He was a six-week old Malamute, a grey puff ball that looked like a baby bear. We called him Smokey. When we got him home he had diarrhea and was throwing up so we took him to the vet. I sat him on the exam table and he slowly sunk down into a lying position. Doc Falduto’s eyes said that he didn’t think the little guy was going to make it. But we got him medicine and vitamins and special dog food and plied him with love. Every morning Gary got on the scale and weighed himself, then I gave him Smokey and we weighed both of them, and then subtracted. He started out at five pounds and we were afraid that he wouldn’t grow. Silly us, he ended up tipping the scales at one hundred and thirty pounds, a huge, pigeon-toed, gentle giant.
From the beginning he made us laugh. He hid his chew toys everywhere: in corners, in the laundry basket, in our shoes. As a puppy he would take his chewy and drop it on a stair, thinking it was well hidden and safe. But when someone went up the stairs he would run after them to make sure they didn’t steal it. As an adult, he wasn’t much better at hiding his treasures. Once, in Gary’s office he dropped his chewy on the carpet and then proceeded to shove imaginary dirt over it with his nose until he was satisfied that it was well hidden. Then he walked away.
He was both lazy and curious and one of his favorite things to do was ride in the car to town. There were so many interesting things to look at and he didn’t have to move. On walks through the snow, Smokey followed behind so that we could plow a path for him. Apparently, he wasn’t worried about his tough sled dog reputation. More often, his curiosity would overcome his laziness and if you were outside doing something interesting like planting a garden or chopping wood, he would walk over, lay down and watch.
He also had the Malamute stubborn streak. If you wanted him to do something, sit or lay down, he would look at you like why? I see no reason for it. But if you insisted long enough, he’d comply. Treats could always coax him into faster obedience. A bite of cookie was his favorite.
When he was about one-year-old we brought him home a companion, Annie. She was a little two-month-old mutt who would grow to be only a third of his size. I set her down next to his belly he looked at me with eyes that said thanks. She immediately proceeded to crawl all over him, biting his ears, pulling on his lips, and tugging at his fur. He didn’t seem to mind. From day one she had him wrapped around her little paw and got away with everything, even stealing his chewys, something he wouldn’t tolerate from the other dogs. She was sneaky about it. They would play and wrestle around in the house when all of a sudden she’d stop playing with him. He would soon get bored and go outside. She would immediately run over to where he’d hidden his last chewy and snatch it up. Later, when he discovered it gone, Smokey would shake his head and howl.
The only thing Smoky was scared of was thunder. He would hear it long before we did and head upstairs to the back of the closet. If no one was home, he crawled under the stairs and huddled in a space way too small for him. I don’t know how he always managed to get out of it.
One weekend last summer I noticed a swelling on his back leg and planned to take him to the vet on Monday. That afternoon while I was doing the dishes I heard a knocking sound. I thought maybe the wind was hitting something against the house, but it kept up and so I followed the sound upstairs. Smokey was pulling chunks of flesh and fur out of his leg, his head hitting the wall with each bite. I ran downstairs, grabbed tea tree oil and poured it over his wound to numb it, kill the bacteria, and make his leg taste so bad that he would stop chewing on it, which he did. I was amazed at his fierceness. If the leg hurt, he would solve the problem by ripping it off.
He had an infection and a tumor. We gave him antibiotics and pain medicine. Smoky was twelve years old. The medicine gave him six pain-free months.
Last Thursday I heard Annie at the slider and came downstairs to let her inside. But she didn’t want in, she was trying to tell me that something was wrong. Smoky was laying on the deck in convulsions, his legs were jerking, he was foaming at the mouth, his teeth were clicking and his eyes were bleeding from hitting the wire fence. It was one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen. He needed the vet. I couldn’t lift him by myself and Gary was working out of town so I called my neighbors for help. He continued to convulse the unbearably long five minutes it took for Bree and Carlos to get there. We wrapped him in a blue blanket and lifted him into the back of my car. I drove too fast to the vet. He convulsed during the whole twenty-five-minute drive. He only stopped when Doc Falduto gave him a sleeping shot. The second shot stopped his heart.
I drove him to Pueblo to be cremated so his ashes could be spread on the land where he grew up. I had to leave him in the back of the cemetery’s suburban. When I laid my hand on his side, it was hard to wretch it away, knowing that never again would I get to pet his soft bristly fur and feel the warmth underneath.
If I would’ve known what was going to happen that morning, I would have put him to sleep the day before. I never wanted him to suffer. Doc Falduto said that he didn’t think Smokey felt any pain during the stroke. I hope he’s right.
Annie keeps going out to the deck and licking the spot where Smoky had his stoke, then looking out into the forest for her friend. Against all reason, I look for him too, wanting to see him lumber up to the house one more time.
Thank you, Smokey, for sharing your life with us. We will always miss you.