Tuesday, July 8, 2008, My Turn • Can a big old dog really be your best friend?

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, July 8, 2008, edition of the Lassen County Times.

It’s Tuesday morning as I’m writing this, and right now I’m feeling a little blue because I said goodbye to a dear old friend yesterday.

Luke Tamietti.

If you’ve lived here in Susanville during the past 12 years, there’s a good chance you might even have seen his big, masked head and pointy ears dangling joyfully out of the rear window of a red Toyota 4-Runner or a black Jeep as we drove around town with him.

Luke was an Alaskan malamute, one of oldest breeds of arctic sled dogs with a history that reaches back 2,000 or 3,000 years with the Mahlemuits tribe in Alaska. Descended from wolves, he loved to ride in the car with his head out the window so he could smell all the smells we never even notice. Based upon his reactions, we must live in a mighty stinky place!

Luke was 3 when our lives first intersected, and he was one spectacular specimen in his prime. He was nearly 140 pounds of pure muscle with a magnificent coat, a proud carriage and bright, inquisitive eyes. He was so good looking (he came from show dog bloodlines), he always drew a crowd everywhere we went. It seems everyone wanted to pet him and gush. We jokingly referred to his many admirers as “his public.”

Now anybody who knows anything about malamutes knows you won’t see them mushing hard in any dog sled races. Those are for the quicker sled dog breeds. Malamutes are the Clydesdales of arctic dogs, well known for their strength and endurance. If you need to haul a big load through the snow, you want a team of malamutes. Luke’s mom, Cindie Tamietti, always used to say when she went running with Luke, he just pulled her along with him.

Luke also had a stubborn streak no one was ever able to break. If he wanted to do something or go somewhere, there was no amount of yelling, screaming or cursing that would deter him. Cindie’s son, Tyson, referred to Luke as “obstinate,” which I think goes a bit too far. I prefer to say he was strong-willed.

I remember my first winter with Luke. Cindie had left him standing outside on the deck in a good foot of snow in the middle of a blinding snowstorm. I was aghast and horrified by her cruelty for leaving the poor thing outside to freeze to death — until Luke started rolling around in the snow like a 6-year-old with a massive sugar buzz. His thick, double-layered coat would handle all the cold Susanville could deliver. He loved it when Susanville’s deep freeze hit every January. In fact, I don’t think it could get cold enough to please him. For several winters I had to keep reminding myself, ‘he’s an arctic dog, he’s an arctic dog.’

One of the coolest things about Luke was his voice. Often his woo woos were about as close to speech as he could muster, and contrary to what some might say, I think Luke felt and expressed many of our human emotions.

We buried Luke with a couple of his favorite stuffed animals out in the backyard a few minutes after his death. I can look out my kitchen window and see his final resting place, and I take some comfort from that.

With Luke’s passing, everyone who loved him is reminded how fragile and precious our lives really are. If there’s someone or some little critter you love, I hope you’ll take a moment right now to share that feeling. We never know what tomorrow might bring.

Rather than dwell on the loss, I’ve decided instead to remember the good times and all the fun we had together.

His trial is over, and I know my sorrow is mostly selfish. For nine years he’d be waiting there for me every time I came through the front door, loudly complaining I wasn’t honoring the family tradition fast enough by tossing him a little doggie treat when we were reunited after even the briefest absence. Luke will never greet me again, and I’m going to miss that happy interaction.

The truth is, all he wanted was more of us, and now that he’s gone, all we want is more of him. So long, Luke. You’re a good boy, and we won’t forget you.