I saw an old friend last night. The last time I saw her was twenty years ago, in the hours before I ran away from home in the middle of the night when I was sixteen. It seems like a lifetime ago. And yet so many years later, there she was again, Laika; our Russian Wolfhound. Her tremendous frame curled up, looking not a day older than the last time I remember seeing her. I grabbed her collar and gently pulled her to the living room, making space for her to lie down on the floor. She bed down and I lied on the floor next to her for what couldn’t have been longer than a few seconds.
Laika was a bit of a rescue from an animal clinic. Born with a heart defect, her owner had either opted not to fund the corrective procedure, or was simply uninterested in her defective state. The clinic took her on and performed the operation – a somewhat surprising success if I recall – and ultimately she came to reside with us.
Borzoi; an apt name for the breed, as Laika was certainly the embodiment of the Russian word for “fast”. She was a rocketship. Her build similar to that of a greyhound, she was clad in this flowing medium-length white hair, curling subtly around her athletic frame. Watching her sprint in our backyard was absolutely inspiring. So fast. Poised. Powerful. And on the occasions she realized all of this at once, she would bolt to the far corner of the property, stop momentarily to deliver a glance, and then take off into the woods. And so many searches would ensue, and through some manner of trickery she would return to be leashed.
I took no end of ribbing from the kids who saw her. Tall, skinny, unconventional; unusual. Some days she would be clipped to her run out front, and I would hear it in earnest as I made my way off the bus. It never bothered me much to be honest.
I taught her to sit; to shake; to lay down. I taught her everything through the powerful bribery of Milk Bones.
Even full grown, she would jump to the foot of my bed in the middle of the night, and somehow the two of us would coexist on that twin mattress; I never seemed to mind.
She came to us with that name, Laika; Russian for “barker”. Which she was. But a tolerable bark. Such a big dog, but as most are, so genuinely uninterested in hurting anyone, or anything.
She would always throw out those front legs and just drop; ideally all feline bystanders would be clear. This was her go-to move when she wanted to play. Funny how you just remember these exact mannerisms.
I woke up from that dream last night and cried. Probably the hardest part of having to leave home was having to sacrifice relationships like the one I had with Laika, and our cats, and my sister. Life shouldn’t have to include decisions like this. But for some people, it does. Over the course of many years, we build ourselves into better people; people we never could have been if we hadn’t taken one incredibly brave step in the middle of the night and left everything behind for the last time.