Alaska

Don’s Dog: Alaska, Arizona, Neighbors, and a Shih Tzu

“Don’s Dog” is an essay by Michael Hankins. Mr. Hankins grew up in Alaska and graduated from East High School in Anchorage in 1972. He wrote this essay out of a desire to share his experiences with the current Seward community, and for his children and grandchildren to learn about his early life in Alaska. He currently resides and writes in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

Chuy. Photo by Michael Hankins.

I’ve had my share of heartache over the years. Most of us have. Losing parents is a tough pill to swallow; having good friends pass away is right up there in the grief department. I can’t imagine the sadness in losing a spouse or child. The death of a beloved pet is especially hard for me to take. When my little dog Carly died over 3 years ago I said, “Never again!”  Unbeknownst to me God had other plans.

I first spotted Chuy (pronounced Chewy) in front of our house with his owner. It was a casual meeting. The canine was doing his business on our mailbox post. Chuy ran over to say hello before resuming his sniffing and marking of territory. I nodded at the man walking the gray and white Shih Tzu. Little did I know the 3 of us were related in an Alaskan way. Don Lowe, Michael Lowe, and Chuy lived down the street on Regency Drive. Don and Michael were brothers. Don was Chuy’s owner.

The Lowe trio moved to Lake Havasu City from Alaska in 2016. My wife Joleen and I are from the 49th state as well. The brothers lived in Anchorage most of their lives, yet also claimed Homer as their home with sister Gwen still residing there. Don and Michael know many of the same people we do. One day as we rehashed old times Don spoke these classic words, “It’s a small world after all!” He couldn’t have been more correct.

March 4, 2017 was a bright and sunny day; beautiful being the best description. I was standing outside talking to a neighbor when Michael Lowe slowly walked up. I sensed something was wrong. With tears in his eyes, he informed us his brother Don passed away on a couch early that morning from a massive heart attack. He mentioned Chuy being faithfully at Don’s side when it happened. Verbal condolences were offered.

A few months went by with me seeing Michael and Chuy perhaps twice a week. A friend of the Lowe family needed immediate help convalescing from a leg amputation. Michael agreed to assist him, telling us he’d no longer be able to take care of Chuy. Joleen and I gladly offered to temporarily adopt so long as our Pekingese Simon didn’t mind. Several days passed with no problem. Simon, although much smaller than Chuy, bossed him around from the start. Chuy offered no resistance. It was evident our new guest was happy to have a roof over his head plus fresh bowls of food and water.

There was always the possibility Michael would want Chuy back. We always knew that could happen. When Michael’s cousin William Lowe in Palmer underwent a double lung transplant, Michael told us he was moving back to Alaska to help take care of him. At that point he told us Chuy was ours for the keeping. Joleen and I were elated. By now we’d fallen in love with the pooch. Chuy was eight years old. Shih Tzu’s generally live to be fourteen. I figured he’d still be around when we hit our early seventies. God had other plans.

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Chuy was with Joleen and I for a brief ten months. Those 300 days were most special. We traveled to Kansas and Colorado including visits to several other states. Our grandchildren Kevin and Grace absolutely adored him. They played with him in their Colorado Springs back-yard having a blast romping in the thick grass. This summer we planned on taking him to Alaska including Minnesota to meet our other 2 grandkids.

One thing Chuy loved to do was lay in the garage when I was working. I’d place a thick towel on cool concrete and he took to it like a magnet. Chuy also liked to ride in my truck especially through the local burger drive-thru. Right before bedtime the situation changed. Chuy magically became mama’s boy. He loved to sleep at Joleen’s feet. He’d be her best friend when she prepared breakfast and dinner; always expecting a bite.

In talking with Mike Lowe, he told me that Don and Chuy were inseparable. They went everywhere as a team. Chuy and Don had loved exploring the beaches of Homer and Seward. I knew that Chuy hadn’t forgotten about Don because each time we walked down the street, he’d stop and stare towards his old home. He evidently wished Don would pop out the front door. My late mother best described such behavior. It isn’t a deep philosophical message. Mom wrapped things up in 3 simple words,

“Dog’s don’t forget!”

Realizing this was true, I accepted that I’d always be Chuy’s caregiver and not owner. How he came to be part of our lives for such a short time was planned for a purpose. Things don’t happen without reason. God allowed Michael Lowe and us to have him exactly one year and eight days before placing him back in Don’s arms. That’s where he truly belongs. Plans are for Don’s ashes to be spread over Kachemak Bay in Homer. Joleen and I will make sure the same is done with Chuy’s.

I will always miss Chuy, yet take comfort in knowing that he will never forget the good times we had together!

* Chuy died from massive internal hemorrhaging. The veterinarians tried all they could to save him to no avail.

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