Archive for May, 2012

Cole’s Goodbye to Tatika

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

My skin burns
From these toxic tears
Filling my eyes and streaking my face
Without you to lick them away
My protector is gone

This caustic fluid
Sears my cheeks and stains your fur
My love has been selfish; not giving like yours
My confidante, my strength
Gone, gone

I lie here wishing for time to pass
With a hope that tomorrow my breath comes with less pain
The wound of loss scaring over
Never to heal, the you I know pressed somewhere deep in me

Even knowing this day would come
The pain has been so great
Your companionship guiding my journey
Through moments of time which have built me and broken me
Success and failure, happiness and heartache
Your unconditional love gave me strength and purpose
Always when I needed it most
You helped me through the toughest hardships, devastating loss, and times we didn’t know how to recover from
You helped forge my path I have not had to walk alone for the past 14 years
And this burden of life, so heavy without you
I struggle to find my footing… to want to fly again

My dearest friend
I will always howl your name in the wind
Find happiness in simple moments
Think of you when it’s time to lick the ice cream carton
Or shovel snow, dig holes, rake –and roll in- leaves,
When I need a reason to go on a jog, or a reason not to
When I pack the car for a camping trip, or go to the beach, or a long drive
I will learn to love unconditionally, beautifully, just like you taught me
I will miss you forever

May 1998- we are all at a lovely outdoor luncheon… family, friends, the graduating class. While many peers are opening cards full of money, or a car key, or a plane ticket, I open a light blue envelope. Words indicated congratulations are on the card, then as I open it, 3 pictures fall out. A german shepherd puppy featured in all 3. While most of my friends were heading out in the world, I was heading home, facing months of rehabilitation for my knee that had been reconstructed just one month earlier… in fact I was still in a brace most days.
Tatika looked more rhino than dog with her giant pointed ears coming together at the top looking like a horn. Her name is Swahili for “tangled and confused”, as I had fallen in love with East Africa and had planned on returning after graduation, until my life drastically changed course one morning. But Tatika was going to see me through the tough road ahead.
We were inseparable for the next 2 years.
January 2000- one of 10 of my toughest “goodbyes” in my life. I left a detailed list for my parents of how to communicate with my dog. Of course she was so smart, she could understand so much from so many. She was so perceptive, and caring, and conscientious. She understood the temporary meaning of “stay” versus the much longer amount of time indicated with “I’ll be back”, and I didn’t want my parents to hurt her feelings by using the wrong one. There was of course much more on this list which I don’t care to type now… it’s all I can do to do this much.
I left for Georgia, driving the big red van I had bought from my parents, only returning twice in 10 months… once for a good friend’s wedding and once for a family reunion. Then in October I pulled up the driveway with a Uhaul trailer on a small green pick-up, a Boston terrier in my lap, and a new boyfriend. We stayed for several days, packing away my life, and off we went again to Georgia. This time Tatika was in my lap when we pulled away and the tears were streaking my parents’ faces.
Georgia memories are happy ones. Camping, hiking, jogging, swimming. I think back on that time and know we lived every moment. I suppose that’s your 20’s… living… we hiked and explored almost every weekend. Weeknights we went to the beach or walked around the neighborhood and visited the other dogs (I have no idea what any of the owners’ names were). Tatika taught Snickers how to be a dog: how to get dirty, how to swim, how to play chase, and how to guard the car. She probably taught us much of the same… she helped us get our first Christmas tree together (an adventure in itself), catch fish (she loved to run into the water while we wrestled them to shore), and play ball until the sun gave up. And god did we ever hike. She laid in the tent one night while we lie awake listening to raccoons scream like a pack of hyenas in frustration at our dangling food supplies. She was with us in a windstorm that drove me to retreat to the car with snickers while she and Joseph tried to stick it out in a tent that was blown flat against their bodies. And there was the time we were certain a serial killer had happened upon us in the dark of night only to shine our headlamp on a skunk riffling through our cooking gear… she seemed to know not to bark that time. Like most “thru-hikers” she even had a trail name to go by: Powernap 5000, as she could stop, drop, and nap for 5 minutes, then be able to play like we had not just put in 15 or 20 miles that day. She was there when we surprised an entire platoon running drills on a remote section of trail one day… the commanding officer asked us to push on quickly and not interfere… she couldn’t help but steal some sniffs from the soldiers lying along the trail trying to blend in with the ground. And there was the time we ran out of food and all had to eat ramen noodles alongside a creek… to this day it may have been the only time I saw her eat a noodle.

