Tomorrow my dog and I will part ways. Jess and I picked her up from one of my student's farms on the Blackfeet Reservation just over a year ago. It was in the dead of winter, windy, and bitter cold. Originally I planned to take home another dog he promised me, but as we searched from haybail to haybail where the dogs made their homes, that one was nowhere to be found. We walked back to the house, me thinking we might try another day. Then Jess pointed out one of the dogs from the pack that had been following us--the dog we would come to love and call Nika, meaning God's child.
My student looked a little surprised at the choice. "She's sweet," Jess insisted and said she kept nuzzling her leg. I bent down to examine her, a mix we'd learn--- half-Great Pyrenees, one quarter Border Collie, one quarter German Shepherd. The fur on her face was matted with pus that oozed from a porcupine wound. We'd later find her flea infested and bloated with worms, barely able to walk and not likely to survive the rest of the winter, certainly not after my student dumped her with the rest of the Rez dogs in town like he had planned. They simply had too many dogs on the farm, couldn't feed them all, and his grandparents said get rid of her. We decided then we had to think about it, but sure enough, we returned the next week.
By this time, Nika had lodged herself in a den underneath their house's foundation. It's the one she had found refuge in as a puppy the previous winter but had now clearly outgrown. It took my student's cousin, a giant ex University of Montana football player, to pull her out by her back legs. He then bear hugged her wildly squirmy body over to my covered truck bed and heaved her in. She was scared shitless, literally--she pooped all over my truck bed--but we got her home, and for several months and over many vet visits, we finally cured her of all her ills.
I couldn't have been happier for the effort. She has turned out to be a wonderful dog in every way. I spent all summer and spring hiking with her. She accompanied me on rigorous solo trips into the Bob Marshall Wilderness and perilously dove into and swam across swollen rivers. She provided entertainment bounding endlessly after gophers she'd never catch, and she remained vigilant through the night on guard for bears. She slept curled up next to me under scrub pine during a vicious thunderstorm, and when I was invited on a horsepacking trip by two local cowboys, she followed us 25 miles to the top of the continental divide where she plopped her happy butt down directly facing into 70 mile per hour winds like a kid on a roller coaster. This might be my favorite Nika moment.
As much as I cherish the dog, I had to come to the hard realization that taking her to the city would not be the best for her nor for me and Jess, as we are looking for a place together. Nika's one fault is she will dig under fences, and she is used to roaming outside at her leisure. Additionally, I plan on firefighting over the summer and fall, which would leave the extra burden of exercising and taking care of Nika on Jess who is continuing school and will have other obligations. All said and considered, I created a craigslist ad one night, two weeks ago, almost spontaneously as everything seemed to hit me at once. I just wanted to see who was out there.
As it turned out, I got a response the next day. It was from a young guy. He has property in rural Montana. The property backs up to national forest land. There are no fences, tons of space to roam, and moreover, he wrote that he could take Nika to work at his construction office where she could lounge all day during the summer in the AC. This must be dog heaven I thought, and I immediately called him back to talk further. Just like that, we arranged to meet, me only feeling a tinge of sadness at the time, knowing what an incredible opportunity this would be.
Two weeks later, and the time has almost come. Tomorrow morning I will brush and wash Nika. It will be my last time hugging her as she buries herself into my arms. No longer will I hear her grunting in the evenings when she flops lazily in the living room and dreams sweet gopher dreams. No longer will I feel her gentle nudges in the morning to go back outside. I sincerely love and have enjoyed my time with this dog, but as I think about, I'm not sure I will cry. I'm happy for the time we have spent together, and I'm even happier for the place she will end up. The world is full of good dogs. I only hope in the future, when I'm a bit more settled, I will be able to find another as good as her.