The Depth of Friendship

In May 2005 I took in a little sled dog named Oni who had terrible confirmation and was hardly socialized. Her back legs are weirdly angled – they fold underneath her at her knees at pretty close to 45 degrees. She has a small head and a super pointy nose. Her tail is fused and only the very tip wags when she is happy – which wasn’t very often at first. Her “deformities” lead to her being cast aside by the owner and she was scheduled to be put down. I don’t exactly know how I heard about her but she ended up at the kennel I was temporarily calling home before my move to Alaska.

Oni about 8 months into our adventure together. Her distrust is obvious.

Oni about 8 months into our adventure together. Her distrust is obvious.

I knelt down by the crate she was huddled in and was greeted with trembling and growling. Truthfully, I wondered what I had taken on and my mind flashed back to another little white rescue who mauled my arm in seconds about 5 years before. I had sustained 7 deep and ugly punctures and tears, with one missing the artery in my wrist by a hair.  And here I was again, facing a terrified, growling dog.

I prayed to the mushing gods that her collar was snug and secured. I also prayed she wouldn’t chew on my un-gloved hand. After opening the kennel door a crack, I was able to put my arm inside and snap a leash onto her collar. Poor little Oni kept growling but I maintained a gentle conversation with her and she darted out of the crate.

The kennel I was staying at had a terrific dog yard set up with small fenced areas inside a large fenced area. I put Oni in the area with quiet, older dogs and let her settle in. Over the next few days it was clear she loved her own species but was absolutely terrified of humans. She would skitter away from me, growling whenever I approached her.

We were off to Alaska soon after her arrival to work on a glacier. In harness was where Oni really shone. Even though she weighed a mere 30 lbs – much smaller than the rest of the dogs – she out-pulled and outworked them all. She was what mushers call an “honest dog.”

Oni and Loup on a short run. Loup is a big Malamute and Oni looked pretty small next to him!

Oni and Loup on a short run. Loup is a big Malamute and Oni looked pretty small next to him!

Setting up dog camp on an Alaskan glacier.

Setting up dog camp on an Alaskan glacier.


A few winters ago, during a deep cold snap, Oni looked like she wasn’t doing well and so she came up to the house. Our place in the winter often seems like it is wall to wall dog, with mostly older dogs curled up in various spots as close to the heater as they can. For some reason, Oni just became a house dog. A really nervous one. At first.

Fast forward to now and Oni can be persistent in her need for affection. She seeks out contact with us and is not subtle about it. Ignore her and she is in your lap and nose to nose with you. Her favorite thing is a nose to tail doggy massage.

Her poor early socialization meant that she never learned to play with other dogs or people. She has taken to Bella who of course loves to play. Watching them together is an interesting study and it melts my heart to see Oni actually having fun. Her movements are stiff and awkward but Bella doesn’t care. It cracks me up to see the tip of Oni’s tail moving furiously. It is amazing what a little puppy love can do.


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