On this day, ten years ago, I drove from Boise, Idaho to Elko, Nevada to pick up a dog I had never met. I few months prior we had lost our old German Shepherd and we were beginning that often arduous process of finding another dog. When I contacted the Elko shelter, I was told it was too late. The shaggy haired was slated for euthanasia. They have a terrible pet overpopulation problem and animals that come in are given only so much time. His was up. I looked at his picture and decided right there, that I was not going to let this happen. After numerous conversations with the shelter manager, the front desk, and even a veterinary boarding clinic which could take him if the shelter would not hold him, they said they would wait for my next day off, three days from then, and I could come get him, but if I didn’t show on that Saturday, he would not be there Sunday.
Saturday came and I was up before dawn to make the trek in time to be there when they opened. I saw what they were talking about when I pulled up fifteen minutes before they unlocked the doors and already there was a line of people, most of whom were dropping off unwanted pets, many I gathered from some overheard conversations and crying children, had been Christmas gifts just weeks before. They showed me the then-unnamed dog and he was a wild, shaggy, out-of-control mess of a mixed breed German Shepherd-ish pup; skinny, matted, and gangly in the way young large dogs are. I had been contemplating various names, but took one look and thought, his name is Loki. And so it was.
Loki was social and energetic. My partner was living in Seattle and I needed the company and he was all for it. Because of the living situation, he even went to work with me for the next couple months. He would sleep in the Jeep and I would come out on breaks and at lunch and walk him. He was the perfect dog for me at that time in my life and I think he felt the same about me. Within the first day of coming home with me, it was as though he decided, this is my guy.
Over the next years, he trained with me as I developed my skills as a dog trainer. He became my demo dog to showcase my skills, he was my calm dog to train reactive rovers. We tried our hand (and paw) at nosework, agility, fitness training, SAR, and schutzhund. He loved posing for pictures. I know how crazy that sounds, but when I would get the camera out and tell him to do something, climb a boulder or lay by a statue, he would do it with gusto, flair, and a smile on his face. He was a blood donor and was closing in on 30 donations when he aged out of the program. He posed for their fundraising calendar and even appeared on tv and radio (with a bark) to encourage pet owners to sign up their cats or dogs.
He traveled well and we visited several states, as well as Canada. He crossed the country with us twice, once to Cincinnati, then back to the West Coast.
Loki was a fantastic foster brother to all of the dogs, puppies to elderly, who came through our house. He loved daycare, although the staff nicknamed him “The Sheriff,” so I think he may have been a little bossy when I wasn’t around. We hiked, walked, and ran races. On the farm, in the kennel, working on home remodels, tooling about the backyard, he was always at my side.
The communication Loki and I shared has been unparalleled with any other dog, not even my famous first dog, Dharma. I learned very early in training together that I could change his behavior or performance with a look or little noise far more effectively than any real “correction,” in the training sense of the word.
He always smelled good. Even if he hadn’t had a bath in a while, I could press my face into the ruff around his neck and he would smell like crisp autumn leaves and some exotic, but subdued spice.
I knew when I saw the first nosebleed that it would not be a good prognosis. We waited for test results and hoped for the best, and Loki never flagged in his desire to get out and spend his time with us. He continued on his walks, although I could tell, day by day, that they were getting slower and took more out of him. If nothing else, I guess I am grateful that the cancer took him quickly. He was a goof, but Loki was also a dignified dog. I think it would have been harder on him to fail slowly and need help than the quick decline he suffered. I am grateful to our vet who made the decision easier for us.
I had a dream about two weeks after he was gone. In it, I woke up to find him lying on the bed beside me and I said, Loki, you didn’t leave, you’re still here. He leaned into me and jumped off the bed, running out of the room. Then I woke up, and I swear it was almost harder that morning than it was the night we helped him leave this world.
It has only been six weeks since we said goodbye, but so far, a day does not go by that I do not think of him. I miss my dog. I miss my friend.
In all, this is a lot of words to say he was a good boy. The best boy.