Kenai sleeps in the back yard with her head on her front paws and her back legs lying useless under her. She is more than 16 years old, and her face, which once had the expression of a mischievous racoon, is now gray. Every few hours she barks her distress. She’s not in constant pain, but she can’t move without someone lifting and carrying her back end. I think it may be time for the long last ride.
She came to us as a puppy, the whelp of a malamute mother and a golden retriever father, the most adventurous of a litter of eight puppies, seven of whom, I believe, ended up in the pound as too much dog for suburban owners to handle.
And Kenai was a lot to handle. When she reached her full size of 105 pounds, she was as strong as a horse, and she considered herself the Alpha Female of every walk she took. She never met a human she didn’t like, and after she passed puppyhood, she never met a dog that didn’t annoy her into a fury. The feeling was mutual. When we took her for neighborhood walks, toy poodles would come racing out of their garages, cross the street and attack her. I told an owner once that its dog ought to pick on someone its own size.
When I took her walking on leash, in those days before head collars, she would pull me up hills by just tugging against her choke collar. The choke collar never really got her attention, no matter how hard I jerked in the way that was instructed back then, because it was cushioned against that thick mat of her fur.
When Kenai was a young dog, we also had a Weimaraner named Coho (a Chinook word for “silver”; she came to us with that name). One day, my husband was out working in the yard, and when he came inside, he found that he had left the television on. The dogs were sitting side by side in front of it, their ears perked, and their heads tilted in curiosity.
That’s funny, he thought. They don’t usually watch TV. So he watched a little bit to see what the interest was. It was a fishing show, and the topic was fishing for coho salmon in the Kenai River.
When Kenai was young, we owned a half-acre of land in a wooded suburban neighborhood, where we saw opossums, raccoons and once even a bobcat. One spring was a boom year for opossoms, and Kenai killed several over a couple of weeks. It’s not a big deal; there are a lot of them, and opossoms are not a native species here. I would find the remains and bury them, and go on about my activities. The problem was that in celebration, or maybe going after somekind of olfactory camouflage, Kenai would frequently roll in possum squat.
One night I came home late from choir practice or something, and Kenai came running up to greet me. I reached down to scratch her neck, and ewww. I was too tired to give her a bath that night, so I left her outside. Five minutes after I went to bed, I heard her in the back yard giving the insistent bark! bark! bark! bark! that was her hunting cry. We were in a wooded suburb, but not so far out in the country that it didn’t matter if a dog barked and barked and barked late at night. I rose grumbling and then heard the chainlink fence rattle and a scuffle that told me I was too late to rescue that one.
I dressed hastily and took a flashlight outside with me, aiming to find the dead possum and bury it. I called Kenai and heard a movement. I trained the flashlight on her, and she ran through the yard, spotlighted like a movie star, shaking the possum like a rag toy and calling me with her eyes to come out and play.
And now she lies in the back yard, literally on her last legs, in the same place where she used to lie and smile at the wind ruffling her fur.