon and Randy!) and our good boy didn’t struggle or resist at any time. He didn’t break anything and he has no lasting wounds. Luckily the other dogs alerted me and luckily we found him. Or, he told me where to find him.
Harry is getting older like the rest of us on the Fyfe Farm.
His knees aren’t so great but then neither are his Dad’s. Alistair has to have his torn medial meniscus taken care of next week.
I think we are privileged that this wolf-dog with strange mannerisms and a loud, non-stop WOO WOO that begins the minute he sees us and his circles to the left and his shedding and his inability to live indoors and his affection for Casey even though Casey mows him over half the time chooses to stay with us. Even with relatives so close by.
I worry hunters will think he’s a wolf. That’s difficult stuff to talk about in these parts. So Harry wears bright collars and thankfully doesn’t stray.
It was lucky for Harry when Robyn called me that morning before I left Saskatoon.
I think we are even luckier to be able to share his world…. and his Woo Woo’s.