She was there when Joseph got down on his knee… and she was there to walk the ring down the isle.
March 2002- This goodbye was particularly hard. This time we left Tatika, Snickers, and Kitty with my parents. Joseph gave them strict orders not to play them to death… it is of course out of love, but probably needed to be said all the same. My parents may be the closest people I know to understanding the love of our pets… Joseph’s parents too… maybe that is part of where we get it from. All this time we knew that if something were to happen to us, those 3 would go to my parents and continue to be loved… people always want to call it a bond because maybe they feel that love is not what you share with a pet… my bond is love.
We went to hike 2,200 miles. We carried pictures of them the whole way and glued them in the trail register at the end in Baxter State Park in Maine. We missed them so much.
October 2002 – another tough goodbye. Everything we owned was in the small green pick-up. Sitting in the front seat was Joseph behind the wheel, Snickers in his lap, Tatika in the middle and across me in the passenger seat, and Kitty perched on the top of the headrest. We drove like this (Joseph and I switching positions back and forth) for 5 days, barely stopping to sleep, to Alaska. My parents were laughing and crying as we pulled away… something about the Clampets… I was particularly worried about my Dad this time. He had bonded deeply with Tatika, and she was concerned with him. My mom has always been the type to make friends, very busy, active, outgoing, generous and lively. My dad is much more withdrawn, guarded, honest. There’s a sadness around him that takes more than a casual “hello” to break through. Tatika’s presence dissolved the melancholy. I knew it, and she knew it. Whenever carepackages arrived once we moved, Tatika would sniff the latest emotions from back home, tail wagging, head emerged in the box.
For years we lived in a 16×16 cabin. No plumbing, and no worries. Always dirty, always covered in dog hair. We explored our new home and lived our new adventures. Inseparable again. We resumed all our old activities, hiking, camping, canoeing, but with an Alaskan twist. I can remember a long 26-mile canoe trip we did with Joseph and I, Snickers and Tatika all piled into one canoe. We hit a section of unexpected rapids that was all we could do to navigate, while keeping all four of us in the boat and not flipping over. Adding to our dilemma, we rounded a bend and standing in the rapids was a full grown moose just yards away. We didn’t even come up to its belly. We drove the oars into the rocks below, doing our best to not move an inch further and not tipping. Tatika, ever the guard dog, stood up and went to the front, but as if she knew all our lives depended on it, she didn’t bark. She just watched it carefully until it strode out of the river, always protecting us.

And so she did and so we were for the next 10 years. Yes, I’ve gone on journeys without her, the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, and several other races and training runs, but I always had her in my thoughts and looked forward to being with her at home.
Even as she slowed down these last few years, we still walked on the beach or through the woods. She looked forward to my niece and nephew sleeping over. She continued to love playing basketball until the day she died… literally.
I could go on forever thinking, writing, and loving Tatika, but like everything else, I don’t have the time or stamina, maybe someday…
Even in her final moments she put me first, as she did for 14 years. I struggle with the idea of euthanasia. It’s not to say that it shouldn’t be considered when pain can’t be alleviated, or our companion mentally has already gone. But it feels to me like I would be betraying one who trusted me and gave me everything. I had called the vet Friday morning because I knew the end was near and I didn’t want her to suffer, but tearfully tried explaining to Joseph that I didn’t want to have to do that to her. She knew… I knew. She was in my lap all morning. Within an hour of calling the vet she started letting go… her last gift to me… leaving me without having to make that decision… in my arms… in my love… our love. In her final minute the entire dogyard sang out and the house dogs joined in howling… she was not alone… she was loved by all.
I did not give her an amazing life… she gave it to me.

