Yukon Is Gone

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Sixteen and a half years ago, my younger son Wayne asked if Barbara and I could take care of his dog for the weekend. The dog was about a month old, a very cute, small dog. Of course, Barbara said yes. Wayne dropped off the dog, his bed, water dish and 50 pounds of dog food. I looked at my wife and said, "This dog will never eat 50 pounds of dog food in two days!"

That was the first indication that we had inherited a dog. My son called about a week later and said, "How’s the dog?" He told us his wife said either the dog had to go or she would. So, at that point, we got the dog!

Yukon became a member of our family. I tried to teach him the basics, from potty training to fun things like how to sit up, come to me, play with his ball and communicate with me.

We developed a simple code. If he had to "wee wee," he would come to me and scratch my leg one time. If he had to "doo doo," he would scratch two times. Three times meant he was out of water. Four times meant he was hungry, and five times was for emergencies, like get me outside fast!

When Yukon arrived in October 1990, it was a very hectic time – lots of work, little sleep, a lot of worry, some apprehension and not much time for relaxation or having someone outside of work to talk to. Yukon was the best therapist available. I would tell him my problems. I would rant and rave, and he always sat by my side. I would pet him while we talked together.

He also slept by my side and lay close to my feet while I ate my meals. Every morning we would get up by 6 a.m. and go for our morning walk, about a mile each day. When we came home, I would give him a vitamin pill and a treat. Then I would have my breakfast and go to work.

During the day, Yukon would stay with Barbara and keep her company, but at 5 p.m., he would jump on the couch and watch for me to drive in the driveway. When I got home, he would have a burst of energy and we would play outside. Then I would give him his dinner and he was set for the night.

I taught him a system and he stuck to it for 16 years.

Yukon was not a purebred dog. He was a cross between a chow and a labrador retriever, and there were few dogs that looked like him. There are a lot of purebred dogs in our neighborhood, and people would ask me what breed of dog Yukon was. I got tired of trying to explain it, so I said he was one of only four Danish wolfhounds in the United States. The neighborhood ladies were greatly impressed, and in two months everyone in the neighborhood knew that Yukon was a very rare breed.

Yukon was the neighborhood diplomat. He was always friendly, and everyone who saw him when we walked or worked in the yard would come over to pet him. If I took a walk by myself, everyone would ask, "Where is Yukon?" or "How is Yukon?"

In 16 years, Yukon never ran away. He was almost never out of Barbara’s or my sight. If I was working outside and he got tired, he would run to the back door and bark, and Barbara would let him in. If we were both outside, he would be the first one back in the house.

I’m still not sure whether I trained Yukon or Yukon trained me. I learned 10 virtues from him and I believe that they are worth sharing, not only for dog owners but for everyone in general.

1 Be loyal.

When a dog follows you closely, you realize no matter what you do, he will support you. If times get hard or things don’t go well, he will always be there. This is one of the great attributes of a dog or many other animals. 

2. Be dedicated.

Dogs give to get. They understand the more they give the more they will get. It’s not a trade. It’s sincere. Dogs give their love unconditionally and do it without demanding something in return. 

3. Be a good listener.

Yukon was a great listener. He never said a word, but he would bark if someone came to the door, and he actually had a bark that sounded like "I love you." He listened to all our conversations and he would not interrupt. He could be a calming influence by using his paws, eyes or bark to calm people down.

4. Be trustworthy.

Since Yukon was such a good listener, Barbara and I shared our joys, sorrows, triumphs and disappointments with him. He never betrayed a confidence, gave us advice or criticized something we did. 

5. Always give unconditional love.

Yukon loved everyone – visitors to our home, the mail lady, delivery men and even the people at drive-thru windows. In fact, Yukon loved to go to the bank with me because the teller at the window would always give him a small dog bone. 

6. Stick close to each other.

Yukon gave us a sense of security by always checking to see where we were. He was also a great weatherman. He could predict bad weather 15 minutes before it hit. When there were threats of tornadoes or violent thunderstorms, he would round Barbara and me up and head us to the basement. He would become very nervous, pant heavily and then start circling around us until we took him downstairs. We stayed there together until the storm passed. 

7. Share responsibility for each other’s needs and comfort.

While we took care of Yukon’s needs for food, shelter, health and comfort, he took care of our needs for love, attention, exercise and play. 

8. Have fun together.

Yukon and I would play together in a backyard with a big, red ball several times a week. We both got exercise while having fun. We also played a game most evenings. We called it "Which Hand Is It In." I would put a dog treat in one hand and then put both hands out in front of me. He would pick which hand it was in. His accuracy rate was 90 percent! If I forgot to play the game, he would come over to my chair, sit up and look at the dog treat jar. He didn’t need to talk. I knew what to do! 

9. Take care of each other when you’re sick.

Whenever Yukon got sick, we took him to the vet immediately. Once he ate rat poison and almost died. Barbara stayed with him and nursed him for four days. Likewise, when we were sick, Yukon would lie on the bed beside Barbara or me. He would not eat or drink until we were able to get out of bed.

10 Never forget!

There is no doubt that losing Yukon has caused us a great deal of sadness. However, the memories he provided and the virtues he brought will last our lifetimes.

I know that many of you have dogs or cats and that they provide you with a great deal of joy and happiness. Yukon was our buddy, our friend and pal. Please give your pets hugs and pats from Barbara and me, and tell them that Yukon is gone!

Will Carlson is a Michigan State University emeritus professor who has devoted his career to educating growers. He also had the vision to launch Greenhouse Grower magazine with Dick Meister more than 25 years ago.

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