What Next?

Travvy’s death came sudden and unexpected. Yes, he was 11, but he was doing fine — until he wasn’t, and a day and a half later he was gone. I’d had it in my mind that since Rhodry, his predecessor, made it to 13, Trav would too. Then I would decide what to do next.

“What next” was now, not two years off.

I messaged Lori, Trav’s breeder, to let her know he was gone. She messaged back:

I know that this offer is way too soon but I want to let you know that we are expecting a litter tomorrow so if you decide that you need to fill the void in your life please let me know. You gave him a wonderful home and a great life. I thank you ever so much for what you did.

Way too soon, yes, in that my future with Trav had abruptly vanished, leaving me on the brink of a void with no obvious path forward.

At the same time, Lori’s message was a sign, a glimmer in the glimmerless void, a possibility to consider. I take signs seriously. I’ve never forgotten that Travvy was born the day after Rhodry died, though it was two months before I knew it.

picture of mama Anuk

Mama Anuk

As it turned out, Anuk didn’t have her pups — four of them: one girl and three boys — till the following Wednesday, March 20, but the seed was planted and, as seeds do, it started to sprout underground.

I was 99.9% sure that there would be another dog in my life. My reasonably methodical mind posed some rational questions: Sooner or later? Puppy or older dog? Malamute or something smaller?

Sooner or later resolved itself pretty damn quick. Walking without Travvy was like missing my left arm. Two days after he passed, I was striding along a path at the Land Bank’s Sepiessa property — somewhere Trav and I didn’t go all that often — when the off-road mountain bikers appeared around a curve, headed in my direction. They came to a halt and the leader asked, “Where’s your buddy?” The off-road bikers do group rides every Sunday, and Trav and I often ran into them on trails and dirt roads closer to home.

Travvy lying down with sock

Travvy and sock

Without Trav to pre-wash pots and pans and plates, food seemed to be going to waste. No one was plucking my sock from my hiking boot to remind me it was time to leave my laptop and do something fun.

Sooner. Definitely sooner. Even though sooner meant my fantasies about driving cross-country would be on indefinite hold — which, to be honest, is where they were already.

Malamute or something smaller? Eleven years ago I had little trouble lifting 80-pound Rhodry in his last year. Lifting 80-pound Travvy was almost impossible. In part this was because Travvy did not like being picked up, but I had to admit that I couldn’t easily lift what I could 11 years ago.

But something smaller meant something other than a malamute, and that’s where common sense hit a rock and went off the rails. Malamutes aren’t for everybody, but if they’re for you, nothing else will do. And besides, there are those puppies . . .

Book cover: "Perfect Puppy in 7 Days"

There’s no shortage of puppy-training books out there, but this one came highly recommended so I bought it.

Puppy or older dog? I’m on Medicare. I started collecting Social Security last year. I know my time on the planet is not unlimited, but puppy or older dog prompted calculations I hadn’t made before. I was pretty confident in my ability to deal with a puppy now. More: the prospect was seriously tempting, because I didn’t get into serious training with Trav until his challenging adolescence made it obvious that we needed help. I’ve wondered ever since if some of those challenges, like reactivity and resource guarding, could have been avoided or mitigated if I’d started training much earlier.

The calculations had to do with the other end of a puppy’s life. Where would I be when the puppy reached 11 or 13 or an even more advanced age? Would I even be on the planet? One upside to living on Martha’s Vineyard is knowing many people living active, creative lives well into their 80s and even 90s. My mother died at 73, but she was also an alcoholic, a lifelong smoker, and not an especially happy or engaged person. My father made it to 86, and my maternal grandmother died a week short of her 105th birthday. Anything could happen between now and then, but my chances of making it to 80 look pretty good.

If I did spring for a puppy, I could make provisions for worst-case scenarios — if I died or became incapacitated while my dog was still alive. In fact, I wish I’d done likewise with Trav: recruited an auntie or two who got to know him well enough that I could trust him to their care in my absence.

Quite a few people asked “What about a rescue?” I’d wash out with most rescues on one or more criteria: I’m single, I’m in my 60s, I don’t own my home, and I don’t have a fenced-in yard. I do have some acquaintance with several Alaskan malamute rescues, but most of them are regional and adopt only to people in that region. Trav and I got to know AMRONE, Alaskan Malamute Rescue of New England, during our four years of attending their annual Camp N Pack weekend, but their website didn’t list any available dogs. (Very sadly, Camp N Pack no longer happens because the gorgeous venue, an off-season Girl Scout camp, was sold.)

Following up other leads, I located an Alaskan malamute and a malamute-husky mix, both in Connecticut. I considered both and was several times on the brink of inquiring about the former; he was in the care of a non-malamute rescue, and his description said they were looking for an adopter with northern-breed experience. Maybe my experience with Rhodry and Trav would outweigh what most rescues consider my liabilities?

Again I hung up on calculations, this time about the dog’s age, not mine. The malamute was six, the malamute-husky mix seven. Would I again be on the brink of the void in four or five years?

The pups at four weeks

Meanwhile those puppies had taken up residence not only in my brain but also on my Facebook timeline. Lori posted photos of the pups at three weeks, then at four. The sooty color of these guys marks them as agouti and non-Domino, a genetic combination that makes it unlikely that as adults they’ll have Travvy’s white face and gray cap.

At the same time, when Lori posted the pups’ pedigree, I was pleased to see Trav’s mom, Mayhem (formally Masasyu’s Bound and Determined), was a great-grandmother on the sire’s side and a great-great-grandmother on the dam’s. And his half-uncle Kaos (Masasyu’s Naughty by Nature) was also a great-grandparent.

