Nick Varney

Nick Varney

Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes I wonder, who needs who

Dog whispers we are not. Suckers for unconditional love, you bet.

Jane and I have made it a point to adopt shelter and/or rescued dogs over the years and have consistently struck gold by doing so.

Watching their personalities change as they realize that they have a safe and secure home surrounded by humans they can trust warms the soul.

We have learned quite a bit about abandoned dogs’ eccentricities but mysteries surrounding their changes in behavioral patterns still remain. Dog whispers we are not. Suckers for unconditional love, you bet.

At the moment, the sound of four paws padding around our cabin is merely an echo in our hearts. We only had Noodle, a tiny and aged Maltese, for 11 months before we lost her to cancer and other preexisting maladies. The loving faith and funny idiosyncrasies she brought into our home were priceless and refreshed memories of other furry adoptions that have watchfully passed through our entranceway. We were lucky to have shared our love with them until they passed on and will miss them until our time arrives.

A few years ago, we were stymied as to why two adoptees with totally different personalities were able to happily cohabit for years and then suddenly stop acknowledging the existence of each other.

Out of nowhere, Little Bear, our 11-year-old toy poodle, decided that no other creature had any relevance unless it bought food, served as an automatic door opener and was the alpha female, A.K.A., my wife.

Howard, although very protective and gentle, could normally give a squat less about her uppity behavior especially as he became older, lazier and winded from chewing his food.

The most notable change in their relationship became obvious when they went to complete their outside duties.

Howard, as a rule, always accompanied the mini-mutt on her excursions to act as a bodyguard.

After she placed him on ignore, he would lay by the stove like a hairy stack of kindling not moving a paw when she headed for the exit.

Not cool, because with him by her side I never had to worry about other creatures disturbing her privacy requirements. His enormous size and toxic breath alone guaranteed her acres of free roaming.

So, with him on a snit strike, she required a lowly humanoid in close proximity during her rounds, subsequently revealing what an essential role Howard had played in watching her back.

One morning, during the dull side of dawn, I was standing on the deck discreetly observing her conduct her proper morning “delicates” in her special zone near the stairs when the newspaper arrived.

As I wandered out to retrieve it, she decided to take an unapproved trek into the back yard via sneaking under two vehicles and around a cord of firewood. So, when I turned back, the pretentious little snot was missing.

At first, I wasn’t that concerned because we had installed a miniature flasher on the back of her chest harness making her easy to spot.

As I set out on a search and scold mission, I spotted the red, white and blue strobe in the area of the smokehouse.

I could barely make out her dark grey bod but the beacon looked cool until I noticed a huge shadowy apparition nose to nose with her. As L.B. turned toward the cabin, a moose plodded along behind her like she was leading it on a leash. The ungulate’s proboscis was down and sniffing the diminutive creature’s keister like some curious dog. The poodle acted as if the cow was of no consequence and/or could care less.

With her crotchety mindset at the time, I went with the latter.

The bizarre procession continued until it neared my truck and the moose glimpsed me frozen on the deck. She stared up with an inquiring look as if to say “Is this thing yours? If so, what’s with the light show? By the way, ya jerk, this the last time I’m acting as an escort service. One my clueless offspring could have inadvertently turned her into a highly compressed version of herself.” Sure enough, two yearlings wandered out of the front yard’s gloom. By then, Little Bear had reached the bottom of the steps and the gentle cow trudged on past to join her brood and lead them back into the dawn’s murk.

I swear, before she shepherded her brood into the gully, she took one quick look back, sighed, and simply shook her head.

Point made.

It was an amazing scene to witness especially since the diminutive mutt never had a clue how close she came to being a fluffy Frisbee.

A couple of weeks later the canines were on sniffing terms again and we’ve never been able figured out what the problem was in the first place. Most likely some crusty curmudgeon phase that elderly, long-time partners, sometimes experience.

Why is my wife staring at me like that?

What’s our next step? We are not quite sure. Go for a younger discarded pup? A forsaken older dog pursuing long-term care? An abused animal seeking sanctuary and understanding? We really can’t say because our departed companions have all picked us in one way or another, but that’s another story and, a beautiful one.

Nick can be reached at

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