Updated: Jan 21
Sitka in Steamboat with Mount Werner in the background
My family is a dog family. I wasn’t able to have a dog as a kid because of allergies, but through my childhood I wanted a dog in the worst way.
I read Jack London’s “White Fang” as a kid and it was my favorite novel for years. I loved novels about dogs in particular and animals in general. Andre Norton’s science fiction “Beast Master” was another of my favorites along with novels like “Big Red” and “The Black Stallion.” I read them all and dreamed of having my own dog.
Almost all of our dogs have been northern dogs like the husky and malamute. I think that’s because I’m interested in wolves; the question of how man and wolf came together to form a working relationship has always intrigued me. I recently saw the film “Alpha,” set thousands of years ago. The film is a rather romantic account of how a young man and a wolf establish a friendship that began the relationship between humans and canines. Admittedly, some of the CGI graphics were clumsy in places but still I loved the film.
My first dog, Chaka, was ½ malamute, ¼ Mckenzie River husky, and ¼ Alaskan timber wolf. Surprisingly, she was quite small considering her lineage. I got her the day she was weaned, in January 1971, after I had left the army and resumed work on my M. A. in English at Colorado State University.
Chaka was amazing. She was one of those smart animals that you knew would be cunning enough to survive on her own in the wild if she had to. She’d go with me everywhere—I don’t remember owning a leash. Chaka would accompany me to my office (I was a graduate teaching assistant in English) and all around the CSU campus. The day I sat for my oral examination for my Master’s Thesis on the novels of Alan Sillitoe, Chaka slept under my chair. She didn’t make a peep for the three plus hours I was in that conference room with a number of professors questioning me about my thesis and related issues of modern British literature.
My buddy, Terry Drahota, kept Chaka for me when I went to work in Australia in 1976. Terry’s dog, Bergen, and Chaka were best friends so it made sense, and he lived in a cabin in the mountains above Fort Collins. Chaka died after being hit by a car in 1978 while I was traveling through Asia, on my way home after teaching in Australia for two years. I still miss her.
My wife and I moved to Singapore to teach at the Singapore American School in 1987. I taught there until 2014 when I retired to Colorado full time. Paula stayed for two more years, returning to Colorado in 2016. While in Singapore we had a number of dogs. One of our last was fourteen years old and we finally had to put him to sleep in 2012.
I knew that I’d be returning to the States in a year and a half or so and wasn’t sure about getting another dog until we got back. But Chinese Singaporean friends of ours told us about a young husky they’d seen at a Chinese temple they would visit from time to time. Apparently a family had abandoned the dog; they left her tied to the temple gate and the monks took her in, taking care of her until someone could adopt her. After school we drove out to the temple in the northeast part of Singapore to check her out. The small temple sat on a side street. The monks were friendly though they didn’t speak much English. They showed us to the back where they had the small husky tied on a short chain. She was friendly so we gave a donation to the temple and took her home with us.
We named her Sitka. Sitka was sick from tick fever and malnourished from the fever as well as the heat and humidity of Singapore. Fifty miles from the equator is not the best place for a dog such as a husky even though their thick fur insulates them against the heat as well as the cold. We spent a lot on medication to get Sitka over tick fever and we had to force feed her much of the time. We kept her in our air conditioned bedroom at night and that helped. She gained some weight but never really thrived until we brought her back to the mountains of Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
It was easy bringing her back—just expensive. A lot of people ask if we had to put her in quarantine. Because we were traveling from Singapore we didn’t. All we needed was her up-to-date shot record and a certificate of health from a vet within 48 hours of travel. I did some research and decided not to send Sitka with the airline we were using—I’d heard some horror stories about their treatment of animals in shipment. So we hired a pet mover who took care of all the arrangements. He picked Sitka up the day before we flew back and he arranged for her to fly on another airline. My wife and I flew through Tokyo to Chicago and Sitka flew on Lufthansa through Munich. She met us in Chicago and she looked great when they brought her to us. Boy, was she glad to see us. We rented a car and drove it to Nebraska where we picked up our vehicle and drove that the rest of the way to Colorado.
Sitka loved the lack of humidity and cool weather that first summer and got stronger running in the mountains. But it was best when she first experienced snow later that fall. She looks like a different dog now. She’s filled out and has a beautiful, thick coat.
Our house sits on a little over half an acre and I put an invisible fence around the property when we first got back, the summer of 2014. The fence works perfectly and Sitka stays outside all of the time. Sometimes she does come in at night.
I love telling her story—how we adopted Sitka from a Chinese temple in Singapore and brought her back to the United States and Steamboat Springs—the perfect place for a husky to be.