People often ask us why we don’t own a dog. Life here in the wilds seems a perfect place to share with a canine friend. My reply has always been, “Dogs are like kids, and I already have kids.”
Recently, we were given the opportunity to babysit a friend’s dog for a few weeks. Keta is a gorgeous Siberian husky. She has a good life in the city; a big yard, her own insulated house, the finest foods, lots of treats and very loving owners. They take her out for long walks everyday. They let us borrow her while they travel.
The first time we brought her home, we attached her long cable to a rope that went around a big tree in the yard. Keta quickly found the rope and severed it. But her cable got caught in another tree, so she didn't go far.
To reduce the obstacles she could get caught in, I screwed a fat eye-bolt to the house and clipped her cable there. The length of the cable stopped short of the nearest tree. I made a big pile of snow to shelter her from the wind, which also served as a height of land for her to reign supreme over all she could see. She often slept there, melting a hole in the snow in a perfect circle.
We’ve done a ton of snowshoeing this winter, and it was a treat for us to take Keta along. It was a treat for her, too. She raced ahead, only to come tearing back and race the other way. She somehow managed to make her own trails in the deep snow. Such a beautiful sight, to see her bounding across the woodland meadows.
I worried sometimes while we walked. She would disappear for long periods, 10 minutes, 15. I’d whistle, I’d call, I’d promise treats. She always came back. Eventually.
Sometimes I would wait where the trails intersected, just to be sure she knew which way I headed.
Once I took a side trail, walked 20 metrrs into the forest and hid where I could still see the main trail, but she could not see me. Sure enough, five minutes later she came tearing back and ran right past the side trail. She abruptly stopped, lifted her head, then came right to me expecting her treat.
I worried a little less.
She came to know our forest trails as well as we do. Most go through wetland valleys, some along the ridge tops. On one long hike with friends, Keta vanished for awhile. There was no evidence of her having gone ahead. I was fairly confident that she would catch up and expected to see her racing up behind us at any time.
We were a hundred metres into a kilometre-long wetland with a rather high cliff to the east. Another trail runs along the ridge, parallel to the wetland.
Sure enough, Keta found her way to the other trail and looked down at us. A moment later, she slid a few metres though the deep snow at the top, bounced down to a narrow ledge, then through more snow to a rock outcrop and then down into the deep snow at the bottom of the cliff.
Life with dog? Maybe. But sometimes, it's life with mountain goat.
Viki Mather has been commenting for Northern Life on the natural world and life in Greater Sudbury since the spring of 1984.