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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kennel Project

The house dog play area is complete!

Our kennel project is in full swing! First came the clearing of trees in the area where the new kennels will be located and then the leveling of the ground. We now have our firewood for next year! We also recycled some of the balsam and spruce tree trunks for fence posts. Next up was the house dog play area. With the help of our new handler, Claire, from Scotland, we were able to complete this area in under a week.

The BIG project begins tomorrow afternoon when we start digging the fence post holes for the new sled dog kennels. This project will likely take us into 2015 before completion but we'll do what we can this year. To follow our progress, please visit the photo album on our facebook page.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sweet Pea; August 5, 2002 - July 2, 2014

Sweet Pea was born in our first traditional Alaskan Husky litter in 2002. She was an adorable puppy!
Sweet Pea was always keeping a watchful eye over the kennel and her humans
Filled with personality, Sweet Pea was a tad dramatic when she injured her toe!
Sweet Pea, on the right in the photo, loved to be out on the trail with the family.

Sweet Pea was the puppy nanny and fun police to the very end. She was always looking out for the younger and vulnerable dogs.

Here, she waits patiently for Neil to finish his smoothie

The devised a way to reach the very bottom of the cup!

Sweet Pea
A friend told me the day before that Mother Superior (Lake Superior) would be with us. She was calm despite the blowing of the winds, on our drive up and across the border. Deep blue, soothing, peaceful Lake Superior, on the day.

Weeks before, Sweet Pea, our beloved nanny dog to the kennel, living up to her name, was diagnosed with an aggressive sarcoma. The shock, pain and sadness quickly permeated throughout me. My poor beloved Sweet Pea.

We set out to give her more of everything she loved in her last days,  weeks, months, we didn’t know. What she loved most was being with us, eating peanut butter-filled Kongs, licking our bowls and plates and she especially loved licking the smoothie cup. She had, over the years, devised the perfect strategy for this task. Sweet Pea managed to get her tongue all the way to the bottom of the cup by inserting the entire cup in her opened mouth and nearly back to her throat while her long tongue licked away at the yogurt, berry, honey and flax residue left behind. She LOVED licking the smoothie cup.

Sweet Pea never was an extremely enthusiastic sled dog. She really disliked being harnessed and hooked up to the line but once we took off down the trail, he face lit up and her tail began wagging and boy did she pull! I guess she just didn’t like all of the pressure and noise before the run but seemed to cherish her time running in the team on the trail. Kind of like me. She decided this past winter that she would rather not run any longer. How do I know this?  Well, when approaching her with her harness before a run, she began to run the other way! I would say that’s a clear sign if there was one. So, instead, she took walks with us down the same trail and along with the house dogs. Those walks increased in frequency after she was diagnosed. At first, she would run out to the end of the 26’ flexi leash and act as a guardian when vehicles would meet us around the bend. At the end, only two weeks later, she was walking slowly but surely right next to us.

She began having difficulty getting up half way into week two and began moving more slowly. She vomited one day and then the next, I noticed a change in her bowel movements. The sarcoma was firmly attached to her lower rib cage and was, no doubt, making its way through her abdominal cavity. I couldn’t stand to imagine her being eaten from the inside. I made the appointment for her, two days away. Canada day made the Tuesday not available so we had to settle for the Wednesday, hoping it would not be an emergency by that time. You see, our closest vet is in Canada and an hour and a half away.

One thing I knew is that her passing could not be an emergency. I carried her father, Zulu, into the emergency vet several years ago and I did not want that to happen to dear Sweet Pea. We also live so far from the vet and must cross an international border. I didn’t want to risk being turned away for some reason out of my control, during an emergency.

The next day she perked up! I spent the entire day on an emotional roller coaster. Did I make the right decision? Should I put this off another week and see? I quickly contacted a friend to see if she might be available to take me and Sweet Pea to the vet in Canada early next week, when my husband would be away with the vehicle. She could! I felt a weight lifted. I had a back up plan and could cancel the appointment if needed.

The morning before, a friend came over to visit me and Sweet Pea. She did some energy work on Sweet Pea and it was clear to her that her time was coming to an end. I still remained open to changing the appointment but did feel a sense of peace after her visit.

When she didn’t bother to get up to lick the smoothie cup that night, I knew. I saw that as a clear sign. A friend told me – best it be a week early than a day late. This struck a chord with me and helped to validate my feelings. I made the right decision. When in such an emotional state, words like this really do help get you through.

