Friday January 18, 2013

Telly Halkias

Somewhere in the back yard, there’s a blue water dish earmarked for Miranda, my oldest Siberian husky. The day after Christmas, a snowstorm came through and buried it in a white shroud.

That morning, while the world rose from a gift-filled slumber, Miranda, just shy of her 15th birthday, woke up for the last time.

Going peacefully is a dog owner’s dream, but it’s never simple. Five years ago I struggled with putting down my first husky, Katy, when she faltered at 16. After deciding to euthanize her, she died overnight and spared me an experience I have yet the intestinal fortitude to endure.

My friends are on both sides of the debate. Half of them claim "quality of life" and "needless suffering." They’ll end a pet’s days without hesitation, albeit with heartbreak. The others can’t stomach the thought, coddling and carrying around their furry companions long past total immobility.

I never got to the point where I had to carry Miranda endlessly, but during the past few months, in winter’s morning chill, I’d cradle her from the enclosed porch across the deck and out to the grass. There, she could mount some traction on her stiff back legs.

At night, I reversed the process to get Miranda back inside, since to her the deck seemed more like a skating rink than somewhere to bask in the sun.

In between, Miranda spent days scouting the yard, plopping into the sit position every few minutes, pulling herself up to walk some more, then eventually curling into sleep. It wasn’t the noblest pursuit for such a proud, athletic breed. Yet I took heart that an erstwhile runner and hiker was outside moving, eating voraciously, and still wanting her ears stroked.

Miranda was the second of our five female huskies - the sable-furred alpha dog since Katy’s exit. She hailed from Oregon’s Galena Creek Ranch, a top kennel of West Coast Siberians, and came to us when we lived near Kansas City.

Miranda grew to be the pack’s official hostess, sucking up to everyone in a manner that sometimes was at odds with her breed’s notorious independent streak.

In recent years, Miranda’s last hurrahs turned out to be in Maine: a three-hour romp in the surf at Popham Beach, and a four-hour hike from Portland to the Fore River Sanctuary and back. Those zeniths seemed to sap the vestiges of her youth for good.

On the last morning of Miranda’s life, she showed no desire to go to the snow-filled yard, and turned away from her water - a sign to finally call the vet and schedule that dreadful, terminal drive.

I sat with Miranda for a while and massaged her ears as she drifted back to sleep, then went to wash an extra dog bed to give her a bit more comfort.

But when I came back out to the porch with the bedding fresh from the dryer, Miranda lay motionless, her blue eyes alert and seeking me - confident of my return - as they had so many times before.

I rested Miranda’s head in my lap and closed her eyelids. Then I shut my own eyes, themselves flooding with tears, to remember the moment that defined her best.

It was in Kansas, and she was barely two years old. One of our gates had come open, and out went the three escape artists, freedom flowing through their veins like grand opera.

I alerted my family to commence a roundup while Katy, 6, and Sophie, 1, taunted us from an adjacent hillside as only Siberians can. But sprinting out to them, I heard whining behind me.

There on the house’s front stoop was Miranda, trying so hard not to join her miscreant sisters. She pawed at the door to be let in, back to the sanity of human warmth. Miranda was always our homing pigeon, never flying far, and always the first to return.

When I opened my eyes, I saw falling snow through the blur. Miranda’s blue dish was fading; I was glad not to retrieve it.

With the recent warmer days, however, the dish resurfaced. I thought about picking it up. But like an answer to my prayers, it’s now entombed by snow. 

This spring, I’ll take it from the yard, and none of our huskies will drink from it again. When that happens, my mourning will end, and I’ll celebrate Miranda’s good, long life.

I’ll also see the glance from her Greek-sky eyes, still looking for me with her last breath, knowing somehow I’d get her back home.

Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist. You may e-mail him at: tchalkias@aol.com