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One Saturday night my husband and I were into our second glass of wine when the call came. Our 18-year-old nephew had bought a puppy on Kijiji and it wasn’t working out. Admiring our perfect Portuguese water dog lying at our feet, we smugly congratulated each other for our amazing dog skills.
“What kind of dog?” I asked.
“Okay,” I said, “we’ll sleep on it.”
We called our daughter to tell her that we might be getting a puppy and she was all for it. She thought we needed disruption in our lives. “All you guys do is play Scrabble,” she said. I placed my tiles on a triple word score and told her she was being very hurtful.
We puppy-proofed the house with barricades, crates and blankets. I was a little disheartened when Kayla instantly jumped over the new kitchen gate to join us in the living room.
But love happens really fast. That night when I kissed her good night I was done for.
We had some worrying reactions to our new rescue. “Oh, dear,” said one of my sisters, as I learned that, apparently, we weren’t the first adoption call. “That’s a lot of dog,” said another friend, ominously.
While out on a walk one day a woman shared that her neighbour once had a husky puppy, and it also hadn’t worked out. The kind stranger’s neighbour was apparently “too old” for this breed. “How old was she?” I asked. Twelve years younger than me.
We were not naive and were aware of a husky’s checklist: they need endless exercise, they are escape artists, they can be destructive and will dig up your entire yard. One by one Kayla checked off all these boxes, then ripped the boxes up and spilled check marks everywhere.
There was a cartoon going around where a husky says to its owner: “Take me for a 10-hour walk or I’ll eat your couch.”
Well, I did… and she did anyway. Guess she didn’t see that cartoon.
In addition to the couch, she ate a carpet, several pairs of shoes, every sock in our house (she can open the drawers), her dog bed, reading glasses, a duvet and all the toys.
Even her sense of humour is destructive, like when she ripped up my $450 orthotic inserts needed for my inflamed Achilles – caused by our daily 10-hour dog walks. Good one. Sometimes we tally the costs-to-date just for kicks. Opening a bottle of wine and making it a drinking game helps.
But the love grows in proportion to the bills and bottles in the blue box. Our mantra comes from the sweet Rottweiler owner at our pet store: “Challenging dogs are more fun” she said in encouragement.
Our perfect Portie watches all these shenanigans with disdain.
Our husky is beautiful, and not just in our eyes. She was recruited to model for a dog magazine and got the cover. But Kayla is also truly disgusting. I’ve pulled an entire rancid, infested hamburger out of her throat with my bare hands. I screamed all the way home, and used wine as a disinfectant. For my brain. Her supertalent is finding rotting salmon carcasses in Toronto’s Don River. Did you know that for humans, retching 17 times is actually a good ab exercise? I can have that glass of wine – I worked out!
One arctic day she ran after a family of ducks, put the brakes on too late and plummeted over the ice, into the river. She struggled to pull herself out and I lay flat, then shimmied across the ice in the howling wind and sleet to save her. Just before I reached my desperate, scrambling dog, she managed to pull herself out on her own. So, in telling the story, I don’t even get to be the hero.
There have been many wildlife encounters both in the city and the country. Beavers, deer, raccoons and coyotes (did she say “mama”?) and at the cottage she was the recipient of a face full of porcupine quills that took four strong adults an hour to remove. Covered with blood, sweat and tears I weakly suggested: “A nightcap before bed?”
She was recently sprayed by a skunk and was so traumatized she pulled my husband down and dragged him six feet across the sidewalk. He was pretty scraped up and proudly added this to his list of husky-related injuries including a broken rib and bruised tailbone.
We did get some assistance. An amazing trainer helped Kayla evolve into a more obedient primal creature. He came into our lives just in time. My wine coping mechanism was in overdrive. But, crisis averted, his expertise pulled me back from the brink.
I have become a bellwether for people who are considering getting a dog. Friends, acquaintances, strangers approach me. They’ve heard the stories. They have been advised to speak to me before they proceed.
How can I possibly help them? How could I ever describe the love that balances out the challenges? No one believes you anyway, until they have one of their own.
We lost our Portie a few months ago, because dogs only grace us with their company for a tiny fraction of how long we want them to stay. I was too sad even for wine.
Often now, I look at this beast lying on my floor and feel astounded that I get to share my life with this wildest of wild creatures. It is a privilege. She saved me from a mugger in an ATM early one morning and I fundamentally understand that we are linked on a deep level, she is my protector as much as I am hers. We are members of a pack, we belong together.
Lori Christensen lives in Toronto.