Friday, June 20, 2008

All About Kodiak

Earlier this week, I was listening to my favourite dog-related podcast, which was about cloning dogs. BioArts International has developed a rather interesting project called Best Friends Again. In July, the company will auction off their dog-cloning services and the five highest bidders will purchase the right to clone one dog. Since the bidding is starting at $100,000, this is out of the range of all but the super-rich. In addition to the auction, the company is also running a contest in which one lucky winner will get to have a dog cloned.

A few years ago, when the initiative to try to clone a dog was announced, I was skeptical and more than a little creeped out. I understood scientifically why someone would want to try cloning a dog (apparently, they're quite the little scientific puzzle.) But emotionally, I couldn't understand why you'd want to clone a pet. Sure, the duplicate would look like your original beloved dog, but it would never really be the same thing. It seems like people were hoping for resurrection and accepting cloning as a passable substitute.

But then Kodiak died and now I understand all too well. The ache to have him back, even in some bizarre genetic duplication, was overwhelming. I miss that dog so much and it still baffles me, seeing as how I lived 3,500 miles away from him the last two and a half years of his life.

By chance, my learning about this contest neatly coincides with Kodiak's birthday. Six years ago, on the 20th of June, we adopted Kodiak, who was then five years old. We were his third home, he was my first dog. I'd found him in a newspaper ad: "Free to good home, 4 year old Great Dane-lab mix." I had a special affinity for the mix, since my aunt had had one when I was a kid.

We'd been looking for a dog for weeks. Kodiak's owner had been looking for a home for him for weeks. We'd met an ancient German Shepherd and a Chow mix with the proclivity for biting children. Kodiak had a trial period with a family and had a few unsavory types out to see him. We'd both kissed a lot of frogs and were able to recognise our prince.

When his owner brought him over, Peter was still at work. I was reluctant to agree to adopt a dog without his approval, but he assured me that this was my dog and he knew I'd make the right decision. The owner understood the situation and promised that if it didn't work out, she would find him another home somehow. She clearly had such a deep sense of responsibility and love for this dog, it was inspiring and also a little intimidating. Would I be able to live up to it? Would he adjust to us? Would he understand what was going on?

I spent several hours in our family room, sitting on the floor with Kodiak. He was huge, a big fat sausage of a dog who weighed more than I did. He just stared at me with big wolfy eyes, probably confused about why he was sitting in the home of a perfect stranger. I just stared back at him, wondering who this big, semi-scary looking dog was and worrying that he'd never like me.
It didn't take very long to learn who Kodiak was. Kodiak was a lap dog in the body of a giant. He had no idea how big he was. His tail could clear the coffee table in a single swipe. His paws were as big as my palms. When he climbed into my lap, I couldn't move until he got up.

Kodiak was a teddy bear in a grizzly bear package. Sometimes, people crossed the street to avoid walking past him. He scared more than one mailman with his ferocious bark. Little did these people know that just a kind word from them (and a quick sniff by him) would have him wagging his tail and begging for pets.

Kodiak was a big scaredy cat in ferocious watchdog form. He was terrified of thunderstorms, to the point where he would need to be with Peter, the Big Dog. I couldn't protect him or set his mind at ease during a storm, but Peter could. He was also afraid of loud noises. When Peter put the new skirting board into the family room, he used a nail gun. The sound caused Kodiak to push open the wonkily latched screen door and run away to the safe haven of a neighbour's backyard party.
Kodiak was a therapist and a best friend who just happened to be a dog. He saw me through a major depression, a job lay-off, and the death of my grandmother. He couldn't talk, but he could listen and in his own way, he could understand.

My worries about him not accepting us were soon put to rest. He and I were soon best buddies, bonded together by a love of walks and ear scratches. Kodiak followed me from room to room. He liked to lean against me. When I'd been gone for awhile and came home, his tail would swing in giant 360 degree circles and he'd weaved between my legs, his enthusiasm and size nearly enough to knock me over, but not quite.

When we got Caper, we enrolled with both dogs in an obedience class. Kodiak knew all the basics already, but it never hurts to brush up. The place we went to was very strict and didn't believe in treat training.

A few weeks into the class, the instructor selected three people to bring their dogs in the middle of the room. You were to have your dog sit and stay, then walk away from him. The dog was supposed to stay where you put him until you called him to you. I was one of the (un)lucky subjects. I put Kodiak in the stay, walked away and knew within four steps that he was following me. I went back, gave him a correction, and walked away again. Same result.

