It’s not fair. Why can’t our pets live as long as we do? We know she was “older”, but nobody expected her to leave us so soon. My family has been dealing with a range of emotions; sadness to anger, guilt to grief.
Why did she have to die? She was only 11….Why cancer? Instead of dwelling on the horrible reality that is, I want to take a minute to talk about the goodest girl ever…Nuka.
Should We Get Another Dog?
After Roc’s death in 2016, my husband was hesitant to get another dog because of the cost and the care that comes with adding members to the family. 6 months went by, and my kids and I started perusing the shelter pages for adoptable dogs.
None stood out.
Don’t get me wrong, Pit Bulls and Chihuahuas can make great pets (well, maybe not Chihuahuas…just kidding!), but those breeds just don’t fit our family. We are more of a fluffy, but not crazy group; laid back and quiet, yet ready for fun when needed.
Malamutes Are Us
Roc taught us so much about the Alaskan Malamute breed and he showed how Malamutes are very family oriented, laid back, super fluffy (double coat, anyone?), and just our speed. I decided at that time that if we were going to adopt a dog, this dog had to be the fluffiest, cutest, adult Malamute who was good with little kids, cats, and noise.
So, where do you find a very specific Malamute in Phoenix, AZ? You don’t.
I started looking at animal rescues throughout Arizona, but still only saw Pit Bulls and Chihuahuas who were in need of a loving home. I then turned to Alaskan Malamute breeders seeking information regarding any mommas or papas being retired soon. Summit Alaskan Malamutes stood out to me regarding how they cared for their dogs and why they were specifically Malamute breeders.
Summit Alaskan Malamutes
The owner of Summit Alaskan Malamutes, Lisa, listened to my story of how we lost Roc 6 months prior and we found Malamutes are our breed…however, we have certain criteria of what we are looking for.
- We don’t want puppies
- We need a dog that loves little kids
- The dog must be cat friendly
This is a difficult checklist to mark off as northern breeds tend to have a high prey drive, so “cat-friendly” is highly unlikely.
I was told she did not have any soon to be retired dogs; however, she would let me know if something came up or if someone else needed to rehome their pet. Within a week or so, I received an email from Lisa stating she was looking to retire one of her females. Birthing puppies was too hard for the momma and Lisa was looking for a comfortable retirement home for her.
She stated this dog was super sweet, loves kids, was raised with cats since she was around 16 months old. The only quirk she had was she was super skittish of men. Once I heard good with kids and cat….I was sold! (We can figure out the men thing a little later.)
We set up a date to drive up to Lisa’s house to meet this sweet girl, Nuka. My husband kept reminding me that it was only a meet and greet; we weren’t going to bring her home on that date. I politely nodded, while crossing my fingers behind my back.
Love at First Sight!
December 31, 2016, we packed the family into the Explorer and drove about 2 hours north. The kids and I could not contain our excitement, and if I am honest, I think my husband was looking forward to meeting Nuka as well. We pull up to the house and are greeted by Nuka, Chris, and Summit in their respective dog runs.
Oh my, what beautiful dogs!
We chatted with Lisa and her husband, Mike, about who we were and what we were looking for in a dog (more of a confirmation of the communication through email). Lisa brought Nuka in the house and it was love at first sight for my oldest. Nuka and Joshua connected immediately.
I think at that moment my husband knew Nuka was coming home with us. She is now family.
The New Pampered Life of the Goodest Girl
We brought Nuka home New Year’s Eve and she began her new life (retirement) with a boisterous, loving family. Due to Nuka’s fear of men, my husband would make himself as “small” and “soft” for her sake. It’s quite the undertaking for my 6’1″ man! The progress was slow; however, she let him pet her as long as he was lying on the floor.
My oldest did not leave her side for the rest of that weekend. They snuggled on the couch together, played in the backyard, and even fell asleep close to each other. It’s true what they say about a boy and his dog…best friends forever!
The two littles (my younger two) wanted to hang out with Nuka as well, but they could be a little overwhelming at first due to their high activity and noise levels. Nuka soon became accustomed to their craziness and accepted she was part of the family.
Nuka’s personality began to blossom as time went by. She became more comfortable with our family, friends, and neighbor kids. Her excitement to be with her people showed in her zoomies and when she would try to catch her tail. In typical malamute fashion, she was stubborn when she either wanted something or if she didn’t want to do something.
A New Nuka
In March 2017, I received a text from Lisa stating she needed to retire Beckham (my favorite red malamute I met when we met Nuka) and asked if we would still be interested in giving him a home. I said, “Absolutely!”, so in mid-March, Beckham became a part of our family as well…
And, I still cannot believe how Nuka completely broke out of her shell. At this point, she would actively seek out my husband for affection. She loved being the center of attention when we walked to the boys’ school. She would even goad Beckham into play and chase him around the yard.
She became a much more relaxed dog who knew she was the queen of the house.
Nuka also really liked food; almost any food. If food was accessible and you weren’t looking, she would sneak it off of your plate. Your yummy dinner would be gone! She has stolen many food items including: raw carne asada, raw chicken, turkey, chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, bread…and all of Beckham’s food.
If it was forbidden, she was going to try to steal it.
