You Are My Sunshine...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Gold Star Day!

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Gold Star Day!

Nico has been with us since December of 2007.  That's about four and a half years.  You'd think we'd pretty much be over all  celebrating his learning to embrace human companionship and trust human affection. Or rather, you'd think he'd have made all the progress he was going to make by this time.  But maybe not: Nico continues to show us that just when we think he's come as far as he's going to come, he steps it up another notch.

So today was a gold star day because for the first time ever he asked to come out of the yard when complete strangers, and men at that, had come to pay a call. Our water pump broke down yesterday. Two young men came today in a white van to fix it. They did their job, and just as they were packing up to leave, I went up to the yard to get Benny to do some pulling.  Nico wasn't on the agenda at all as he never, and I mean never, comes out of the yard voluntarily when there are visitors here,  even regular visitors.

I opened the gate, and Benny came right up to me. He never hesitates to come, and typically Malamute, loves to meet and greet new people. But there, right behind him was Nico. Well, that was unusual, but I figured he would step back as soon as I reached out to him. I had to try though; it was like he was asking me to try. So I held out the collar and didn't he just step up, and put his head in?  Then he trotted most happily out of the yard.

I thought maybe he doesn't see the white van and the strangers standing around it. He  walked right  around the corner of the house towards it though, instead running  away down the trail. And then he went right up to the visitors and acted just like any other friendly Malamute I've ever seen.  Go figure!

The picture below is of Nico with Rick:  In December of 2007 when Nico came here, it took  twelve days before he would come out of his dog house and let Rick even touch him for a second. I am talking about  twelve days of bitter cold in which, twice a day, Rick took the food out to the kennel, set it down on the ground, then sat back and waited for forty-five minutes each time for Nico to come out. But Nico refused to budge from the dog house, while Rick was there. For twelve days Rick waited,  Then finally, one day, he came out of his house, took a chicken back out of the dish, and set it down in front of Rick.

When Rick told me about this I said, "That dog has seen too many Disney movies."  Rick, thinking back, remembered that  he didn't know what to do. However,  since he wasn't going to eat the raw chicken back himself, he just picked it up and put it back in the dish.  Nico then looked him right in the face,  turned around and then ate his food in Rick's presence.

That was the beginning of a very long and slow healing process. Itis pretty clear to us that Nico was very badly treated, and by a man or men, or boys.  It would still  be months  before Nico would come in to my husband when called. It was months before I could get him to come into our house. And then  when he did he finally bring himself to cross the threshold, it was to huddle  in my arms on the sofa. When Rick or my son  came into the room  he would shake and cower. On the trail, he would not pass my husband, even when old Thunder was happily trotting on ahead.  Rick's hands hanging down were just too frightening, and if one of them happened to swing, as they do when we walk, Nico would crouch and try to run.  

But the day he came out to eat with Rick was a beginning: Nico offered, and  Rick accepted. And after that it got better every day, one small step at a time.

Nico and Rick: A contract made, a contract honoured.
Benny looking on saying,: What's the big deal?
Rick's  great: he's the one who brings on supper!

You  can see from this picture, how things turned out between Rick and Nico, eventually. But it was maybe a year  before Nico would  approach any other man  and then it would all fall apart if the man so much as looked at Nico, much less tried to touch him.  Now years later, for the first time  Nico  came voluntarily out of the yard, his safe place, came as if   he really wanted to meet people, and greeted them without fear.  I thought I should make note!

I'm pretty sure that  this has a lot to do with Benny, his little buddy who is now bigger than him, his follower in all things, who nonetheless leads the way when it comes to all things social. I guess it takes a long time though  for a dog to forget when someone has hurt him.  It does me no good to dwell on what kind of mistreatment  Nico must have endured to be so distrustful, especially of men. But it sure makes me happy to see him come around like he did today!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Fire Mal"

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In an interview with Nathalie Roy of Nordicight Alaskan Malamutes,  Gery Allen an American Breeder and Musher of Malamutes (Kennel Name: Nuvakachina) was asked  to describe one of his best moments on the trail. Gery answered:
pre-wrap;"> Hmmmm… moments on the trail?  I guess I would have to say that some of my best moments are seeing the sun come up after we’ve been running in the dark for an hour or two (I typically get up to train well before the sun comes up).  There’s something about seeing the light hit the dogs, especially if it comes from behind.  The dogs reflect the light and they become luminescent, almost glowing in the morning light, and I have a couple of red mals that look like they're on fire!  It only lasts for a few minutes.  But, in those few minutes when everybody is running in sync, with clouds of frost hanging about them, and the early morning sunrise is lighting them up, it just makes for a beautiful sight!  These are moments when I think to myself: My god, these are amazing animals!  Seeing them all working together as a team, as go we go down the trail on a snowy morning is like watching  poetry in motion!  It’s something that’s actually brought tears to my eyes a few times!*

Gery's description of the red Malamute as a  "dog on fire" capitvated my imagination and the rest of his answer warmed my heart. So I thought I'd share it with you here.

*Shared with Gery's permission.

Friday, April 6, 2012


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