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July 19, 2015

Home Free

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not long after I moved to Silly Lake, Tok and I discovered that we both liked to play “Home Free.”  My goal in the game is to see if I can tag Tok before he ducks under my deck and gets home and free.  Tok’s goal is to get home and free before I tag him.  My first summer at Silly Lake, Tok was a year and a half old.

Since that first summer together at Silly Lake, there hasn’t been a yard time without Tok giving me his “Try and catch me,” stare.  Actually, several times during a typical yard time.  I sometimes chased him, but even if I was between him and the deck, I didn’t have a chance.  Between good ears and a very awake dog, he’d dodge me then take whatever route was necessary---sometimes pretty circuitous---to get home.

My only hope was to try and tag him when he was entirely focused on something other than me.  One of Tok’s favorite games was and is to fake submission then back out, as it were.  The standard sequence for a male to show dominance over another male is to throw his head over the dog;s shoulder, then lick the dog’s penis---they are different from humans---then mount the dog.  Tok would let other males do the first and second, but then resist the third.   I remember watching him and Quid, Quid trying as hard as he could to pull Tok’s rear into the appropriate position and Tok nonchalantly resisting.  Part of the humor was that these were two of my bigger males and while Tok never began to show strain on his face, I knew there was a lot of energy being expended.  My boy was playing several mind games and doing a pretty good job of it.  
The first and, for many years only, time I did tag Tok he was playing this mind game with one of the other dogs, probably Quid, and there were several dogs between him and the deck cutting off a direct run.  With this, I was able to grab his tail and give it a light pull---much to his surprise.  Still, being Tok, I’m sure he felt, “That was pretty good dad!  I’ll have to remember that.”  The score remained many to one for several more years.  

During the 2010-2011 season, Sima and Tok started easing up on their harnesses for the first time.  The one race I did, the eight dog class at Flathead, required some speed so the fact that these two eight year olds didn’t make the team didn’t bother me.  An eight year old husky is roughly equivalent to a 54 year old man.  

A little less than two years ago, I brought Tok and Sima into my vet to see what could be done regarding issues they had with movement.  The vet showed me an x-ray of Mitzi, Tok and Sima’s littermate, and pointed to how her spine had deformed and said he was very surprised that Mitz had no problems---she had stopped eating and I had had her x-rayed to make sure there was no blockage.  He said he could x-ray the two boys, but he doubted it would make a difference.  He and I both felt that, while Tok’s movement and posture were off, he wasn’t in any particular pain.  Sima, on the other hand, not only had spinal issues, the vet could feel the arthritis in most of Sima’s joints.  All three dogs were eleven so their having various bone and joint issues didn’t surprise anybody.  It was only a few weeks later that I euthanized Sima.  He was falling on snow and ice and when he fell, he’d refuse to get up.  Unlike other dogs I’ve had who had spinal and coordination issues, Sima had the strength and coordination to get up if he wanted to.  He was just in too much pain.

With the snow melting this spring, yard time once again started, including playing home free with Tok.  Just like every other year, he’s faced me, butt to the deck, and challenged me to chase him.  However, there is a difference.  For the first time, I can sneak up on him almost at will.  If I’m inside of his vision and I make a sudden movement, he’s gone, and even with a degraded gait he easily beats me to the deck.  On the other hand, if he’s focused on something other than me and I’m outside of his field of vision, it’s easy for me to tag him before he knows it.  It’s clear that his hearing, while still there, has gotten worse. 

Knowing this, I make sure that I’m inside of his vision before I chase him.  The goal has never been as much about winning as it has been about playing.  The fact that I know how to win isn’t playing anything.  The good news is, even with his gait degraded, he still outruns me. 

The first fall after I got Tok, one of the better Iditarod mushers in the area pointed to him and said, “That’s your weakest dog, mentally.”   And he was.  Only a couple of months later, however, after a fifteen mile run, Tok looked around and said, “Hey, wait a second, I’m not tired!”  For the next six seasons, he and Sima were my favorite wheel dogs.  One day, maybe I will be able to run him down.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that, if and when that happens, it will only be once, and as long as he can walk he’ll again beat me to the deck.

   
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