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Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 11:19 am | Partly Cloudy 54º


Bill Macfadyen: Farewell to a Friend

The heartache of death is eased by a dog’s life of love

Even a malamute needs some down time: Meeka at rest in one of her favorite spots. (Colin Macfadyen photo)
Even a malamute needs some down time: Meeka at rest in one of her favorite spots. (Colin Macfadyen photo)

We gave her a loving home. She gave us everything she had — every day for more than 14 years. It was the best of bargains.

Meeka was a rescue project, a pet store purchase whose owner turned her in to our kennel after she discovered Alaskan malamute puppies quickly grow into their enormous paws.

The kennel owner, Mary Sorosky, called my wife, who reluctantly went down to the Animal Inn to see her for herself. One look at the grinning girl with a big red bow and a tail wagging wildly was all it took. Our family had just expanded by four feet.

We already had one malamute, Sackett, a 7-year-old male whose regal bearing was the result of a purebred lineage from champion stock. Meeka could never quite measure up. Despite paperwork that vouched for her breeding, her appearance was clearly “puppy mill.”

While Sackett fairly pranced when he walked, Meeka was a bit of a trundler. But the most telling difference was in their coats. Sackett could roll in mud and his fur would still be pristine when he stood up. Poor Meeka could gaze at dirt from a window and she’d already be filthy.

But whereas Sackett could sometimes be proud to the point of standoffish among strangers, Meeka never put on airs. Firmly convinced God had put her on this Earth for the sole purpose of being petted, she was determined to never deny anyone the opportunity.

A clown at heart, she would do anything for attention. Her two favorite ploys were a simple nose poke to let you know she was waiting and a paw sweep at your arm if you happened to stop stroking her before she thought you should.

Meeka did have at least one malamute trait — the uncanny ability to open gates and escape. As a result of her getting out to meet people, everyone who knew her considered her a friend.

Neighbors, postal carriers, the UPS and FedEx guys, gardeners, Montecito Water District crews all knew her by name. A well-known actor gave her a ride home one day in his brand-new 7-series BMW.

For the longest time, she was a fixture at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, where she would arrive at recess to play tag and bum treats.

Meeka and my daughter, Kirsten, were inseparable in their younger years, and she would never tire of attending tea parties or playing dress up. She slept by Kirsten’s bed, bowed her head during prayers and often got Kirsten up in the morning. A cold nose and strategically placed dog breath work every time.

After Sackett died in 2000, however, something changed in Meeka. Maybe she was lonely or in mourning, but more likely she could sense the pain I felt at losing my faithful companion of nearly 15 years.

At any rate, she became my dog. She followed me everywhere, slept at my side of the bed, waited expectantly at the gate for my return.

My family might nod when I came home, but Meeka always acted as if it were the first time. She would leap to her feet and run circles around me, then attach herself to my side until it was time for me to leave again. Sackett never had such devotion.

Alaskan malamutes usually don’t live to ripe old ages so our family was blessed to have two that made it deep into their 14th years.

Meeka’s health deteriorated rapidly over the last year as her kidneys and hips began to fail. Thanks to the care of my friend, Dr. Jim Strogoff, and his staff at ABC Veterinary Hospital, we were able to get an extra three precious months with this most special of pets.

It wasn’t terribly dignified, what with diapers and twice-daily intravenous injections, but I wouldn’t have traded that time with Meeka for anything in the world. She faced her ordeal with grace and courage, never once letting on that she might be in pain.

And she never stopped grinning, right up to the end, this afternoon when she died in my arms.

Many, many times over these last 14 years I’ve thought about the nameless young woman who picked Meeka out at that pet store. I’ve wondered whether she ever thought about her, if she regretted her decision to give her away, if she’d be as amazed at her personality and her capacity to love as our family has been.

While I’ll never know the answers to those questions, I do know what I would say if we ever were to meet: Thank you.

— Malamute devotee and Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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