Thursday, January 24, 2019

Hazel's Story, Part 2: the Making of a Sled Dog

Nervously, she eyes me as I slip the harness over her head like slipping a t-shirt on a child: first her furry head and then each arm through the arm holes, one at a time. This is all new for her. She watches intently as I slip each of the other dogs into their respective harnesses. At two years of age last month, she is a late bloomer to this blossoming sled dog game. Most have their first experience running in a team at 9 months to a year, but Hazel had some unusual obstacles to overcome.

Last summer, at only 18 months of age, she was shot with a .38 caliber handgun while frolicking on our property by an angry neighbor with a heart full of evil hellbent on causing suffering. If you would like to read more about that terrible incident, please click here. The single bullet grazed Hazel's heart, pierced the lower lobe of her right lung, punctured her diaphragm and lodged inside her stomach; amazingly, after she was shot, she ran to the backdoor and jumped into her safe place: her crate. I rushed her to the emergency veterinary hospital almost an hour away, terrified she would die on the way.

Bewildered, but strong, Hazel stood in the stall at the vet's office awaiting surgery
Finally on much-needed pain medication, Hazel began to rest before surgery
It took $8000 and a small army of wonderful people to save Hazel's life, but within a week, she was home recovering. And her recovery was nothing short of a miracle.

The single but fairly large bullet that almost killed Hazel
I created a GoFundMe page to raise money to save Hazel's life, and within a week, we raised $4,850. To date, that page has been shared 752 times on Facebook and viewed 7,258 times. Her story went viral on Twitter, and before I knew it, total strangers - some as far away as China - had donated. Some attached photos of their dogs with their donations and words of encouragement. In a matter of days, I lost faith in humanity and rediscovered it more than ever. In that week, I witnessed what spitefulness and evil looks like as well as absolute unconditional generosity and love. It changed me.

During the surgery, I learned the veterinary team had to remove the lower portion of her right lung completely because of so much damage and hemorrhaging. I was just happy to have Hazel alive, and my strong, brave girl walked out of the vet hospital the day after surgery.

But in the back of my mind, I wondered: would she ever fulfill her birthright and become a sled dog? I asked the vet, and she gave the green light for Hazel to try her hand (or paw) at being a sled dog.

We came home and Wally, the kitten who'd been stuck over 50 feet high in the giant black walnut tree in my front yard for five days who I'd rescued only a couple months before, seemed to know Hazel was hurt. The two survivors developed a very special bond and became inseparable.

Hazel with her faithful partner, Wally, ever by her side during recovery

Wally even cleaned Hazel, licking her face while she lounged semi-conscious on fentanyl patches and other sedating pain killers.

And slowly, with lots of love from Wally and her human family, Hazel returned to her happy self. She walked out into the dog yard again and seemed content.

This past Tuesday, five months since Hazel fought for her life, I decided to put her in harness for the first time.

A question I am often asked about sled dogs is how they learn to pull a sled? In my experience, they don't "learn"; they just know instinctively from deep in their veins. Pulling is bred into their blood, and the drive to run, to pull is as innate as any living being's drive to survive.

It's what they do.

What's more, it's what they live to do.

As I led Hazel across the snow to the line of dogs, I honestly was not sure how she would do. I knew I wouldn't push her, and was prepared with extra tug and neck lines to bag her in my sled if needed. But before I could say "hike," she was screaming in harness to go along with her team mates. I called the team up, and immediately, effortlessly, she fell into a lope. She didn't falter, or hesitate. She blossomed. Here she is in left wheel position.

In fact, when I stopped to give her a rest, she screamed louder than any other dog on the team to go!

By the end of our short three mile or so run, Hazel had transformed. She now was not only a fearless survivor, she was a fierce and strong sled dog - her almond eyes showing a newfound fire and determination.

Hazel has taught me about grit. She has shown me what unwavering loyalty and tenacity looks like. She is gentle, silly, athletic and smart. If I could be half of what my dog Hazel is, I would be content. 

Where would I be without these two? 

They may be an unlikely pairing, this Hazelnut and Walnut, but they are best friends and the light in my days. 

To every single person who helped save Hazel's precious life, whether your donation was a little or a lot...THANK YOU! From the receptionist who checked us into the Metropolitan Veterinary Hospital, to the vet team, Dr. Pierce, Dr. Fox, and all the techs and staff, and to my mother, I want to say thank you...THANK YOU!