Bounding amidst his nine siblings his gangly gate endeared me and I knew instantly he was mine. He ran between my son and I begging for recognition. As the others tumbled over each other continuing their play he ignored them instead he demanded our attention as he gamboled past.
I remember that day when I finally decided another dog just had to grace my life again. There were actually two black mixed puppies that clambered towards us. I could not see bringing them both but my heart could have been changed by one look in my son’s eyes. He didn’t want to push it I guess because we only took home one. My Uka a gordon setter, golden retriever mistake of natural love begot under the guise of the open gate.
It didn’t take me long to find a name for this powerful puppy. As a child I had an imaginary friend from my original planet who came to visit and help me when I was unable to understand the world around me. Seeing the delight and understanding in his eyes I knew there was only one name for him, Uka, not Yukon! Many a vet form had to be corrected. I never gave up informing them of the correct spelling and pronunciation.
Within the first 4 months of his life his nickname of ‘devil dog’ appeared. Reaching my waist, however did that happen, his penchant of constantly standing in front of you barking drove many a friend crazy. He didn’t want out nor more food he wanted you to listen to him. Yep, listen to him. He would stand facing you and just look you dead straight in the eyes. Eventually we created a language between each other. I used some commands in public yet at home alone we seldom spoke unless I was irritated. Mind you not irritated at him but at the day or myself. His size seriously took me by surprise. My son often told the story of the day we went to find our dog. As we departed the car we were greeted by his father, a beautiful strong gordon setter that stood at my waist insisting on being petted and fussed over. Apparently I remarked about his size and then promptly forgot my surprise upon meeting all 9 puppies.
Uka proved difficult to corral and totally a free spirit and my not being a strong alpha I had to go into training. We lived for his first year on 40 wide open acres. He loved chasing the deer and elk across the fields. Bringing home his prized catches required boundaries. Leave the lovely gifts on the porch, please.
The greatest joy he brought for me were all the nights we spent alone together. Sipping a glass of something and he laying his head in my lap brought a deep connection to us. So often I wasn’t sure if he loved me or my son and finally realized his heart filled upon seeing us both. Uka would ride in the manual stick truck with my son patiently waiting for him to coordinate the shift/gas sequence. One particular time as they drove off the property, Uka riding shotgun, and my son trying desperately to find the clutch rhythm, I burst out laughing as on the 3rd attempt Uka turned his head towards him and gave a huge sigh. Chuckles still come each time I remember.
Until I was faced with the death of my son I had no idea how very important my Devil Dog would be to me. Although Uka visibly missed my son, heading to the door each time the truck pulled in, he never left my side. He accepted the change to city life from the open expanse of his earlier days. He adjusted to his new sibling, Solas, a bounding ball of golden retriever fluff. He never gave up his position of the protector of my heart. Knowing exactly where my heart was each day he responded with is big brown eyes peering deeply into my soul reminding me he would always be here. His head found my lap, his paws nudged me out of the tears, and his constant barking at nothing reminded me that life was asking me to join it.
Uka stayed a part of my life for 13 years. He was old for a large dog with severe hip-dysplasia. A disease now rampant in dogs that guarantees a painful deterioration of their hips. He compensated for the disease by building up his shoulders. When those began to break down unable to hold up his slipping hips I had to make a decision. I was so undecided. I knew that Uka was my last strong connection to my son. I knew Uka had brought so much comfort to me. I knew that by saying good-bye to him I was saying good-bye to my son.
Spending many a night alone with him we decided it was time for him to leave my side. Solas was old enough to take his place. It was also time to finally place a closure to this journey of our lives. The decision was made for April 15. The night before I couldn’t find him, fearing the worst, I calmly called him one more time. Waiting in the dark for a black dog can lead to many a surprise. Coming towards me, wagging his tail in triumph, he graced me with one more present. He had finally caught a SQUIRREL! Determined to bring it inside for safe keeping the argument ensued. After all these years of good training my alpha role won out. Placing the squirrel carefully in a towel Uka had decided was worthy of his prize, I walked into the garage placing it out of reach of intruders.
Uka has never left my side. He was there when I had to say good-bye to Solas 3 years later. He runs the hills I hike. A tiny piece of his final prize is held in my medicine bag.
Once your heart has been deeply touched there is no turning back. Whether it is a dog, cat, child, person allow your heart to be awakened. Your open heart will draw more connections leading to a life fully lived.