Angel the Siberian husky came to live with us a month ago. At nine months old and 35 pounds, she was a gangly and boisterous girl. She needed to gain some weight and find a calm house where she could learn some manners. She had glossy white fur, one blue eye, and one brown eye.
Everyone said they liked her brown eye best, but her blue eye was so icy and clear. It was my favourite. It reminded me that Angel was a blank slate. She needed a new start. Then, when I realized she so blindly threw her love at anyone who came her way, it reminded me that she was pure and good, like her name.
Angel used to live with her sister, Willow, well north of Calgary. The girls mostly roamed outside with few rules and not a lot of attention. That’s why they got into trouble. The breaking point for their family came when Angel and Willow got into a neighbour’s chicken coop. Let me just say that I don’t think their goal was to have an impromptu tea party, nor were the results that civilized.
The original plan was for us to foster Angel until an adoptive family came forward, but we were open to adopting her too. So right from the beginning there was this tug-of-war going on in our hearts. Should she stay? Can we afford to keep her? What’s best for her and our family?
Sometimes having options is harder than not having options.
It’s an understatement to say that we fell in love with her, each of us in our own ways. Ruby, our sassy French bulldog, was slow to catch on to the novelty of a 24-hour playmate. Initially the pair of pups didn’t care much about each other, but eventually came to be good buddies. They playfully fought constantly, slept close to each other in the patches of afternoon sun that dotted our living room, and looked for each other when left alone. They licked each other’s faces with sandpaper tongues. I didn’t love the chaos that their friendship-slash-rivalry brought to our calm household, but I didn’t not love it either. It was pretty cute.
Ian was Angel’s bigger playmate. He would pick her up and throw her over his shoulder, or hold her like a lamb, and she wouldn’t care. She loved him in the serious way a little [human] girl loves her dad. I think it’s because Ian has no pretentions. He’s Ian, he’s easygoing, and he likes dogs. So they got along.
Ian is much better at playing with dogs than I am. I related to Angel like a friend, a furry companion. I took her on almost all of my runs. You could tell she was born to be a sled dog. Once you got her into a groove, all of the squirrels and cars and noises of the world disappeared and she was free. I liked being free with her, and sometimes when we were moving along it was like our minds were connected. She would know when I wanted to turn left or right, speed up, or slow down.
I liked the way her fur felt, the way she was almost liquid. Light on her feet, sometimes she would just show up beside you undetected. It was scary and hilarious. I was glad when she would sneak up on me early in the morning when Ruby and Ian were still asleep. She was happy to see me and full of energy despite the ridiculous hour. And that’s what I mean when I say she so blindly threw her love. We hadn’t known her for a full 24 hours before she attached to us like she’d known us her whole life, and her affection never wavered.
Angel’s stay with us did not come without its challenges. Early on we faced her shocking separation anxiety. The insecurities that caused her to latch onto us also made her hard to care for. Left alone, she would howl and cry so loudly you could hear her from the sidewalk – even when she was crated at the back of the house and we closed all the windows. The volume of her cries lessened as the days passed, but she could never be described as an easygoing lady. She was terrible on a leash. She was afraid of so many things: bus stops, Asian men, Asian men at bus stops. Her fur coated every square inch of our house and, sometimes, consciousness. She dug a giant hole in the backyard. She was an escape artist.
But just like loving a human, loving an animal is sometimes not logical or rational. Handling all of these challenges sometimes had us feeling very frustrated, but there was never part of us that said we didn’t love her. And we were ready to accept all of these roadblocks if they meant we could spend our fur-covered lives (no, seriously, there was so much fur) together, all four of us.
The decision not to adopt Angel came about three weeks into her stay with us. Though we had bonded with her and knew she would make an amazing pet, we had to admit that financially and logistically a second dog was just too big of a challenge for now. Maybe a few years down the road we could manage. But for now it would be unfair to Angel and Ruby to try to keep them both in our lives.
So yesterday we said goodbye to our sweet husky girl. A local man adopted her, and the rescue association has a strong hunch that they will be a good match. Before she was taken away we buried our faces in her fur and said goodbye. She, as usual, rolled onto her belly and slapped us with her front paws out of excitement. We cried and she just looked at us with her big stupid dog smile – the kind of smile that she wears for all occasions, even the ones that involve her getting into trouble or feeling anxious. She walked away wagging her tail, with a little bounce in her step.
At one point before Angel came to stay with us, I told Ian that if we welcomed a foster dog into our house I wasn’t sure I could let him or her go in the end. Ian sometimes has this magical way of sounding like a prophet or guru, so in a way befitting a prophet or guru he told me that if something’s hard and you’re not good at it, you should probably do it. So we did it; we let her go. But we will be sad for a while. I know I’ll miss her prancing beside me on my runs. I’ll miss her husky mischief. I’ll miss her mismatched eyes and her crazy-long tail that puts Ruby’s to shame. I’ll miss her joy.
Loving Angel was a scary and wonderful experience. It taught me that sometimes I can’t control what goes on in my own house. Often problems – like a howling, crying husky – can’t be solved by sweetly requesting to have your way. I learned that love for someone or something can be more important than a thick layer of fur all over your house. But mostly this experience has encouraged me to welcome all of that love into my life, exactly like she did.
Sometimes the world can knock you around in a way that makes you close yourself off, to reserve your love for special people or occasions. But I think if we carried ourselves more like Angel we could be more liberal with this love-sharing business, even if it sometimes leaves us howling. We could wear our big stupid dog smiles and be better for it; pure and good.