Friday, March 12, 2010

Farewell to Princess

It is so hard to lose a beloved dog. Two days ago I had to say good bye to Princess, the last remnant of my sled dog team. I have written about her many times in previous posts, here and here and here among others. She went quickly; it was only five weeks from the moment I knew anything was wrong until she slipped away from the lethal injection.

On the morning before her death, I wrote her this letter...

March 10, 2010

Dear Princess,

What a good, good dog you have been! We have had exactly ten years together, ten really good dog years. And now you are sick, deeply sick, and I can't fix it. Inflammatory breast carcinoma, “an aggressively malignant strain” the vet said after removing the affected breast. That was two weeks ago, and already the tumor is back, filling your pelvis, putting you in pain. I will not keep you here any longer. It is time for you to cross over; the vet and his needle are waiting.

I hold you and rub your beautiful fur coat, so like a small gray wolf, stroke your head, feel your breathing, and remember all our good times together. I tell you over and over what a good dog you are.

The day you arrived on the plane in Bethel, early February of 2000, from Susan Butcher's dog yard in Fairbanks you were nine months old, shy and scared and confused. From a huge dog yard run like a professional operation with over 150 dogs, you came to my six-dog yard which consisted of chains to the trees spaced out around my house. I put you in the dog house and circle closest to the front door. Henry saw you that first day, and his words engendered your name: “you've brought royalty to the yard.” And so you became Princess (somehow “Flower” never worked for me, and I couldn't imagine why Susan had named you that).

The six village sled dogs you were joining—and would eventually be leader of—were some pretty tough five-year-olds who were all litter-mates. You were an interesting new addition to them—especially the four boys.

Your first night in the yard it was about ten degrees below zero. Blessedly, there was no wind and it was very still and quiet. You whined and howled incessantly, stopping only for a few minutes when I went out to pet and talk to you. Finally I gave up, put on my Jeff King suit and slept curled up on top of your house with my hand in the doorway to touch your head. You were quiet the rest of the night.

I put you on the sled team right away, and you always pulled hard. You were a tireless worker. When I put you in double with my main leader Lucky, he liked and accepted you. Together in lead, with Flash and Woody in swing, you made a powerful front end.

When you came in heat I sent you back to Susan Butcher for breeding to her favorite male leader, Riker. You had seven beautiful pups, most of which looked like him, black-brown-gray; but one was white with a black spot in the middle of his back and brown eyes. I named him Bingo. That was the fall of 2001 and you were two years old. You were a great mom, and the puppies all thrived. The dog yard doubled overnight.

The following year I sent you to Susan again for breeding with Riker and you had a second beautiful litter of six pups. Again, most looked like their dad, but one was white with a black spot on her head. I named her Salty. Again you took excellent care of them, and they all grew into strong sled dogs. By the end of 2002, the dog yard numbered 26.

When you were five, my own health required me to give up mushing. You and your pups went to a young musher in Bethel who ran you in the K-300, and you did well. I was at the finish line for that race in 2006 and was happy to see you looking strong at the end of it, but so very skinny! He just wasn't feeding you enough. But he ended up leaving town and you went to Henry's yard. Henry ran you in double lead for two seasons and was very pleased with your performance.

In 2007, when you were eight, Henry and I bred you one last time and you had a third litter of seven pups with one white one. This litter was the first to have one pup that looked just like you, and he turned out to be the pick of the litter as a sled dog. Henry named him Silver.

Henry wanted to focus on training young dogs, and you didn't make the age cut. So you went into sled dog retirement and came to live with Dutch and me as a beloved house dog. You made the transition well, though that first year was a little rocky as you were coming to the don't-pee-in-the-house rule a little late in life. But you got it, and when we left Bethel we replaced the carpet in the room of your indiscretions.

Your shy and gentle nature is your dominant personality trait, and is the reason you came to me in the first place. You weren't aggressive enough for Susan Butcher's professional dog team. You were exactly what I needed, the matriarch of a sled dog team who became a wonderful companion dog. You have been a sweet, loyal and loving presence in my life since the first day you came to me. You have done everything asked of you, from having puppies to running races, with enthusiasm, and done it well. I could not have asked for more from any dog.

I will let you go now, to cross over and be done with this diseased body which is holding you. I pray you will return to me in a future life and we'll have another good run together.

Farewell until we meet again, my sweet, sweet dog, and you fill the hole in my heart once more.