Snow Angels

Winter is hanging on, waiting for Home for Life's annual tribute to winter (read our prior posts here and here). Snow -more snow- and its mid April! That will teach me to be late with our blog posts.

Some of our dogs haven't minded that winter has persisted. It's the second week in April and we STILL have snow on the ground. Photographer Mark Luinenburg visited March 26 and got some great photos of the dogs playing in the snow and even making snow angels: Dottie,  Spiderman and Malamute cross Ruwan. Last time Mark visited, on December 4th, it was 50 degrees. Two days later, the deluge: the first snow storm of the season and blizzard conditions: over a foot of snow, sub-zero temperatures and freezing northwest winds.
Five dogs from a rescue that had to close came to Home for Life this late fall, before the dropping temperatures and winter weather hit. The dogs included Ruwan  and also three other Malamutes or Malamute mixes: Ruwan's best friend Cindy (aka Brandi), Sasha who is a beautiful red color, and Ice who is all white, woolly and looks like a giant white bear. The woman who ran the rescue had a special affinity for the northern or arctic breeds. We first learned about them through one of the rescue's former volunteers who was concerned about the fate of two of the dogs, Ice and Sasha, as the rescue faced closure. It seemed as the months went on that everyone in the rescue world knew about Ice and Sasha-they are so stunning and magnificent. We had never had Malamutes before, and really believed that with the admiration they generated from all quarters, they could find alternative placement somewhere else. Over the ensuing  months, however, it became clear that in fact, there was nowhere else for them to go and that the same was true for Ruwan and Cindy. They were huge, painfully shy and wary of people, not great with other dogs. They were never going to make a “house pet”. No other rescues that do adoptions were stepping up for them, and the dogs had had no offers for help in nearly eight months.

The other issue was the director of the rescue. As she faced the difficult situation, she found placement for the other dogs of the rescue, but these four Malamutes and Malamute mixes were very special to her, and she struggled at the thought of having to surrender them. First, she was going to give them up, then she wanted to find a way to keep them, then she was ready to surrender them, then not, then she was, then she wasn't and this was how it went for months as she struggled to save her rescue somehow and keep the dogs that to her, represented all her organization stood for. When,  at last, she conceded that she had to move them to avoid a raid on her shelter, and save the dogs from being confiscated and probably put to sleep, she was stoic and resolute. When she brought them to us, finally, there were no tears but I felt that she was handing us her heart for safekeeping. As a bonus we also got Skie who was another dog of the rescue who also had no takers.

We have never had dogs like these at Home for Life. The Director and a volunteer arrived with the five dogs in two cars, and when they got them out of the vehicles, pulling the frightened dogs out using double noose leashes, we were stunned at their size: three of the dogs are easily twice the size of our largest dogs at the Sanctuary-the males weigh in at 130-140 lbs. All five dogs are very wary of people they don't know, and in some circles would be described as feral. They are shy as deer, but would rather take flight than ever fight. The two pairs of malamutes reportedly are not good with other dogs, other than one another. Fifth dog Skie, the little cattle dog mix, is as shy as the larger dogs .She can't be housed with them but becomes frantic if she can't see them. Skie came up from an animal control facility in Tennessee with Ruwan and his friend Cindy, and Skie also knows Ice and Sasha, the other Malamute pair from the rescue where all lived before the shelter closed. In this transition, these other dogs from the rescue were her touchstone and security. Over the past few months, Skie has since made friends with Spanky, a senior pit-bull mix who has lived at Home for Life since he was a puppy. Spanky lost his brother Alfalfa, to whom he was very bonded, to cancer on Christmas Day,2012.. They had both lived at Home for Life since they were puppies and Spanky took the loss of his brother very hard. After some time for the two dogs to become acquainted, it is clear that the friendship of cute and spirited Skie has lifted Spanky's spirits and enabled him to find happiness again.

