Tika MacTavish Huntress, you were my best friend.
I loved you through all of my grown up life. For twelve years, you were our companion, our pet, our friend, and our protector.
Today, on All Hallow’s Eve, I look back on the time we spent together in this life, and I am so happy I knew you.
We met in Santa Fe. You were six months old, and in the pound. A golden chowball puppy, with adorable ears, poofy fur, and big brown eyes. Johanna knew right away, and I’ll never forget the moment when she said, “Caelan, look at this one.” She had you on a leash, and you were curiously looking around her ankles at me.
We put down a deposit. It was our eighth or ninth trip to the pound over a couple of months; we had been going back again and again to wait and find the right dog for us.
A few days later I returned alone and picked you up. I always felt it was special that you and I had the first car ride together out of the pound. Johanna and I as a couple adopted you, but I took you home. Johanna was working that night, so you and I drove back in the little red Subaru, and stopped at the grocery store in Galisteo for a bottle of water and a bowl. You were panting so much I was worried you were dehydrated. You didn’t want water, though; you were just excited.
We explored the apartment at Vista Clara Ranch together, and I fed you three bowls of food. You threw up most of it.
The next few months, you chased deer and hunted lizards in the wild New Mexico desert. It was the ancient land that bred you, a mix of Chow, Golden Retriever, Australian Shepherd, and Dingo, according to the best theory your vets had.
When people asked what breed you were, I always replied, “Mongolian Four-Footer.” You were such a pretty and well-proportioned dog, most people thought you were a purebred, and you were just a rare and exotic breed they had never met before.
You were the same size and color as the coyotes, and they would come and howl to you at night, inviting you out to play.
While I went to St. John’s College, we were both learning. For you, it was a training environment. Whenever we were on campus, you walked at my side, sat on command, and would rest behind my chair for every 2 hour class with patience.
Often you would wait for a lull in the conversation whirling through the classroom, and interject at the perfect time with a loud groan. To any students who were bored in the class this was always sure to perk them up with a laugh.
You brought laughter and joy into the world.
Johanna would walk with you for hours in the Santa Fe dog park, valleys and canyons of rocks and desert gravel, with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of dogs roaming free over the miles. You were always a playful instigator, getting even the most sullen and cranky dogs to spring in their step and play with you. You were always polite to other dogs, but sassy, too.
You shepherded our children through their stages of infancy. You protected our house and barked loudly anytime (everytime) someone rang the doorbell, knocked on the door, or made a noise.
You made it a loud house, but every bark made us feel safe and protected, and we always cherished you for that.
Now, we have the next generation of Huntress dogs. Chancha is shaping up to be a good, solid family dog. You helped us raise her as a puppy, too. She’s two years old now, and she has Bitsy to look after her, but she misses her big sister.
In Portland, you walked off a leash, never crossing the street without a command. You would roam through the yards, checking your pee-mail, dashing right over the moment that I whistled for you.
When we went into restaurants and cafes you would sit next to the front door, leashless, and wait for us to come out.
You got cookies and treats for doing so well. People always marveled that we had such a well-trained dog. You weren’t necessarily highly trained – although we always thought you would be great as an agility dog – but there were a few things you did really well.
You listened. You obeyed. You knew we would take care of you, because we were in a pack, and we took care of each other.
Every time we added a new member to our pack, we brought you a blanket covered with laguno, and you would smell and lick the fresh babe’s scent.
You always looked at me deeply, understanding that this was a new member of our pack, and we were to love them and protect them forever.
You were so gentle with our children. Patient with them as babies, when they would pull on your fur, and playful with them as toddlers, when they could run in the backyard with you. You were a playful instigator with them, too.
We went on adventures with you to the beach, hiked into the mountains, and walked the city streets.
For a while, in Portland, we left you locked in a bedroom for most of every day. It was while we had a preschool attached to the house, and I tried to walk you every morning and night, but didn’t always have the time. You were always such an athletic dog, it made you depressed to be inside all the time.
Then, we made plans to move to Costa Rica. To certify you for travel, we had to give you a vaccination, and you had an allergic reaction that permanently damaged the tips of your ears. We missed being able to rub your ear tips, one of your favorite cuddles.
You got sicker. We weren’t sure if you were going to be able to come to Costa Rica with us, because we had to have a vet sign off on your health. We took you to the groomers, gave you a puppy cut, and lavished you with good food and exercise.
Thankfully, you made it to Costa Rica with us, and a much, much better life.
I’ve always marveled at how for everyone in the Huntress Clan who made that journey (3 adults, 2.5 kids, and 2 dogs) it was you, Tika, that benefited the most from the change. Living at Summerland, you’ve been able to run on a mountain in the sunshine every day. No more rainy night walks around the block – here, you can roam free.