So in mid-April I messaged Lori that my deposit check was in the mail, and off it went. By the end of this month the pup will be in residence, and for sure you’ll be among the first to know. Watch this space.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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13 Responses to What Next?

  1. Christy says:

    Something very similar happened to me when we unexpectedly lost our 11-year-old golden retriever, Buddy, just before Thanksgiving. He was fine one day, diagnosed with cancer and extensive metastases, including a brain tumor, the next. The shock was immense. I had similar expectations of more years; 14 was the age I had in mind.

    I was contacted by the breeder of another golden that I had who lived to just shy of her sixteenth birthday, who overlapped with Buddy but who had died several years before. The breeder and I were friends on Facebook. She had a litter of puppies born in October, but knew it was too soon. Of course it was too soon.

    My thoughts were similar to yours: Should we adopt a rescue? Should we adopt a mutt? Should we adopt an adult dog? We should wait.

    My husband is older than I, a golden was probably impractical. But I had never adopted a puppy — only older dogs, and a raising a puppy was something of a bucket-list item. It was a good time of year with Christmas coming because we’d both have some time off to spend with a puppy, being kept up at night wasn’t as big a deal, and then he’d be almost grown up come summer when we went to Maine so we wouldn’t be dealing with a new dog in our little cottage… we aren’t getting any younger….our last dog from her lived such a long, healthy life….next thing I knew, we were on a 12-hour road trip to pick up the puppy.

    He’s now seven months old. He’s just lovely, so well-behaved because we started training him from day one. He’s sweet and gentle. He’s awkward, and gawky and silly. He’s different from our last boy, but we love him more every day. We don’t miss Buddy any less, but there’s more than enough love to go around even through our mourning, and we have no regrets at all about doing this “too soon.”


  2. Jel Yelenak says:

    Happy for you – they’re so cute!


  3. Juleann says:

    I am So Happy and excited for you! Your decision is exactly right! Enjoy every minute — I can’t wait to see pics.


  4. Jennie says:

    Wonderful news, Susanna. Sounds like you returned to where you started, and where your heart and puppy motherhood should be. Looking forward to more.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Karen Ann says:

    Congratulations! That puppy doesn’t know it yet, but he/she has won the lotto in new home category. As for rescues – I have volunteered for them for years – and you are correct, there are many potential adopters who fall through the cracks because they don’t meet the criteria. Sometimes, a good home opportunity is lost because of those criteria. I’m glad for the rules, because they do save some dogs from a bad home. The rescues I’ve worked with take the extra time to get to know the potential adopter if they don’t meet all the criteria but seem to be the right kind of person. You would definitely pass because of your great owner history as long as you had landlord approval, which I know you do.

    Anyway! I look forward to the pictures of your new baby!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Pup will be a boy for sure (breeder is keeping the only girl). I’m not 100% sure which one, but I’m developing a long-distance connection with the one on the left in the photo — the one whose sister seems to be thinking of climbing over him. 😉

      I do understand why good rescues have rules, and why they take care evaluating prospective homes — plenty of would-be owners don’t know what they’re getting into! And a dog who’s already lost at least one home deserves the best possible chance that the next one will be permanent. It’s very good to know that rescues are willing to go beyond the rules when a promising adopter doesn’t meet all of them.

      And as to pictures — oh boy, are there ever going to be pictures!


  6. Good for you! You are doing the right thing — for you AND the puppy! I also wrestle with the idea of what happens if my pets (cats) ever come to outlast me, even as I cannot imagine life without them in it. But there are so few truly GREAT homes for animals out there, whatever time we can give them laced with love is a plus, because they are here for better or worse. It’ll work itself out. And you have so many great contacts, I am certain that in the worst case scenario someone would step up. And if it is the other way, no dog could be luckier! Congratulations momma-to-be!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Amy J. Schneider says:

    This makes me so happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Helen says:

    Can we tell from the picture which one is yours Susanna?

    I’m glad you’re getting the puppy & I cannot imagine you without a Malamute. Period end of story.

    When Beckett was a puppy I got 2 books out of the WT Library about dog training.At that age he was chewing a lot of books especially my cookbooks, but he got a hold of the training books and really ripped one of them apart that I knew I would have to pay for and the other I tried to repair with very expensive wide scotch tape, but Beth Kramer looked it over and nodded and said “sadly it won’t get by”. Everyone said after hearing that story I have a very smart dog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol about the books. Gives a whole new meaning to “I just tore through that book.” Two of my dictionaries have Travvy’s puppy teeth marks on them, and my coffee table still bears signs of Rhodry’s.

      I’m not 100% sure which one will be mine but I seem to have a long-distance relationship going with the one on the left who is being climbed on by his sister (whose name is Crow). Lori (breeder) was calling that one Tommy, after a confidential informant nicknamed Tommy Traveler (her father was an NY state trooper). Unbeknownst to her, two of the names I’ve been considering were Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, either one of which could have some variation of Tommy as a nickname. There’s a lot of “magic” in the pups’ pedigree, names like Let the Magic Begin, Magic Carpet Ride, Enchanted Hammer (that’s mama Anuk), Epona’s Sorcerer, and that’s got me thinking about faerie, old ballads, etc.


  9. Miguel says:

    I look forward to hearing your stories of whatever his name is.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Shirley says:

    Good for you, Susanna – makes no sense trying to guess what the future holds – get what you want when you want it. One of the travel quotes I have chosen for my travel book is – “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the things you did do.” Wisely said by Mark Twain – Love, Shirley

    Liked by 2 people

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