75: Juneau

75: Juneau

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog


Fun fact: Whole genome sequencing indicates that domesticated dogs and gray wolves are descended from a common extinct wolf ancestor 27,000–40,000 years ago.

I first started my wonderfully fulfilling journey into the world of animal rescue eighty-seven years ago, at the age of ten. Although each creature, large or small, was precious, there was one that formed a special bond with me and will remain forever in my heart.

Born in the mountains, Juneau was the descendant of an adventurous Husky that had invaded the wild-wolf gene pool many generations before her birth. While adopting wild animals of any kind into the home as “pets” or companions is not recommended, Juneau’s small percentage of dog genes precluded any thought of abandoning her to the wild where, without wolf parents to guide and nurture her, she would soon perish. This little wolf pup needed someone to care for her, and that someone happened to be me.

When I first met Juneau, she was about four weeks old. Her coal-black fur was thick and soft, with a narrow white streak running down her chest, a trait commonly seen in black tundra wolves. Her fat little tummy caused her to waddle, as her long, thickly furred tail helped her maintain her balance. I fell in love with her at first sight, but wondered for a moment if I could give her the kind of home she deserved. What wolf traits lurked inside that sweet, innocent-looking little body? But as I cuddled her, warm and yielding in my arms, all my doubts and fears vanished. She would be raised with my other canine rescues who would welcome this little orphan as one of their own.

After wrapping her in a blanket, I bade farewell to those who cared as deeply about her future as I did, and climbing into my pickup with my precious little bundle, I headed for home.

Our first night was spent in a mountain cabin. I gave her a bottle of prepared formula after which she eagerly chewed on a small amount of ground meat. When she had finished, I lifted her onto the rough-hewn bed. She crept under the blanket, and we fell asleep together.

When we arrived home, the resident dogs crowded around the latest arrival, sniffing her all over with tails wagging as they welcomed her into the pack.

I continued to give Juneau a bottle for as long as she wanted. I also handfed her, and when she snatched morsels of meat, her sharp little teeth bloodying my hands, I wrapped the meat around a spoon. Without harming her, the hard metal taught her to take food gently and with restraint — a habit that remained with her for the rest of her life. To further enhance the bonding process, I “wore” her in a little sling around my neck, breathing into her nostrils as she breathed into mine. She traveled everywhere with me in this fashion until she grew too heavy for comfort. At six months, she could jump like a deer, and all the fences were raised to a height of ten feet. But we needn’t have worried, because Juneau had no intention of leaving home.

As she matured, there were times when she was chastised, but she was never physically punished. A stern word of reproof was all it took for the ears to flatten, the head to lower in shame, and the body to roll over in the classical pose of submission. And because she was always treated with gentleness and respect, she learned to be gentle and loving in return. She settled well into family life, and apart from her super-intelligence and obvious wolf appearance, she was just another dog. At no time during her life was she ever a threat to humans, or even to other animals.

This incredible super-intelligence never failed to amaze us. Spontaneously, she learned to point with outstretched paw at a carton of milk on the counter, or anything else she happened to fancy. She learned to open latched gates and turn knobs. She skillfully used paws and teeth to pull the blankets off me when she thought I should be up (which was usually at dawn), rushing at me with teeth bared, uttering fearsome noises. But the prancing gait and furiously wagging tail assured me that it was all a game.

I remember waking from a deep sleep one night to find Juneau standing over me, two feet on either side of my body, frantically trying to rouse me. As I slowly came to my senses, I smelled smoke. A small fire, caused by faulty wiring, had started, and the carpet was already beginning to burn. Sam, my six-year-old Wolfhound, still snoozed by my bedside, oblivious of the danger. Jenny, our Sheepdog, wandered nervously around the room, aware that something was wrong yet not knowing what to do. But Juneau knew.

For years, a nightly ritual unfolded at dusk. As the skies darkened, Juneau started to pace. Her restless wandering persisted until the door was opened, and she disappeared into the night. Through the window, her dark shape could be seen outlined on the grass, silent and still as she listened for sounds of movement among the nocturnal creatures hidden in the undergrowth. True to her Arctic heritage, deep snow and subzero weather only seemed to enhance her desire for the cold outside world. But before midnight, she was at the back door, ready to rejoin the only family she had ever known.

Now she is gone, but I remember Juneau on fall days when the mountain air is cool and crisp, and the aspens turn to brilliant canopies of red-gold. I see her flitting across meadows, joyously free, poetry in motion, but always ready to return to my side at my command. To her, I was always the alpha, the leader of the pack.

One moment remains imprinted on my memory as if it were yesterday. I was walking in the high country with Juneau and two of our other dogs. Sam was trotting ahead, while Jenny was on some special mission of her own. Juneau was exploring a wooded area a hundred yards away. I was bringing up the rear when, stepping on some loose rocks, I lost my balance and headed down a steep incline on my back. At the bottom, I lay motionless, stunned by my fall. Within moments, Juneau was at my side. As she stood protectively over me, nose scenting the air and eyes scanning for possible danger, I experienced an indescribable sense of safety. Rigid and alert, she stood guard over me until I struggled painfully to my feet. Then she was off again like the wind, happily investigating every little scent that wafted to her keen nostrils. Sam and Jenny stood at the bottom of the incline, gazing in mild surprise as they wondered what had happened. But again, Juneau knew.

Juneau died peacefully in my arms at the age of fourteen years, five months. I still miss her, squeezed between the counter and my knees as I prepare her evening meal; I still miss her warm body pressed against mine at night; I miss the music of her voice — the haunting wolf call that was her only contribution to the wild she never knew. I miss Juneau, my beautiful, gentle wolf dog more than words can tell.

~Monica Agnew-Kinnaman

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