At six weeks old, Kenai came to us un-weened and palm sized. She was bred locally by a couple who said she was 1/8 wolf and the rest pure malamute. Who cares, she was perfect. She had the vastness of Wyoming to run and she embraced the wild snow that blew all around her.
The first few weeks we’d hold her like an infant, feeding her from a bottle and supplementing her pension for suckling by offering a neck or an earlobe which she’d eagerly accept. All that soon-to-be power in her jaw, tenderly kissing us and forever imprinting our scent, our hierarchy in the pack that we’d become. She was forever home.
She took her place among the others, Sierra, Bumble and Monkey, the three dogs we already had. The six or seven cats that roamed in and out of the house to the barn and back were no worries either. Once, Kenai was found with Lydia (the rescued kitten we’d found under a bale of hay in the barn), hanging like a wet sock in her jowls as Kenai sauntered across the lawn with a mouth full of fur. Could she have really eaten this helpless little critter? Instead, she was simply acting as transport, moving her as needed like a sky caddy for kittens to a softer place on the lawn to play.
That would change one day, unfortunately. Kenai had indeed developed a pension for killing cats and chasing anything that appeared to invade her space, but only when not properly introduced to anyone new. She was gentle with children and people in general, but the wolf in her did manifest twice too many times. She did what wolves and dogs with her breeding do, and as her owner I failed her those times.
Once we hiked about 12 miles into the Winds, the mountains that surround Pinedale to the North. We took a wrong turn, boulder hopping for 14 hours until both of us were dead tired and forced to camp in Grizzly country, with their fresh scat all about.
The Search and Rescue crew were alerted only because I’d called a friend and told them I’d not be coming out until Kenai was able to walk. She was simply spent. Her paws bloodied by sharp granite and thistle. My back blown from lifting her 90 pounds up over the five foot boulders and bewitching dead-fall.
The next morning, I gave her my two socks for her front paws and we walked out together. The rescue team had indeed been dispatched but we beat them home before they’d hit the trailhead.
In later years, Kenai became more sedentary as I’d moved from the mountains and was forced to keep her fenced in a dreary neighborhood with a myriad of other barking dogs–who’s owners chained them to swing sets for days on end, leaving five gallon buckets of water for a week’s worth of watering, only to have the water be tipped within hours of their parent’s departure.
In the end, I came home four years ago to find her on the living room floor, gone. Sierra lay next to her friend, quizzical and sad-eyed. I cried with Sierra, and a friend helped me place my beloved Kenai in the back of the Landcruiser.
That was the beginning of my empty nest. Sierra would pass a few months later. 2008 marked the loss of both my dogs, my mother and grandmother and my ex-wife.
In addition, my job shat on me, my fiance’ left me and my house caught fire in-between two basement floods. It was as if the universe was shouting at me that my time in Browntown had expired and I’d either have to suffer in that dreary place alone or find a plumber/priest who could exercise some demons. For fear of having locust join the party, I decided finally to move on with only three house plants–the last of my living companions.
Now that I’m back in my alpine climate, with a beautifully remodeled home and snow just outside the city limits, creeping around my perifery–an icy blanket unfolding all around me–I think of Kenai and what a perfect fit she was in this country; and what a perfect partner to wake to as she kept the fort safe and warm–and full of wild love.