I held him in my arms and told him how much I loved him and always would. I told him he was about the nicest thing that had ever come into my life. He was my best friend, my confidant and my buddy, who gave me unconditional love day in and day out, no matter how I treated him. I couldn't begin to describe how I felt when the veterinarian put 4-year-old Yukon Red to sleep. We had shared four years of joy, love and adventures unlike any I've ever had. When I first got him, Red was only 7 weeks old but already weighed 14 pounds. A year later he tipped the scale at close to 90 pounds and was probably the handsomest Alaskan malamute you could ever have seen. He was proud, stubborn and affectionate. Every morning when I wasn't traveling we would get up at 4: 30 a.m. and meet some of his dog buddies in a nearby town. They would have a terrific time wrestling and running and running and running. Then after about an hour, it was time to go home and chow down. It was a great way to start the day, and watching something you loved having so much fun was the best feeling.
I remember well the circumstances under which I got Red. I had lost my first Alaskan malamute, Merck, and was grieving. It was the summer of 1994, and I had gone up to Detroit Lakes, Minn., where I had a summer place. Merck was a rescue dog my son had found in the Mojave Desert while he was in the Marine Corps and stationed at 29 Palms, Calif. Before my son was put on float with the Third Marine Division for a year, he reluctantly gave Merck to me. Much to my relief when my son returned stateside to go to graduate school, he left Merck with me. Merck, too, was something else. We were very close, and when I had to put him down, I was lost. I couldn't eat; I couldn't sleep; and I was not sure I could go on. I was floundering, but then my wife read in The Fargo Forum newspaper a classified ad for Alaskan malamute puppies. Since I had lost Merck only six weeks before that, I told her I wasn't ready for another dog. I said that now we actually had freedom and that I could go with her to Naples, Fla., where she loves to spend the winter. I told her that without taking care of a dog, life would be simpler. Now was the time, I told her, to enjoy our life and our newfound freedom.
Her response was something along these lines: "Without a dog, you'd be lost, and you wouldn't be fun to be around." A short time later we were looking at Alaskan malamute puppies, and Mrs. Lauer picked out Red. When I held him in my arms during the hour-long drive to our summer cabin, I knew we had made the right choice. I named him Yukon Red because when he was a puppy, he was bright red. Later the red turned more brown, but Yukon Red was still something to behold. We were together all the time, and I shared with him my dreams, my fears and thoughts about a variety of subjects. He was the most patient pal you could ever hope for. When we encountered someone, his favorite trick was to roll on his back as if to ask the person to scratch his tummy. To say that people were charmed would be an understatement.
Despite his live-and-let-live nature, he could hold his own. If other dogs tested him, he would growl and stare, and that would usually end the confrontation. He was ominous when challenged, and I thank goodness he had such a good disposition. What a great dog to have as a pet! The end came to Red's young life when, after some X-rays, ultrasounds and other tests, the veterinarian determined that Red had cancer and the disease had spread. Instead of letting him suffer, I put him down almost immediately. I'm still trying to come back from losing him. He'll always be in my heart. Some people say, "It's only a dog." But I can tell you, the richest experience I've ever had is being a dog owner. It has made me a better person.
I love you, Red,
Charles S. Lauer