From Husky to House Dog

She was born with gifted intelligence not so much in a bookworm way, but more of a Hannibal Lecter way: she can peer into my soul and know she’s got me cornered. It’s helping shape me as her dad.
Her name is Mustang Sally and by definition she’s an Alaskan husky, a working dog. Through centuries of DNA, she was designed by nature to pull. It’s an attribute not always conducive to transforming a husky into a house dog. But her work includes a side gig. It’s to work me over, especially my nerves.
Sally was the runt of her liter, as if her mother had just enough cookie dough to squeeze out one more small one. Like all Alaskan huskies, she’s not a purebred. However, she is of Iditarod royalty and heiress to that gene pool. Her great-grandfather was an Iditarod champion on the winning team in 2011. That might sound like lineage bragging rights, but it’s too much horsepower just for pulling a kick sled and walking on a leash.
Her cunning operates in a multitude of ways. My wife and I have tried training her through positive reinforcement. We give her small treats when she responds admirably to our instruction, such as urinating outdoors. When she’s off kilter, we use those treats to redirect her from whatever is leading her astray like a pair of moccasins begging to be snitched. However, she’s quickly discerned ways to increase her profit margin. For instance, peeing several short spurts garners more snacks than long, extended ones. She’ll also knowingly misbehave, then sit beside me as if to say, “After those monkeyshines, I guess I’ll need some more of that positive reinforcement.”
Her physical toughness became apparent the first time she counter-surfed for food and swiped a jalapeno pepper. Far from concerned, I welcomed this educational opportunity. The pepper was my accomplice in the classroom; it would do the teaching. Sally strutted from the kitchen with her jalapeno treasure. But when she returned smacking her lips looking for more, I realized there was no defense against this rapid-fire gremlin.
With a mouth like a musky, her puppy teeth have penetrated the sturdiest Carhartt clothing. But her preference is to nip unprotected soft spots on arms and legs. She and I also had a collision that she won. Her forty-five pounds and small frame at full throttle took me out at the knees and flipped me ankles over armpits. She trotted away unscathed. I had broken ribs, a cracked wrist and a lump the size of a golf ball protruding from my skull.
Disciplinary tussles are fruitless and light skirmishes escalate into brawls. To her, that’s playtime. If she was a farm dog, she’d be one to chase down vehicles driving by. She’ll scold anything that’s out of place even if it’s inanimate: water buckets, waste baskets and brooms. She bites at water from the garden hose and once managed to wrangle the hose from my hand. The hose handle bounced on the ground, fired a stream and drenched my shorts. There’s no looking dignified in the neighborhood under those circumstances. Unfortunately, neighbors are part of the problem; they think she’s adorable. Try living with it folks. I’ll say this much, I’m realizing it takes a neighborhood to raise a husky. We now have a waiting list for those who want to take her skijoring.
Making light of her hijinks humors me through my feeble quest for compromise. But I’ve also begun noticing her root-beer brown eyes. Sometimes they’re disguised in her black fur or she’s too occupied for a sideways glance. Lately though, I’ve detected expression when we look each other in the eyes and I think it’s helped settle some of the dust between us. Maybe I’m not an incapable dad.
When I’ve gone to Major League Baseball games, I can’t help but observe parents and their children. I see those kids wearing shiny batting helmets, gulping hotdogs and dripping ice cream. I consider what led up to that and what makes the moment special for them all. But I’m also aware of the cost for goodies and souvenirs at major league venues. I think about parents who can’t afford to take their kids to those events. I wonder how they overcome heartbreak, then respond when their child asks to go.
Mustang Sally is nearly two-years-old and I hope my story with her is long from over. She and I walked to her kennel the other day and I disconnected her leash once we were inside. Then, as is our custom, I stepped out, closed the gate and she sat waiting for me to pull a treat from what she figures is my Magic Pocket. But as I did, I fumbled its transfer to her mouth and the treat fell in the snow. I dug around but couldn’t find it again. It was the last one I had.
She stared at the place where it disappeared, then looked back at my pocket. Her eyes told me to keep trying and maybe I can take her to a Major League ballgame someday.


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To help us prevent spam, please prove you're human by typing the words you see here.