Daisy was my first leader, and even when she could no longer physically manage the longer distances we frequently run, she still loveed to work and played an important role in training younger sled dogs.
Daisy was a 14-year old Alaskan husky that I adopted from the Fairbanks North Star Borough animal shelter after she was relinquished when her owner suffered a catastrophic medical problem forcing him to move to town. In her prime Daisy ran at 73 pounds and she was the type of husky frequently referred to as 'freight dogs', 'village dogs' or 'trapline dogs.' Historically such dogs were bred primarily for pulling moderate to heavy loads while performing the day to day tasks associated with a bush subsistence lifestyle. Until the late 1960s or early 1970s they were the mainstay of bush transportation in Alaska. A bush family's team of village dogs was their equivalent of a modern family's SUV or pickup truck.
Daisy was whelped in the prestigious Denali National Park kennel, where freight dogs are still used for hauling freight and patrolling the back country. The paternal side of her pedigree included dogs from very prestigious racing lines, including Swenson, Attla, Bruce Lee and others. All of the dogs in her maternal pedigree are Denali Park dogs.
Daisy was adopted as a yearling by a park neighbor who ran her with a freight team hauling supplies into the bush. Daisy was an awesome command leader, a lead dog trained to respond to directional cues such as "haw" (turn left), "gee" (turn right) and "straight ahead". Some of my sprint racing friends liked running their young leaders beside Daisy because she was a very good teacher and helped the younger dogs learn to respond to verbal cues.
I nicknamed the old girl Darling Daisy because her temperament was always very sweet. She was an even tempered girl yet was the undisputed queen of the dog yard throughout her life. She didn't have to squabble to maintain her crown, she was simply recognized as the Queen and all other dogs bowed to her will.
She has been having a tough time this fall, unable to gain weight and having a rough coat. On November 11th she went in for a vet visit, at which time we placed her on meds hoping to stimulate her liver and gall bladder. In spite of receiving half again as much food as any other dog in the kennel she was not gaining any weight at all to speak of. Last night she refused her supper and this morning refused her breakfast, so I elected to brave the incredibly hazardous ice storm to take her in today.
An ultrasound examination confirmed our worse fears. Daisy had a tumor and some cavities in her liver. I phoned my friend, certified canine behaviorist Janece Rollet to discuss her situation and she and I agreed that the kindest thing would be to euthanize her before she starts hurting.
I stayed with her through the entire process, and as she took her last breath I choked out her final cue, telling her to "run free, little Darling. Run free."
Tonight, Darling Daisy the Queen of the Stardancers has entered a new realm where she will no doubt maintain the regal crown she wore in our reality. If you are a true believer, just gaze into the heavens on a clear night. You just might see a glimpse of her dancing in the northern lights or running free among the true stars of the night sky.