I wasn't ready for you but I wasn't ready to be productive with my day either. I wasn't sure what you'd be like but I skipped errands and drove to the Humane Society to find out. The brisk September air was crisp as I paced outside the main building, anxious for them to hurry up and open their doors for the day. There were already a few people waiting but I doubted I would have any competition for you. A couple stood near me as I fidgeted and wandered back and forth in front of the door.
"Which dog are you waiting for?" the middle-aged husband asked after an awkward silence, his very pregnant wife at his side.
"Oh, uh.... the husky," I replied.
"Us, too, " the wife replied brightly.
Pffft. Not if I can help it. I glanced uneasily at the other people, certain they must be here to see you, too.
The instant the volunteer opened the doors, I strode past her and beelined it straight across the expansive lobby to the front desk. I slammed my ID down. "I'm here for the husky! uh.. the young one!" I said breathlessly.
Startled, the young girl handed me a leash and told me that as long as I held your leash, I had first dibs. As I was heading toward your kennel, I passed the couple as they finally reached the desk. The door to the kennel area was closing just as I heard the volunteer say, "Oh, she already has his leash, you'll have to wait until she's done." Yeah, right.
You were bigger than I thought you'd be. You were listed as 6 months old but I have a sneaking suspicion you were a few months older. Your eyes sold me as you reached your oversized paws up on the plexiglass to get a better look at me. Once out of the kennel, your tail whipped around excitedly but you never once jumped up on me.
As we walked out of the waiting area, you didn't bark at any of the lobby dogs or people, you were just eager to sniff the scent trails zigzagging toward the door. In the outdoor play areas, I tried to get you to chase me, which you did. For a few moments. Then you began exploring your new space, sniffing the previous pups who had passed through before you, catching whiffs of the other dogs in the play pens next to yours.
When you finally caught sight of the other dogs through the chainlink fence, you quietly sat and just observed them with a tilted head. I could see your intelligence in the way you interacted with the world around you. Relaxed, easy going, and curious as hell, I fell in love with you that afternoon and I've been in love with you ever since.
You were named after a peak in the greatest mountain range on earth. Though, you were not named for its most famous and greatest peak. But I knew you would find joy in the same wild places I did. I knew you would be just as eager to explore and learn. I didn't know you would be my mischievous childhood karma come back to haunt me.
I loved you the first night we brought you home, as I slept on the floor next to your crate, the one you kept stealthily opening and sneaking out of in the middle of the night. We locked you in with climbing carabiners, my heart bleeding with every pathetic whimper. I loved you every day of the first couple weeks, as we learned how to live as a family. You were so sick during our first few months together. Your nose was painfully dry and you would often sneeze, leaving long dark green streaks on the walls. You puked often. You smelled terrible. You got giardia. Giardia, Mak. You would sneak off to pee in the hall. I learned you loved eating anything and everything your curious self could reach. I also learned you could reach pretty much anywhere that wasn't behind a closed door. You were on a first name basis with the vet and then developed the nickname "Garlic Dog" after a particularly curious day of scouting the counters resulted in a trip to the vet and a very nauseous you. Though, your crowning achievement was months later when you devoured 24 dark chocolate cocoa KIND bars. What a long, exhausting 36 hours that was for both of us. Punk.
One day, in January, I noticed your pupil was a little clouded. The next day, the vet confirmed you had juvenile cataracts. I watched you change over the next couple weeks as you lost your vision. You didn't wander as far ahead during our winter runs. You clung to my side more often. You hesitated before you stepped of the porch to pee before bed. White dogs at the dog park were always sneaking up on you before the snow began to melt.
I couldn't sleep at night as I wondered if I would ever come up with the money in time to help you. 30 days. 30 days to raise $4500. Would your vision return after the surgery? Would there be tragic complications? The vet couldn't guarantee anything.