The third time, the instructor came over to help me out. He explained that the corrections I was giving were too wimpy and I really needed to put some arm into it. I yanked up on the leash in a sharp motion, as instructed, and Kodiak yelped. Then I turned and walked away. I don't think I even got four steps away that time. He immediately followed me.

I went back and gave him another yelp-inducing correction. Before I'd even taken half a step, he was on his feet, grabbing my leg in his front paws like a child who doesn't want to be left at day care. I imagine if he could have talked, he would have begged me not to leave him. The class burst out laughing, as did the instructor. I was mortified that my dog wouldn't listen to me, but the instructor took this as a sign of our deep bond.

Despite all our practise, we failed the obedience test on the big day. Guess what we failed on. Yes, of course, on the two-minute down-stay. I was so angry and disappointed. (He had two tries. One was a disaster and one he came within 10 seconds of passing.) At the end of the test, they presented awards to the dogs that had scored the most points. Then the instructor gave out the award for most improved. Peter and I thought this was going to go to a golden retriever named Elvis, who had started class as an uncontrollable bouncing ball of fur and had ended class as a reasonably disciplined dog.

The instructor gave a little speech about how it was so interesting to him to watch the relationship between a dog and handler develop and about how during the course of the class, he'd watched a relationship develop that involved real love and partnership. I was floored when Kodiak and I were presented with the Most Improved award. (Peter says it should have been renamed the Cutest Couple award.) I was proud, but also a bit ashamed, since I'd been so upset with our failure. Kodiak didn't care, he was just happy to spend time with me. His love was unconditional and unwavering.

So, happy birthday to Kodiak in dog heaven. I wish more than anything that I could bring you back. It was nearly dark last night when I started crying at the kitchen table, after realising that 20 June was nearly upon us and what that meant to me. Then I saw a heron fly over the backyard, sort of low, just above the treeline. I don't think that was a coincidence.



At 20 June 2008 at 11:36, Blogger Nora said...

I had to move my blog. I hope you'll come to see me. Love, Nora.

At 20 June 2008 at 13:06, Blogger laurie said...

oh god ann, i knew when i saw the headline this post would have me in tears. the part where he grabbed your leg in his front paws really did it to me. toby used to do that, too. riley does it sometimes.

i was laughing through my tears.

oh god you love that dog. and i sure understand why.

At 20 June 2008 at 14:12, Blogger Babaloo said...

You have me crying, too. I guess nobody who's lost a dog can read this without getting all teary-eyed.
Kodiak was a lovely dog. Wish I'd met him. What a cuddly bear inside!
And no, that heron wasn't a coincidence.

At 20 June 2008 at 14:34, Blogger Kaycie said...

Oh, Ann, this is such a sweet, lovely post. What an amazing connection you had with Kodiak. No wonder you miss him so.

I'm teary-eyed, too.

At 20 June 2008 at 15:47, Blogger Aoj & The Lurchers said...

That was so lovely Ann.........*wipes eyes surrepticiously*

At 20 June 2008 at 18:25, Anonymous Primal Sneeze said...

Sorry. No tears here. But I know what you mean. When the time comes to put Toby down, I won't cry, but I will be like a tinker for weeks - no one will dare talk to me.

At 20 June 2008 at 23:48, Blogger Nora said...

I imagine I love my dog that much and would hate to have to do without him. I can't stand the thought, but he is already 11 years old. Isn't it amazing how much you can love ab animal?

At 22 June 2008 at 22:00, Blogger -Ann said...

Laurie - Usually I start with the post title, but this time the title was the last thing and it took me a while to come up with it. I guess I put everything into the post this time.

Babaloo - I seem to be making almost everyone cry. Perhaps I should buy stock in Kleenex.

Kaycie - Thank you. He was so very special to me.

AOJ - Thank you - good to 'hear' from you again.

PS - Glad to hear that someone is made of sterner stuff. I hope you have Toby for many years to come.

Nora - Eleven, not a bad run. I hope you have him for more years. Good luck with your new blog location.

At 23 June 2008 at 13:19, Blogger Dave P. said...

That's very sweet, thanks for sharing. The pix of Kodiak are great, especially the one of you two lounging on the futon. ;-)


Post a Comment

<< Home