Goodnight, Tua Bear
I’ve never lived with a dog before but when I arrived in Iqaluit there was Tua, a retired sled dog who had lived her life outside, pulled a sled across Baffin Island and mothered a litter of puppies that grew up to be the current leaders of the team. Here she was in her retirement.
There are amazing stories about her. Since Iqaluit is above the tree line, each sled dog is harnessed to the sled via a trace in a fan formation. Because there aren’t obstacles to get caught on or trees to run into, the dogs can spread out. One day Tua’s owner noticed chew marks on some of the dog’s traces, all suspiciously close to Tua’s approximate location in the formation. Further observation revealed that if she believed a dog wasn’t pulling their weight, she would bite, pull and hold their lead to get them to smarten up.
Now in her later, non-competitive years she spends half of her time indoors. She sleeps in until she hears the sound of outdoor pants being pulled on, and even then she pauses at the top of the stairs long enough to make a big, showy entrance. The young sled dog puppies annoy her. Whenever they appear it is as if she’s grumbling, “Sheesh, other people’s kids…” under her breath. Any time the puppies are inside, she growls her disdain or snaps at them, teaching them respect.
Tua has been the perfect companion for pregnancy. A mother herself, I look to her for advice as I near the end of my seventh month. Smart advice like, “Walk slow to conserve energy” and “Keep your balance.” The colder it gets, the longer it takes me to get ready. The time it takes increases with each layer I need to add, each one an obstacle between me and my ability to tie my already-distant boot laces. I often have to catch up later to the rest of the gang walking along the tundra, but never would I have to do that alone.
Tua would wait for me and we’d do it together.
If I’m the first one home from work, I let her into the house. For this I’m rewarded with an amazing greeting, a raspy howl and backwards walk that at first had alarmed me. To be honest, everything about this dog had at first alarmed me. I would often call my husband and he would point me towards the obvious: “Is the tail wagging? She’s happy.” “Is it windy and dusty out? There’s dust in her eyes.”
Tua’s many projects all involved reorganizing. She lay out all of the soft dog toys across a carpet. Or all the recycling. Or all the pasta.
She was impossible to get mad at. The house dog would hide, ashamed of his role, which we found later to be negligible. But all of Tua’s antics resulted in an “Oh, Tua!” but no discipline. She’d lived her entire life prior to this outside. When my husband visited, he emailed me a picture of Tua’s latest project with the subject line, “Some indoor dogs act like they were raised by wolves.”
One day I came home, let her in and there was no big greeting. It seemed strange, but I didn’t think much of it. Maybe she’d just a hard day outside.
But as the night went on she started to vomit and her tummy was sensitive to touch. We searched all the soft toys to see if she had eaten something she shouldn’t have. By 2 a.m. we were leaving messages for the vet. Letting her out for a 3 a.m. pee, she raced past me before I could fasten a lead to her. Her owner, not really sleeping through this night, went outside and found her hiding under the neighbour’s house. When the vet clinic opened, the two of them went together. Tua was put on pain meds and observation.
By afternoon things seemed like they might be better but by the evening, things were much, much worse. Her medication was increased but she still was obviously suffering. Fearing a bowel obstruction, we discussed exploratory surgery. Calls were made to the hospital and the fire department to locate oxygen needed for surgery. The vets were locums, short term visiting vets, who lived at the clinic, a house located in Apex. They brought out tea and scones while we discussed the surgery.
Tua was on the floor, unable to move from the pain. We sat on the floor next to her and it required all her strength to turn and face us. As the vets prepared the mobile truck where they performed surgery, her owner left to move her truck. Tua reacted dramatically and immediately. If there had been no tears so far, there were now.
I’d messaged my husband that Tua bear was having trouble. He called at a moment when she was wailing painfully and I heard his concern through the phone. He told me to be with her and help her, and quickly hung up. I stood beside my friend, Tua’s owner, who had raised this dog from a puppy, who had raced and run with her every weekend for ten years and given her the best retirement package ever, and I cried and cried. I cried because it’s hard seeing anyone suffer and because she was the perfect pregnancy companion, the first dog I got to really know and understand and she was a really, really great dog.
She didn’t make it out of surgery. Tua was gone. For the next few days I took comfort in the fact that I couldn’t have been more attentive or affectionate towards her. I cried to my husband that Junior wouldn’t get to meet her in person. He reassured me that Junior had in fact met Tua, as she had been such a large part of my pregnancy.
That night I was comforted by an image of Tua in a dream. Junior was looking red and fetal in a womb-like setting when an image of Tua appeared ever so gently nosing him/her. It felt like the two of them were crossing paths in another realm, Tua on her journey out of this world and Junior in preparation to enter. I felt settled and hopeful and lucky again that she was a giant gift of a dog to have on this journey.