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It Ain’t Easy
by Mark Hamilton
To date we’re having trouble with the concept of “living with our last group of dogs” and it’s not just because we find it mentally unsettling.
In part it’s because we now find ourselves in the old “Milk and Cookies” puzzle. Eat your cookies too fast and you’re left with just a glass of milk. Concentrate too much on the milk and there will be nothing left to wash out your mouth after the last of the cookies. There needs to be a last swallow of milk available after the last bite of cookie.
There is also a problem involving the ongoing relationships we have with our dogs. We’re with them over the course of much of the day: feeding, cleaning up, moving groups between their runs and the exercise pen as well as during evening social time in the fenced in back yard. During these times we find ourselves reflecting more and more on our dwindling numbers of dogs and the approaching day when there will no longer be any dogs.
The first problem, the milk and cookies thing, to some degree is a management problem. Our solution lies in viewing this as our last group of dogs, not as a group of dogs made-up of specific animals. This approach allows us to fill the needs of a dog that may suddenly not have a suitable kennel-mate. We don’t try to do the impossible (find a duplicate/replacement for dog Y); we go looking for an age-appropriate, gender-appropriate, temperament-appropriate animal to live with dog X.
The second problem, our ongoing relationship with the dogs, is as yet unresolved and I have no idea how that will shake out. Great boss dogs we’ve been lucky enough to have here are an excellent illustration of the relationships I’m talking about. A good boss dog understands the importance of his relationship with the people he lives with. His attentiveness to you is quite exaggerated as compared to other dogs. He works at maintaining that relationship with you on an ongoing basis and that takes primacy for him. It’s difficult for us to resign ourselves to loosing that involvement with the dogs.
I fear the problem of the “ongoing relationship” and its unresolved status is also due, at least in part, to involvement with a number of related issues. Those issues range from our enjoyment of working with the dogs to the connection they provide for us to people, places and experiences in the arctic. And I don’t know that there is or can be resolution for that.
It all feels like we’re giving up something we enjoy and it’s not in exchange for something else. That doesn’t sound like a good deal. Moreover, a while back we were discussing our plans with a wise long time mentor, soon to celebrate his 97th birthday. He had a quizzical expression on his face and when we asked him about it he expressed his surprise at our plan, stating he thought the change was coming too soon.
Frankly, I don’t know what to make of all this. We’re now second-guessing ourselves. Is it normal foreboding over the coming change, cold feet/fear of the unknown or just too much like giving up one of our limbs? Some days, like today, it just feels like a bridge-to-far. Time will tell. I have no idea where this is going.
In memory of Mr. Jet Li, our final dog after our previous final dog, and the
penultimate dog to our most recent "final" dog. photo: Hamilton