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.