In addition to their size, the four Malamutes and Mal- mixes  are distinguished by their love of winter. They are impervious to the cold. Our other dogs like the crisp winter weather and running in the snow but they also are happy to come inside. Not these four. The weather was unseasonably warm when the dogs arrived but after a just few days the temperatures dropped, and we moved the dogs from temporary holding kennels to townhouses. Ice the white dog, had not been groomed in over a year and his coat had to be shaved off because of the extreme matting. Cindy was on the thin side and didn't have the thick coat of Sasha and Ruwan. We wanted all the dogs, and especially Ice and Cindy, to have warm housing. We need not have lost any sleep about keeping them out of the cold. (they will probably require air conditioning this summer more than they needed heated indoor areas this winter!) On the contrary, all four dogs love cold weather and in particular snow. Once assigned to a townhouse, they promptly tore their dog doors off so they could see out, never mind that they had now created an arctic draft. They disregard the careful efforts our staff makes to provide bedding indoors for them, and instead can be found at any time of the day or night reclining right on the snow. Ruwan and Cindy in particular love to spend the night outdoors, oblivious to the cold. Even on nights this winter that had temperatures well below zero, we were astonished to find them outside and apparently perfectly comfortable. We have persuaded Ruwan and Cindy to use their dog hammocks if they are going to spend the night outside, but Sasha and Ice still prefer to lay directly on the snow.

Ice and Sasha are brother and sister and when young adults, were purchased from a breeder by a dog musher near Hastings, MN who bought them to beef up his sled dog lines. From all reports the two dogs suffered greatly while with this owner; they were chained constantly and had nothing for shelter but overturned plastic drums. They were sadly neglected in almost every way, and were near death when saved by the rescue. Sasha's collar was so tight around her neck that  it was was impairing her ability to breathe, and had to be cut off when she and Ice arrived at the rescue.

While at the rescue, where they lived for at least a couple of years, Sasha and Ice were well treated and well loved by the director and the many volunteers as much for their beauty as for all they had overcome. Although in many ways the two dogs never got over their tough start and have remained very shy, some of the volunteers whom they grew to know and trust could give them big hugs. Less is known about the background of Ruwan and Cindy other than that they had come to the rescue in early 2012 from an animal pound in Tennessee. It's so much warmer in Tennessee that Ruwan and Cindy must have been thrilled to be in a climate they were born to thrive in. All four dogs are estimated to be about age 4. Even though the two pairs of dogs came from different parts of the country, as arctic breeds, they all share a similar nature.

When their fate was in the balance as the rescue faced closure in 2012, I talked with one of the volunteers and asked, in a vain attempt to dodge the bullet, why these dogs couldn't go to a shelter or rescue. She acknowledged, reluctantly, that those options would have been better than a premature death. Now knowing these dogs I can see why it was difficult for her to imagine this scenario for them.

Shy but not unfriendly with people, there is a part of them that will always be untamed and need freedom more than the typical dog. House pets? Crated, kenneled or confined indoors for eight or more hours a day? They would never be able to breathe in the walls of a residential, suburban setting, or even in a backyard, or walked once a day on a flexi leash. They were born to be wild in the best sense of the word: longing to be outside, especially in winter, staying connected to nature is as necessary for them to live as having air to breathe. There is a difference between existing and living. It might have been possible to keep body and soul together by keeping the dogs alive in a shelter kennel, but their spirit would have been extinguished, and they would have been shells of themselves.

There were so many people concerned over the fate of these dogs; the director naturally. Yet after she brought us the dogs, we never heard from her again. I hope she has seen their photos that Mark took and knows that her dogs are doing well.

People everywhere- from those who had volunteered at the rescue to those who knew they were in need to those who had visited the rescue where they had lived and met them there- all seemed to have a stake in their outcome. After the dogs were settled in a bit at Home for Life, I posted the first photos of them, that I took myself, on our social media pages. The photos were nothing special in terms of composition but the dogs looked happy. I was really surprised at the feedback we got. We received posts and emails from dozens of people from all over who had met the dogs or who knew their stories. They were all so grateful to see these dogs safe and happy. We all care about animals at risk and are relieved when they land on their feet. But these dogs seemed to affect people on a deeper level. We (some of us) care about what happens to our national parks, wildlife and endangered species and yes even animals like these dogs who may never make a pet but still want to live. It restores our souls to know that their habitats are  conserved, and the animals are safe and can live as they were meant to in the same way that we are diminished when beautiful places and creatures are desecrated. It has been great to know that Home for Life's snow angels mean so much to so many people and that those who care about them have also found joy to see the happiness and security the dogs have found at the sanctuary.