The morning of your surgery, I watched you sleep. I was up all night, worrying. But you slept as comfortably as ever. You had no idea what would happen to you that day. After I dropped you off, I sobbed as I drove up the winding road to my favourite canyon. The one you're not allowed in. I let the rain fall on my tear-soaked cheeks but it couldn't wash away the worry. Then they called.
You were awake sooner than they expected after anesthesia, running around the clinic and causing a scene. They wanted me to pick you up quickly. I knew then that you would be okay.
You grew more confident as you healed, you often disappeared on our hikes, chasing after birds and deer. Now, I have to keep you on a leash or you'll take off after the softest footfall of a rabbit.
I've never told you this but you saved my life this past winter. I never told you I wanted to quit, to lay in bed until I was cold and as still as the frosty morning outside. Every morning, as I lay thinking of how easy it would be to just...stop, you would crawl into bed with me. You would curl up next to me and sigh loudly, your gentle reminder that it was time for me to get up and get moving.
I listened to you every morning until the fog I lived in finally cleared. Spring time was for romping in the fresh morning air on the trails. We watched as the flowers bloomed, the trees adorned with lush green crowns. You chased butterflies on the trails. We went camping in the woods nearby, we visited the desert where you hauled your first load of wood back to our campsite. For weeks after, you were stained pink from the rusty desert sands.
Summer came and with it, more time at work for me, more time apart from you. We spent our free time in the mountains, often putting in late night summit bids. Both of us crashing shortly after sunrise. I lived for those quiet moments with you, both of us exhausted with the effort of climbing a couple thousand feet in the hours before. We would watch the world wake up with the sunrise, pinky gold spilling across the alpine valleys below our camp. You have a sleepy smell, did you know that? And those mornings, there was nothing that could fill my heart more than witnessing the birth of a fresh new day, curled up next to you and your sleepy smell.
You hung in there during my biggest project, summiting four 14,000 foot peaks in less than 24 hours. I'm sure your paws were tender; every time we stopped, you were eager to get off them. But ever faithful, you stayed by my side as we climbed and descended over and over again. You caught naps on each summit. I was loathe to wake you and start up again but you never cried and you never quit. On the way home, you slept the entire ten hours; I was so envious.
Summer also saw you swimming, the trust we built over the past ten months culminating in a brave and bold leap off the dock into the icy lake and my outstretched arms. Your panicked claws leaving raw, red marks on my arms and legs but we both made it back to the shore alive. Now look at you, swimming after tennis balls and ducks at the dog park pond and leaping off paddleboards at the lake. You little water pup.
The leaves turned crimson and gold as autumn suddenly descended on our town. My hours at work have been dwindling, we have had more time together again these past few weeks. Late mornings in bed, long boarding around the neighborhood, and the excitement of coming home to see you, both of us bouncing with happy greetings after a long day apart. I've been thinking a lot about our first year together. All the times I pulled you close, all the times I was tempted to throw you off a peak somewhere for purposely ignoring my commands. Countless grocery casualties, several trips to the vet, even stitches for me after a particularly boisterous rough housing. All the new tricks you've learned, all the manners you've acquired. In the past year, I've watched you grow into your lanky, scrawny frame as we found a food you could actually digest. I've watched the transformation from rebellious hellion to a sweet but strong-willed gentleman. You've learned to cuddle in the mornings instead of hunting hidden feet and biting any limb you could find. You still don't jump on me, which I appreciate.
I loved you the day I brought you home. I've loved you through every shredded book, trail of coffee grounds, and bowl of missing produce. I've loved you through every expensive vet visit, every prescription, every lengthy battle to put in eyedrops. I've loved you on my darkest days, when I couldn't feel anything at all. I've loved you to the top of every mountain we've climbed together, to the depths of every alpine lake we've dipped in, to the ends of every valley we've stopped to smell the wildflowers. I will love you when your stiff joints mean shorter hikes. I will love you when you can no longer hear me call your name. I will love you when you're too old to jump on my bed in the mornings. I will love you when I have to carry you to the vet for the very last time. I will love you forever. Always.
Happy Famiversary, Makalu.