This past Friday (May 4, 2018) I said ‘Goodbye’ to my ‘little’ angel Anana who quietly passed sometime in the wee hours of May 4th. Anana, my 125 pound female Alaskan malamute, gave me eight and a half years of joy, love, humor and amazement. I was privileged to raise her from an awkward, ten week old puppy to a beautiful, regal but always mischievous adult Mal. She was my first canine after decades of no pets due to employment based travel requirements and also the first Mal I’d ever known. The breeder warned me Mals were far different from other breeds with respect to training and developing a relationship; as such we each had a lot to learn and to teach the other. Anana did so in classic Mal style and while I suspect I was often a source of frustration to her because I was so slow to understand her ways she was always patient and loving. As the breeder had warned me I quickly learned to pick my battles with my growing girl as I just was not going to win every one. As such I came to realize I developed a series of ‘understandings’ with my baby; some favored her needs while others satisfied my own. In the end our relationship was based on trust, mutual respect and a whole lotta love.
Anana came to me at a dark time in my life yet she brought with her a spirit which exuded a love of life, a need for much exercise, a deep mischievous streak and unconditional love. Just caring for her puppy needs and attempting to reach some of those ‘understandings’ really helped me to come to grips with my situation as caretaker of the family home after my father passed and Mom was living in an assisted living facility. Anana quickly showed a love of anything on two legs and she never met a person she didn’t love. So many folks who were initially concerned about her size quickly fell under her spell and found themselves drawn to this gentle Teddy Bear. While living at the family home Anana became a real rock star within the neighborhood as people out walking would stop by our yard to see her and young children would come to the door asking if “Anana can play”. When I decided to begin volunteering at the Northville (MI) Sunrise facility where Mom was staying I started bringing Anana with me. At first I was worried because she was such an energetic and exuberant puppy but my concerns were ill-founded; Anana was instinctively slow and gentle when interacting with the residents. She delighted everyone with her repertoire of howls and other vocalizations. She quickly achieved the informal title of ‘Visiting Therapy Dog’ and spent the next three plus years as a fixture at the facility. On the odd days when I couldn’t bring her with me when volunteering the first thing I’d hear as I entered the facility was; “Where’s Anana?”
I’m not sure Anana ever completely forgave me from removing her from her extended ‘Sunrise home’ to relocate to semi-rural south central Alaska in July of 2013. She did love living up here and irritating the local moose population but I also could tell she missed seeing scores of people on a regular basis. People naturally gravitated to her and whenever she accompanied me and Qanuk into the village during tourist season my Escape would be quickly surrounded by doting tourists lining up to pet her and take her picture. Often I spent tens of minutes answering queries about my girl and waiting until everyone had finished petting Anana and taking her picture so we could pull out. My neighbors knew her well and enjoyed her larger than life presence in this immediate area. Anana accompanied me almost everywhere I went and she was an amazing passenger this past September when she and Qanuk made the 5,200+ mile round trip to Three Forks (MT) to pick up an R-pod travel trailer and haul it back here. She made new friends at every motel where we’d overnight and sometimes the staff would stop by the room with treats for her and Qanuk. She was truly a ‘people dog’!
She was Qanuk’s adult canine figure and mentor; as such she really smoothed out some of the traditional German Shepherd Dog traits like suspicion of any unknown human and excessive barking. But, being true to her breed, she did teach Qanuk to be very vocal and even howl from time to time. To this day Qanuk remains one of the most vocal GSDs I’ve ever known and regularly expresses his feelings through grunts, groans, whines and other indescribable sounds. He remains a very effective watchdog but he doesn’t exhibit excessive barking which is fine by me. He seems to be handling Anana’s absence in stride although I do see him sometimes sniffing some of Anana’s favorite lounging areas and while outside walking I can sense he sometimes looks for his friend. Anana was the only steady canine influence in Qanuk’s life from the time I brought him home at seven weeks of age (he is now about six and a half years old).
I wish Qanuk could’ve learned more patience and acceptance of young children and adult males from Anana; he remains very skittish around both types of people but never aggressive or threatening. Anana was a natural with children which is all the more exceptional as she had almost no experience with kids growing up. While volunteering at Sunrise I would assist in taking a number of the ‘Reminiscence’ residents – those struggling with dementias – to a summer music concert in a local town; I drove the bus and served as one of the ‘wranglers’. We brought the residents so they could enjoy some time outside observing the kids and we provided a picnic lunch. The first time I brought Anana along I was a bit concerned about what her reaction would be to so many youngsters just being kids. In hindsight I should’ve known better; early on a young girl walked up to us and asked if she could pet Anana who was off her lead but lying a few feet from me. I said; “Sure” and the youngster cautiously approached Anana and petted her head. Anana, of course, loved the attention and moved a bit closer to the girl. I looked away just briefly to count the residents; something one learns to do on a regular basis when on such outings. After assuring myself everyone was accounted for I looked back to where Anana had been and saw no less than fourteen children surrounding her! Anana was lying on her side and just loving all the attention. Many of the kids had close by parents; it was heartwarming to see their initial concern melt away to smiles as their kids petted the big black and white Teddy Bear.
Anana was an exceptional canine and I could go on and on about her amazing character and adventures; she was the epitome of unconditional love and probably one of the most wonderful ambassadors for the Alaskan malamute breed ever to walk this earth. Learning to live without my ‘little’ angel is going to be a very difficult proposition but one I will embrace with time. Mostly, I want to remember all the wonderful times we shared and celebrate the eight and a half wonderful years I was privileged to share with my ‘Anana Dog’. It truly was mostly sweet and she was the sweetest of it all..!