Is there anything cuter than a black Lab with a red collar frolicking in freshly fallen snow? Nose down like a plow, running forward until the nose, forehead and ears all are covered in the soft, white powder. This usually causes sneezing and head-shaking, then a series of doggie angels are vigorously carved out by enthusiastic full body rolling about and excessive tail wagging. Yes, Keetna loved the snow.
My mother was violently allergic to dogs – to the point that the actual dog did not even have to be present. Just the inevitable fur clinging to a pant leg would cause her to have a severe asthma attack. So, obviously I never had a dog growing up, and knew I could never have a dog as long as my mother was alive.
But, Keith had dogs all the time while growing up. Childhood photos frequently show Keith romping with some adoring pooch. After my mom passed away, his gentle hints about the possibility of becoming dog owners caused me to purchase a leash, collar and bowl one Christmas. Keith immediately went to the Grand Canyon pound to try the collar on some poor, unsuspecting puppy. But little did we know that we were the ones who were about to be rescued.
The first night in her new home, Keetna fell sound asleep in the center of the living room, while all our neighbors and their families admired the cute, new puppy. The next morning, as the pre-set timer went off on the coffee machine, I found her standing under the counter, growling ferociously at the gurgling coffee pot. Laughing, I sat down on the floor and explained to this not-the-brightest-crayon-in –the-box dog that she would be hearing this sound every morning for the rest of her life. She gazed seriously at me, with eyes suspiciously reminiscent of my mother, and licked me lugubriously across my nose. I think it was downhill from there – she had already worked her way into my heart.
Life went on adjusting to this newest member of our household. Fortunately, Keith was a seasonal ranger at the time and was home with her everyday from Christmas to the end of March. We needed to have her spayed right away. We dropped her off at the vet, and picked her up the next morning. When she got back in the car, she settled herself on Keith’s lap, pressed her chest against his, wrapped her paws around his neck, looked him directly in face, as if to say – That was really awful. I don’t feel so good. Can you take care of me? That’s where Keith totally lost his heart to her.
She learned our routine quickly and with an exuberance about everything. Are we going for a walk? Oh, boy – my favorite thing! Are we going for a ride in the car? Oh, boy – my favorite thing! Is it dinner time? (Just in case you might have forgotten about such things as dinner, she would stick her nose in your butt and herd you toward the dog food storage area, for all the world like you were an errant sheep) Oh, boy – my favorite thing! Are we going to the cabin for the weekend? Oh, boy – my favorite thing! Etc.,etc. Life was one big exciting event as far as she was concerned. Although there was reluctance when we had to put her out on her chain in the tiny backyard of the Grand Canyon townhouse, there was nothing but joy when we returned home at the end of each work day. She didn’t even mind being in the car for extended periods of time. That was a blessing in itself because the cabin was an hour away, and Flagstaff was an hour and a half drive. So we did a lot of driving, and frequently there would be a dog’s head hanging from the window, lips and ears flapping in the breeze. What a sight in your side view mirror. Happy dog, nose twitching excitedly. Once, driving by the Purina plant on a hot day, she nearly swooned with excitement and tried to jump out of the window. Almost lost her right there.
The one time we really almost did lose her was up along the Green River in Utah. It was a beastly hot day. Driving to a picnic area, I opened the back door, and Keetna shot out like a cannonball, heading for the river. The banks were about ten feet above the river, and she soared out over it like a condor. I started screaming at her and running along until I found a place I could safely get down to river level. She had caught a little bit of current, but was able to swim her way back to shore. Whew.
Another water excitement was on the North Rim hiking the Arizona Trail. There was a sign slightly off trail that said Crystal Spring. Hmm, I wondered? What’s up there? Too late, a familiar black streak was running up to the concrete frame around the spring. There was a huge splash. When I arrived, out of breath & scared about what I would find, I looked down into the dark well to see an enormous set of brown eyes and paws frantically treading water. By flinging myself across the concrete opening, I was just able to reach her collar and pull. She made the most dramatic choking sounds as I hauled her up the slick concrete. Finally able to get her front paws over the concrete lip, she heaved herself out of the encasement and ran about, shaking vigorously. Keith had heard me screaming and finally made it up to the spring to find an extremely wet dog and an extremely wet wife.
Living at the canyon meant not being near emergency medical services. Each one of us had to be rushed to Flagstaff – Keith for his bike wreck when his lip was almost severed, me with my broken leg from the Hermit Trail, and Keetna the day she tried to turn herself into a dog kabob. She must have been chasing some hapless creature, and didn’t see the sharp yucca fronds. I saw her running around nearby me. She wasn’t that far away from me, maybe 30 yards. I called her, and she wouldn’t come. Getting annoyed, I stalked over to where she was and started to pull her collar. She whined piteously – not a sound she normally made. I thought there must be something wrong with her paws, so I gently checked the hind ones, working my way around to her front. After checking one front paw, I noticed the gaping wound, oozing blood, at the base of her neck in her chest. I looked in her eyes, which were full of terror. Don’t leave me, she begged. I tried to lift her, but it put her in an agonized wail. Plus – she weighed 45 pounds, and we were about a mile and a half from home. So, we took the slowest walk ever. She could walk about 20 feet before she would collapse, panting, eyes huge and shaky. I won’t leave you, girl, I repeated over and over. An hour and a half later, we were safely home. I called a local woman knowledgeable about dogs, and a neighbor, who both came over. The decision was made that the only way to save her was to get her to Flagstaff for surgery. Being a Sunday night, there was only one vet open. Keith was working, so I got a friend to let him know what was going on. We took off, almost airborne, going 100 miles per hour all the way on Highway 180, trusting that the Goddess would keep all deer and elk off the road just this one time. When I turned her over to the vet, who looked about 12 years old, Keetna looked at me with sorrowful eyes. You’ll make it, girl, I told her as she was rushed into the operating room. I went back to the cabin, waiting for her to be released in the morning. She was OK, had pulled through, was woozily on drugs, and had to wear the cone of shame for a week. Miraculously, our neighbor had a friend visiting who was willing to take care of her as she couldn’t go outside except for potty breaks because of possible infection. The next week the mobile vet came up to take out the stitches. Out in the parking lot of the Recreation Center, the vet had me hold her up on her front legs. With one swift move, he ripped the stitches out. She yelped, her eyes like saucers, and that was the end of her medical trauma.
There were thousands of hikes, camping trips, and vacations with Keetna. In her life she was in New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Colorado and California. She saw the ocean and the Rocky Mountains. She visited national parks, state parks and wilderness areas. She was an active member of the Grand Canyon Historical Society, a frequent guest of the Grand Canyon School Library and the Grand Canyon National Park Visitor Center. She was interested in everything that was going on, and always wanted to be where the humans were, especially if the humans happened to be in the kitchen, her favorite room.
So, it was 14 years of never a dull moment, always a big part of our lives. There was no doubt that she was well loved and well cared for. There was also no doubt that she adored her humans. And, her final gift to us was proof of that. Even though her last year was fraught with frustration as she went blind, deaf and became befuddled with doggie Alzheimer’s, she somehow gathered up what was left of her strength and wits. She chose her own way to meet her own end with dignity, walking away from the home and love she had known into the trackless wilderness of the adjacent Kaibab Forest. She became one with the ponderosa pines filled with Abert squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and birds she had pestered throughout life. What a precious, loving gift that was. We were so lucky to have her.