My father taught himself all about dogs. I’m not sure when it all started, but he was very thorough, and in Alaska he sent to the States for books–books on dog diseases, vividly illustrating how to take care of certain problems, both mundane and amazing. It got him started on the Tongas Dog Ranch, where he bred and boarded dogs, mostly German shepherds. “You start with the best,” he said, so we got Rin Tin Tin’s cousin and named him Nocturne of Tongas Forest. My father was particular about names. He couldn’t understand how any person could name their child Lisa, Tammy, Kim, Maggie, or Duchess. These were the names of our females. He didn’t have much to say about naming males. Ours were Buck, King, Star, Nocky, etc. The leaders were Nocky and Lisa, King and Duchess. In the wilderness they could make you feel important just by walking beside you. I had seen them chase bears away and form themselves into a ring.
Sometimes after two or three weeks if a missing dog did not return, my father would take his gun to who-knows-where to look for it. If they didn’t kill, bear traps could break a leg, so that even my father, who was thought to be an expert vet, couldn’t get it to work right. Sometimes he’d have to shoot them, but he’d bring the bodies home. We would know right away what had happened if we saw a bundle in the back of the pickup between rattling bear traps. If it was still alive, it’d be up front with its head on my father’s lap. Trappers setting up on our land made my father so mad he’d stop talking.
The kennel smelled like experiments and blood. When it was my turn to feed the injured ones, I’d make it real quick. They wanted to get up when they saw me because they didn’t want to be seen that way, but they couldn’t. They fell back down and looked away. It was a secret they wanted to keep with my father. I’d dump the Purina into their pans, hose them some water, and avoid their eyes.
After they healed, we could tell them apart by the sounds of their various limps at night on the linoleum floors. We could hear them moving room by room, the sound increasing as they moved closer.
If you laid your head on their bellies, you could hear planets colliding, and glaciers falling in great sheaths of ice. My father said, “Nonsense, it is only because they have seven more digestive chemicals than we have.”
Excerpted from ‘Earthquake‘
(Turtle Point Press, ISBN 978-1-933527-11-6)