R.I.P Tatika 1998-2012

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

After 14 years, two of which we thought she could go any day, on Friday morning (May 4th at 10 a.m.) we finally said good-bye to Tatika, our German shepherd and the only dog Cole and I have know as long as each other (and in Cole’s case, she knew her even longer).
All the dogs are unique in their own way, but Tatika, Tika for short, seemed to stand out from the rest due to her selflessness. A true shepherd, she took watching over all of us very seriously. She always positioned herself in a corner so she could look out over the whole room, if Cole was home she would stay by the door to ensure Cole couldn’t leave without her knowing, and each evening she would periodically wander through the house touching her nose to every human and dog, performing some form of shepherd “counting” to ensure all the members of her flock were accounted for. It should go without saying that she also was a guard dog extraordinaire and wouldn’t let anyone in the house she didn’t know.
Unlike the other dogs, she rarely caused mischief of any kind. When she was younger and we worked away from home 8-10 hours a day, she would get bored and take anything with a screw top, but usually shampoo bottles, to our bed and open the lids. She had no interest for what was in them, I think she was just such an abnormally smart dog, the long hours alone left her under-stimulated, so she problem-solved to occupy her mind and her time.
One of the only times we can remember when Tatika was actually naughty was when we got a free-range turkey one Thanksgiving. Tika had always been the type of dog you could leave a steak on your plate on the floor and go into the next room and she wouldn’t touch it, so we were surprised when we came home from work the day after Thanksgiving and found that Tika had gotten the cooked bird down from the stove top, took it to our bed and ate as much as she could fit. I guess the gamey smell of a wild bird, must have been too much for her (upon coming to Alaska, moose meat seemed to have the same effect on her). There was grease and bone and turkey bits all over our sheets, and of course stuffing herself so thoroughly, she had pooped in several other locations around the house, which again was something Tika NEVER did, no matter how sick she was. It was perhaps one of the biggest messes we have ever had, possibly only rivaled by a time when we were gone on a dog run and Tika again unscrewed a cap out of boredom and spilled a five-gallon jug of corn oil in our living room.
Despite these rare exceptions, Tatika was the best behaved and best listener of any of the dogs in our lives. Even as she went deaf the last two years, she still listened better than the rest. Extremely smart, as she started going deaf, we began using hand signals to communicate to her and after losing her hearing, if she saw us make any gesture she knew, she would immediately respond.
In her youth she accompanied us on thousands of evening jogs, hundreds of weekend hikes and she loved to play fetch, particularly at the beach or a pond, when she could run and swim out to retrieve whatever toy we had brought that day. While mushing across Alaska has brought many adventures with the dogs, I still think some of the happiest days of my life were when it was just Cole, Tatika, Snickers and I living in Georgia. We could give them both our full attention, rather than trying to share equal amounts with so many like now (which there never seems like enough time for when you have so many). There were few chores, financial burdens, and no racking our brain to find someone responsible to hold down the fort when we wanted to take off for a weekend. We would just load Tika and Snickers up, throw the tent in the car and take off for a carefree weekend in nature. We all were at our happiest. We were a family and we were together with the ones we all loved the most.
Tika’s absolute favorite toy in the world was her basketball, which she moved with her mouth and forelegs like a soccer player. We would kick it as far as we could and she would “dribble” it back to us, ready to do it all over again. Even in her final days she would try to play with the basketball and we would put a sling under her to support her weight and hips so she could play for a few minutes until tired.
In her youth she was a powerhouse, who jumped through numerous glass windows to try and find Cole. One time in Georgia she even went out a second story window, and ran around on the roof for who knows how long until we got home and could get out the window ourselves and get her back in.
In her old age, she was no less rewarding to be around. Bonded to Cole like no other breed or dog I have ever seen bond to anyone, she grew first to tolerate me, and then accept me, and eventually to like me. Working from home the last two years, I was able to provide companionship and hospice for her as her body began to wither with time. I’ll miss building morning fires in the woodstove so she could lie on her bed in front of it and stay warm and comfy.

After knowing her to the end, I feel bad for people who are quick to euthanize a dog that begins having accidents. We decided to leave Tika as long as she was happy, mentally alert and not suffering in anyway. Tika’s rear-end began going out about a year and a half ago, but her mind was sharp until the day she died. As stated, she tried to play basketball until days before she passed away, and the day before, she still wandered around back to one of the few grass patches we have to sit in the sun while I fed and cleaned all the other dogs.
The nerves in her hips and legs had degenerated, so she needed help getting to her feet the last few months, but then could shuffle around for brief periods. I would carry her up and down our stairs, which no matter how old she got she still hated the indignity of and would try and resist. She couldn’t feel much in her back half, so she occasionally pooped when relaxed in her sleep, but we would clean it before she awoke (to not embarrass her or make her feel bad) since she didn’t do it consciously. After 14 years of companionship, it was a small task to endure.
Her teeth long ago wore out too from years of tennis balls, but she ate wet food, boiled turkey or chicken, and ground moose with gusto. No teeth meant there was nothing to hold back her silly tongue when she slept, so it would stick out of her mouth further the deeper into sleep she got. And even when she could no longer run, we could see her brittle legs kick in her sleep as she dreamed of days passed when she was still fleet of foot.
Her death was peaceful. She died in the living room, in Cole’s arms with her looking into her eyes telling Tika she was loved. I hugged her body and listened to her heart, still beating strong to the end, slow down and stop like a winding down watch. With so many others coming into our life after her, but passing away before her dying from illnesses or accidental injuries, it was so fulfilling to see Tika live a long life and die a natural cause, but now going forward and living without her seems so hard.
Forty dogs barking in your yard at the first sign of anything out of the ordinary makes you feel secure. There’s no sneaking up on a musher. But, somehow without Tatika – our shepherd, our protector, our defender, our friend – the world seems less safe today and a lot more lonely. Tatika ( a.k.a. Tika, T, Bigs and Mrs. Biggelsworth) we’ll love, miss and remember you always.

P.S. Cole is emotionally destroyed right now, but will write her goodbye when she feels up to it.