I have had dogs since I was born. However, my elderly Jack Russell is going to be my last dog. This is less about dogs than about modern life. Fifteen years ago, I could take Max on solitary camping/painting junkets. He ran free, earning his keep as an early-warning system.
Today it seems that Max cannot go anywhere off a leash. The result is a whole heap of neurosis, behavior I see in many dogs that live in similar circumstances. Every house in town seems to have a dog, and they drive each other nuts. On lovely spring mornings, the tree in my front lawn in Rochester smells of dog urine, there being so many dogs leaving coded messages.
Yes, dogs are cogent beings, and they can suffer from the same psychological ailments as their human owners, but they’re generally easily cured—a romp in a sunny park, regular walks, good food and something to do during the day.
Oddly, that sounds like a cure for human depression too. Of course, suburban America doesn’t wander with their dogs for the same reason they don’t walk anywhere: we’ve pretty much bred the walking and running out of ourselves. For the dogs, it doesn’t help that so many communities have enacted leash laws even in their most desolate parks.
The dogs we have met along the Alaskan highway have been more like the curs of my childhood. No overbreeding here: these are mutts. They are pleasant to visitors, but they don’t crave human attention. They’re off the leash and can roam, and they don’t chase cars with inane, single-minded purpose.
Stopped at a gas station, I watched a tourist take her tiny, well-bred, leashed dog out to relieve himself. Two happy, strong mongrels were mock-fighting nearby. They smelled fresh fun and loped across the parking lot. Tricky Woo* had barely cocked a leg before he was scooped up and returned to safety in the woman’s car. I feel sorry for the Tricky Woos of this world, looking at life through a window.
Our destination on Friday was Tok, AK. It was the northernmost point on our route so it was no surprise to see snow dusting the higher elevations.
But it’s been cold even at ground level. For the last few days, we’ve seen our breath, and the temperature at Tok dropped below freezing on Thursday night. Snow fell in Alberta on the weekend. Fall is definitely in the air here.
We stopped at Destruction Bay to take a short walk along the shores of Kluane Lake. It was utterly silent; nary another human being was anywhere near us. The water was surprisingly warm, considering that the day was so chilly. There are gravel sand bars on every river and shore here, indicating that the spring melt can be violent. The gravel looks grey from the car, but up close it is comprised of small pebbles of various colors. The mountain across from us was streaked in similar tones of red and green and umber.
We reentered the US five days after departing, almost to the hour. While the Canadian customs officer had questioned us closely, his American counterpart had the odd habit of suddenly leaping from his booth to peer at something in the far distance. He seemed uninterested in us, even when I volunteered the information that we had a can of beer rattling around the back of the SUV.
In Tok, we found two sled dog puppies for sale. They looked like no Huskies I’ve ever seen, but I assume they’re bred for endurance and speed, not for chic. Despite the importuning of my adult children, we left without one. As grand as they looked here in their natural environment, they would be miserable trapped in a house in the Lower 48.
*Tricky Woo is a little dog in James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. His medical problems come from too much luxury and not enough running with the pack.