I loved watching you walk up the hill, smiling, with the sunshine on your face, and a breeze in your fur.
Living out your retirement in happiness.
Like a good dog should.
If you had died in Portland, like we thought you were getting ready to do, you would have missed out on this wonderful ending to your adventurous life. I’m so glad that you got to have this experience, and live a good and happy life in the sunshine.
It helped that we had puppies to keep you young. First Bitsy, and then Chancha, kept you playing, instigating you to prance around and stop acting like the old maid in the Portland bedroom. Your young playmates kept you frisky.
Chancha is old enough, now, to take over the pack. We got her to replace you, Tika, as the big dog in the pack, the strong protector. You’ve taught her well, and she’s still scared right now, but in a few months she’ll be ready.
As good as you were in behavior, six months before you died you started getting really embarrassed about your bladder control. You would walk through the house, just dripping urine. And with our new baby learning to crawl, we were always ushering you out of the house so we could keep the tile floors clean.
The night before you died, I even made you sleep outside for the first time, to my eternal shame.
I was working late, and you were leaking, and we were too tired to decide on where you should sleep or what we should do. I brought your thick blue blanket outside the door, laid you down, and scratched your ears as I apologized.
The next day, you went around to everyone on Summerland for a visit. To Cherie, to Jane, to Linda, to Sibbald, to Jose, and spent some time with them all. After dinner, you came with me and Indi and Taos down to the bottom of the hill to pick up the car. We were having a wonderful time, playing a silly acting game, while you and the dogs pranced around in the dusk. We walked by the pool, and you and the dogs ranged around, smelling and exploring.
The humans piled into the car, and the dogs raced up the hill in front of us, as you always did. But you’ve been getting old. You got a little fat on the cheap dry dog food I bought the month before. And right up at the top of the hill, just below our driveway, I ran over you. Twice.
Indilea and I met each other’s eyes in shock during the first roll. I was too paralyzed to do anything top stop the second. But even if I did have time to react, we were on a windy mountain driveway with cliffs on both sides and children in the car, one on my lap.
I pulled into the driveway cautiously and honked the horn. I walked down with Taos in the sling and said quietly, “Tika?”
You were facing down to the bottom of the hill. There was no blood, no limbs out of place. You just looked like you were lying down. I touched you on your side, and saw your eyes move.
Johanna came out onto the porch, I dashed up and handed her the baby. “I ran over Tika, I need you to take the baby,” I said.
Indi started crying, and Johanna took the kids inside while I went down the hill to see if anything could be done.
You were still there. I had enough time to pet you, and tell you that you were a good girl, and I loved you.
Then you died.
I laid there with you, weeping and wailing, telling you I was sorry, and I loved you.
It flashed into my mind with the first roll, instantly, that this was the perfect time for you to die.
It was quick. Sixty seconds, compared to eighteen months, is a very different experiencing in dying – and in living.You got to go quickly, when it was the right time for our kids to learn about death, and the right time for the dogs to change their dominance memberships in the pack. You even died on a Friday night, so we had all weekend to grieve together.
We cancelled the plans we had for Saturday and Sunday – none of which we actually wanted to do anyway, proving once again that you were willing to make things easier for us, even in death.
We buried you the next morning in the blue shroud in a grave in the backyard.
Coincidentally, we had workmen at our house all the previous week, so they dug the grave. (Thanks again, Tika, great timing.)
We kept your collar and locks of your fur, and gave one to everyone in the family. We buried you with a brush, since you loved to be brushed so much, and with a big cow bone, which we had just given you two days before.
I had never gotten you a bone like that. The butcher at the Feria showed it to someone else, and he declined it; I jumped at it and got it for you. We sawed it in half to give some to Chancha, but you had the big piece, because you were the top dog in our pack.
You were my sweet Tika girl. I loved having you at my side, and I loved scratching your beautiful fur. I loved watching you move, you beautiful creature. You were all golden and sunshine, even when we lived in rainy Portland. You were our beacon, our reminder of a better life.
We even named you Tika, before knowing anything about Costa Rica or the Ticas that live here. Every time we called your name, and looked at the glow of your sunny fur, we were manifesting this new life in a new land.
You were my sidekick, Tika, my partner in the pack. We were team Alpha; I’m the alpha dog of the people, and you’re the alpha dog of the dogs. We had a camaraderie that way, and I will miss having you at my side.
For the rest of my life, I will feel you with me, brushing against my knees. Until one day, we can run together again, in the heavenly fields.
I imagine you there now, waiting patiently for your master to come home.
“Buster” by Jonathan Huntress