That morning, Sweet Pea got some bacon and was given my yogurt bowl to lick, as usual. We walked her out into the dog yard and past each kennel so that each of her 28 furry family members could see her one last time. We then took a short walk, just me and her, before I helped her jump up into the cab of the truck. She loved car rides and she seemed happy to be taking one.

I prepared myself in advance for crossing the border. They always ask the reason for your visit. I had not anticipated/remembered the next question typically asked. “What are you leaving in Canada?” Tears began to roll down my face as I barely uttered the words “Our dog. We have to put down our dog”. The stern man at the window said, “So you’re leaving your dog in Canada.” And stern voice turned with a hint of controlled sympathy said “I’m so sorry to hear that, ma’am,” as he handed me our passports and sent us on our way.

We arrived early and walked Sweet Pea around the little dirt path that circles the clinic. It’s a country clinic surrounded by fields and livestock. She perked up and pulled ahead, taking in all of the new smells and sights. She had been here before and you could tell that she was enjoying herself. Not at all fearful of this place. The last time, she made it a point to say hello to everyone she met, animal and people alike.

We went into the vet clinic and they quickly brought us to a room that had a nice soft blanket placed on the floor. Sweet Pea ate a couple treats while I sat on the floor next to her, enticing her to sit down. Neil and I were both in and out of tears, trying hard not to let Sweet Pea see our sorrow but, of course, it couldn’t be hidden. Our vet, a lovely young Minnesotan recently turned Canadian, came in to greet us. Dr. Amanda, only having been a vet for a year, studied under our previous sled dog vet west of the Twin Cities when we lived in Watertown. She is such a kind and gentle soul and I’ve felt comfortable taking our emergencies to her and those can’t-wait-too-long appointments. Such a relief knowing that we can get to her in an hour and a half when our regular vet is 3 ½ hours away.

Dr. Amanda explained the upcoming moments. Having been through this a dozen times, I knew what was to happen but noticed that I was in a fog and appreciated the refresher. Something like this NEVER gets easier. After loosing a dozen furry angels, one might think it does. Actually, the pain is amplified because you relive the pain over again for each loss.

The sedative took a little while to take affect. Sweet Pea was peaceful and very calm but did want to continue to stand. She finally laid down and I sat next to her, hugging her and caressing her ears. Dr. Amanda came in and administered the overdose of anesthesia that would end her pain. I never say “good bye” to my dogs. I always say “See you later”. I said “See you later, Sweet Pea.” Then I sobbed. When Sweet Pea became still, I felt a wave of relief come over me: relief for her and deep, deep sadness for me and Neil. I had cried all of my tears and now I felt at peace, much like she must have felt. I removed her collar and snatched the tufts of hair that were shaved off of her leg for placement of the catheter and put those in my pocket. I didn’t know what I would do with them but knew I wanted them.  I knew she was no longer in her body. She was no longer there. She was now everywhere.

I wonder why humans aren’t graced with the ability to make a compassionate decision for themselves and loved ones when facing a prolonged painful end to their lives. I am grateful that I could give Sweet Pea this gift.

I remained peaceful right to the international border crossing. Wondering what feelings might come to the surface, I stopped at the window. “Gone to more dog training?” the officer asked in a very cheerful voice. This is how often I cross the border. They are remembering me now. A tear dropped as I said that no, we had to have a dog put down. Her cheery face turned to concern as she said, “I am so very sorry”. Then she handed me our passports and said “Welcome home”.

I felt her presence in the back seat on the way home. Once in Minnesota, Mother Superior (Lake Superior) was even more calm, even more deep blue. It was a peaceful sight. I felt a numb kind of peaceful. I had no more tears.

I returned and found it therapeutic to post a photo of Sweet Pea on Facebook. The comments that came in over several hours were so supportive, encouraging and kind. This is what I like about social media. I am grateful for those friends that shared their own story with me or shared some kind words of support.

Why do we continue to bring these furry creatures into our lives that leave us heartbroken and far too soon? Because we love them and they make our lives on this planet better, more enriched. We love each and every one of them and life just wouldn’t be the same without them. The deep sorrow when they pass is soothed by the multitude of joyous memories that were made with them while they were alive. This is why I continue to have them and love them.

Sweet Pea, you were the puppy nanny to nearly every single dog in our kennel. You were sweet, and aptly named. You were nurturing and patience and such an excellent teacher to those young pups and to me.  You were born in our kennel and lived a full life with us until the end. You will be deeply missed and will never be forgotten. Your footsteps will always be embedded deeply in my soul.