Taking walks with Nuka was always amusing. Her little fluffy butt and Corgi sized legs made her look like she was royalty walking down the street. She was too good to meet other dogs, but she loved the adoration humans bestowed upon her. It was extremely important to her that she walk beside Beckham and pee on anything Beckham marked first. We laughed every time we were out with her.
As time went by, we noticed Nuka started to slow down, but her sassy little attitude never let up.
An Aging Nuka
Nuka was 5 years old when she became part of our family. Typically, large breed dogs live to be around 12years old; however, I had hope that she would see the ripe old age of 17 (like Roc). Knowing she was spayed later in life, we were aware there was a higher chance of cancer in her future.
We watched Nuka slow down around 9-10 years old; however, she never indicated anything was wrong other than some mild arthritis and a couple fatty tumors. Even the mammary tumor that was aspirated and showed no signs of cancer, didn’t keep her sassy attitude from coming out.
In her last years, she continued to be a food hog, the queen of the house, and the play instigator. She never let Beckham beat her in a wrestling match and she didn’t miss an opportunity for some loves. Nuka was so spoiled we even picked her up to put her on our bed!
In March 2022, we noticed the mammary tumor on her belly was growing exponentially fast and another tumor was growing on the left side of her neck. I contacted our vet to set up an appointment to remove the masses.
When the vet saw how large the mass was, the first word out of her mouth was “Fk!”. At that point, I knew it wasn’t good and there might be a possibility of cancer.
The surgery went well and the vet removed both masses, the one on her belly being 2.5lbs. We were informed both had clean margins, but we could test the mass to see if it is cancer. Due to the cost and the fact Nuka was older, we opted out of the test.
Nuka’s spryness came back with a vengeance. She was as sassy as the day we brought Beckham home…and she let us know it! Everything looked great. Nuka was feeling great…
It’s Not Fair
April 2022, we noticed another little nodule on the right side of her neck and at the base of her skull. She started coughing like she had something in her throat. The food hog stopped taking doggy donuts and carrots.
We attributed the behavior to getting older; however, we were being proactive regarding the masses on her neck. Unfortunately, with the veterinarian shortage and our clinic only having 1 doctor on staff (due to a permanent medical leave), the only appointment would be 2 weeks out.
The first weekend in May 2022, I noticed Nuka’s breathing was more labored. She was hacking more, and she could not get comfortable in any position. I called the vet’s office to see if there were any cancellations where we could slip in, and the appointment was made for the next Thursday.
A Vet’s Visit, Finally!
I called on Wednesday because Nuka’s breathing became worse and was able to get her in. The doctor noticed the mass on her neck had abscessed and she had a fever. She wasn’t sure if the mass was due to a puncture wound or if it was another mass like one she removed in March.
Antibiotics and pain medication on board, I took Nuka home. Even in pain, Nuka was stubborn! I could not get the pain medication down her throat and she had stopped eating some of her food.
On Friday morning, I called the vet’s office again, because I could see Nuka was in a good amount of pain and she started to stretch her neck out to breathe. They asked me to email a video of her breathing. Even after sending the video, they said I could bring her in for an observation.
I rushed Nuka to the vet’s office and gave them all the details of what I was seeing. That afternoon, I received a call, stating she was breathing fine and I could pick her up.
When I picked her up, I could tell she was still not breathing ok. The vet staff told me that the antibiotics had not had time to work and that we should just watch her over the weekend. It didn’t make sense, but I trusted their judgment at that time.
Friday evening, I told my husband that Nuka was not ok. She can’t breathe. She won’t eat. It is obvious she is in pain. I can’t let her continue to be in this condition over the weekend.
That night, I slept downstairs with her to monitor her.
Rushed to Emergency
Saturday, May 7, 2022, I rushed Nuka to the emergency vet’s office. Her condition deteriorated overnight, and I needed to fix it. The vet tech rushed her back to X-Ray and the doctor examined her. The moment the doctor walked into the room without Nuka, I knew the news was not going to be positive.
According to the X-Ray, Nuka had a large mass on 1 lung, and a ton of masses on both lungs. She was not getting any oxygen into her lungs and the doctor said the blood test showed she was anemic. This could mean that blood was filling her lungs as well.
All we could do is look at quality of life. Due to her age and the fact her lungs were covered in masses, the only humane option was to euthanize her that morning.
I started to cry, but I also knew the doctor was right. It would be unfair of me to keep her alive with the amount of pain she was in. I called my husband to bring Beckham and my oldest to say goodbye.
It’s not fair…I’m not ready to let her go.
We were able to spend quality time with her and tell her how much we love her. We told her she was amazing and that we were going to miss her terribly. It wasn’t fair that we didn’t have enough time with her, but we were honored she shared her life with us.
We told her she was the goodest girl and nobody else can take her place.
No words can express the utter grief we feel. It doesn’t feel right not seeing her big Malamute smile when I walk in the door. It feels weird not calling her name and her running over for some love. I hate not seeing her and Beckham running around the loft and tackling each other. I don’t have my food vacuum cleaner anymore…
Even through the pain, I know Nuka is in a better place. She is able to breathe and run pain free with the others over the rainbow bridge.
One day, I will see her again, and I will be able to tell her that she is still the goodest girl.