“Dogs die. But dogs live, too. Right up until they die, they live. They live brave, beautiful lives. They protect their families. And love us. And make our lives a little brighter. And they don’t waste time being afraid of tomorrow.”
Dan Gemeinhart – The Honest Truth.
I came across this quote a few days ago, and realized that nothing else could describe Pilgrim so perfectly. Then Kim, one of Pilgrim’s previous mushers, sent me the exact same quote and reinforced that never was there another dog to work so hard to make all our lives a little brighter.
Pilgrim came to us April 25, 2022 with his mind made up to dive right into being our missing family member. We joked that Pilgrim had boom boom feet because he was always in motion unless he was on the couch. It took no time at all for him to identify this ancient piece of furniture as his personal retirement location. In 8 months, we all fell in love with this bossy, demanding fella. He went from shooting off like a rocket when we accidentally turned him loose, to staying right with us and begging for rubs. He soon learned that dogs only get treats when they sit, so he would run to the kitchen and sit on my feet the entire time I tried to cook dinner around him.
When Bonnie began looking for Ian’s lead dog, Shantel suggested Falcon for him. Around this time, Ian tragically lost Promise, the sweet quarter horse mare Cori was sharing with him. We found her early on a Sunday morning down in the pasture and the vet had to break the news to us that she had lost all feeling in her hind limbs. Ian sat on the damp ground under the pine trees and held her head while Dr. Krantz quietly euthanized his best girl. Balto sat with Ian until the end, and licked the tears off of his face. A few days later we asked Ian if he wanted to find another horse or if he would rather have two sled dogs. My mushing addicted little boy instantly jumped at the chance for two dogs, and so Pilgrim was lined up as Ian’s bonus dog.
It didn’t take Pilgrim long at all to acquire half a dozen nicknames. Piglet, Piglet Pop, Boom Boom Feet, Smiley, Dobby the house elf and even “Hey You.” It didn’t matter which name we called, Pilgrim was always the first dog to respond. “Jenna, come now–” boom, Pilgrim magically appeared and said that we can call him Jenna. Pilgrim learned that Brinn’s taxidermy shop held all the best snacks, and he started hanging with Brinn during the work day and volunteered his services as clean up crew.
Dryland mushing was quite the adventure with Pilgrim. He had lots more “go” than “whoa,” and was happy to run anywhere we put him on the line. He must have been a reincarnated Peterbilt truck because this boy could PULL! His Alaskan friends were surprised to see Ian’s videos and pictures featuring Pilgrim running in lead and providing great guidance to the whole team. His crowning moment came when Balto didn’t want to run in the middle of the trail. Ian called “easy gee!” and Pilgrim pulled all 4 dogs and the rig to the right to get them centered. This past January Ian decided he wanted to try bikejour, so he hooked Balto and Pilgrim to his bike and took off down the trail. Then he wanted to try it with Falcon, so he dropped Balto and asked Pilgrim to go again. Pilgrim enthusiastically said YES and down the trail they all rocketed together.
The end came suddenly and peaceful for Pilgrim. After a fun weekend of beating down a couple of miles of grass on a state forestry trail, Pilgrim woke us up early Monday morning to tell us that he didn’t feel well. He asked to go outside, but didn’t quite make it before vomiting in the floor. We got everything cleaned up and some nausea meds in him. He continued to drink well, so we got Ian ready for school and sent Pilgrim off to the vet with Brinn for a quick check up to see if he’d picked up a virus. As I drove Ian to school, I promised that I would call the school to give him an update on Pilgrim.
After I dropped Ian off , I met up with Brinn and Pilgrim at the vet’s office and sat in the truck with the boys while we waited for Pilgrim to be called in to an exam room. He had his head in between the truck’s front seats and insisted that we pet him with all available hands. Everything was completely normal. And then Pilgrim slumped and became entirely unresponsive. Brinn scooped him out of the back seat and sprinted to the side door of the clinic yelling for help. I trailed behind and watched as they loaded Pilgrim on a cart and wheeled him away. We were sent to the waiting room, but only had a few minutes before the vet collected us to share that Pilgrim’s heart had stopped while the staff was inserting his IV. We thought he was gone, so I left to collect Ian from school while Brinn waited to bring Pilgrim home. But then Brinn and the vet called me with news that Pilgrim had regained a faint heart beat. Ian’s sweet boy held on long enough for me to pick Ian up and bring him back to the office to say goodbye. And so not even a year after losing Promise, Ian once again held his friend’s head while saying goodbye and waiting for the end.