Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Foxy: A Tribute. 12/28/96 - 8/30/12

Writing about grief is difficult for me. To be honest, I get squirrelly. I learned how to compartmentalize uncomfortable feelings well from working in hospitals for years. It's not necessarily a skill I am proud of, but one of self-preservation - a necessary evil when working around the tragedy of the human experience.

But this is not a tragedy. This is a heroic tale of an amazing canine athlete, one exalted to magnificent heights; indeed, Foxy lived a full and amazing life. I had to take some time away from this subject in order to write a proper tribute. In the quiet of a rainy post-holiday, it seemed the perfect time to slip away and lose myself in reflections of Foxy.

She would have been 17 on December 28. Seventeen in dog years is...119 years old. She was born on what I'm told was one of the coldest nights ever in Eagle, Alaska: December 28, 1996.

There are many stories from many people about Foxy and how she touched their lives, but I will start with my own.

I first met Foxy in September of 2006.

She was the first sled dog I bought. Her dense, woolly coat was unlike anything I'd ever seen on a dog; it seemed to almost glisten with an oily sheen that protected her skin and kept her dry and warm. Her huge paws had long tufts of hair growing out from between the pads to protect her feet; the same tufts grew out of each ear. Everything about Foxy made her perfectly equipped for the tundra of Alaska.

She had been transported from her home in Eagle, Alaska by one of the few other mid-distance mushers in Ohio, Tom Roig.When I brought her home after buying her from Tom, I spoiled her in ways she'd never been. She adjusted quickly to life inside, however. ...

I had hoped to use Foxy for at least one season, but when I got her, she was already nine years old, and pretty much done with being a sled dog. And really, she had earned the right to relax on the sofa. After all, she had run 950 miles of the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest sled dog race in single lead for Wayne Hall in 2002, and had literally run thousands of miles in her lifetime to that point.

She was in a book. She was in a movie. And she became the educational ambassador for my dog sled presentations; as such, she touched the lives of so many. Here are some photos from the many dog sledding talks we've done over the years:

Foxy learned quickly how to "work the crowd" in our talks. She walked up and down the aisles during our talks, stopping to visit each member of the audience for a pat on her fuzzy head. She taught Miles, my current education dog, how to work a crowd too.

Miles at only four months of age during one of my dog sledding presentations

A couple years ago, Foxy developed painful arthritis and retired fully from everything, spending her days sleeping peacefully here at the Ranch and wandering our seven acres.

This spring at the Ranch. A week old hen watches as Foxy walks by

Over the last week of her life, she woke me up crying out in the night - something Foxy never did. Her body was finally failing her after almost 17 amazing years. Her body may have been elderly, but her heart was still strong and refused to give up. Finally, I had to make the painful decision to ease her into the final stage of life.

Mushers have such a special, unique relationship with their canine friends and team mates. We spend so much time with them, are responsible for their happiness, health, and often witness as they take their first breath. But, we also have a responsibility, I think, to be with them when they take their last. I am honored to say I was right beside Foxy when she took her last.

Foxy lived a very full life. She touched the lives of so many, first with her athletic prowess and sharp mind, and later in life, with her gentle demeanor and patience with all people. I am honored to have had nearly seven years with Foxy, and to know well her life story. I am honored to have worked beside her both when she was in harness and in the classroom. She brought such joy and light to everyone she met.

My eight-year-old-daughter, Elise, bravely came with me to the vet on the final day of Foxy's life. As I knelt beside Foxy crying in the sterile office, Elise said, "don't worry, mommy. I've said a prayer for Foxy."

"What was your prayer?" I asked through my tears.

"I asked God to take away Foxy's pain, and take her spirit up to Heaven where she can run in the snow like in Alaska, forever and ever like a puppy again."

Here's to Foxy, with mush love.