During the Gold Rush that began in 1896 prospectors knew the value of a good dog team, and Malamutes were particularly prized for their handsome markings and incredible strength.
1909 brought about the Commander Robert Peary -Dr. Frederick Cook controversy on who reached the North Pole first, but no one disputes the point that whoever got there first couldn’t have done it without the sled dogs.
In 1925 a group of drivers and their stalwart Malamutes fought their way through an 80 mile an hour blizzard and temperatures that plunged to fifty below zero to deliver the diphtheria serum to the inhabitants of Nome.
It is believed that the Alaskan Malamute breed is 2,000 to 3,000 years old. Archaeological evidence indicates that they may have first been used 300 to 500 years ago, although they were probably used for dog-drawn sleds or as pack dogs before that time.
Malamute Eskimos developed their dogs to a high level of strength, intelligence and reliability. They treated their dogs humanely which has resulted in the Malamute having a better temperament than other Arctic sled breeds. Today they are known as gentle giants.
I fell in love with this breed about 25 years ago when we got Max, our first Malamute pup. Knowing nothing about the breed, only that he was one helluva cute pup, we quickly learned that Malamutes are stubborn critters. They know exactly what you’re asking them to do. They just won’t do it until they’re ready. And I also had no idea how freakishly strong they are. I tried at first to break Max from the habit of pulling, but after many wrenched shoulders I came to the realization that he was simply doing what he was born to do, and as long as he was a sweet, loving boy otherwise, I let him pull to his heart’s content.
This brings me to Indio. The first time we saw him he was three weeks old. His ears were little buttons sticking out the sides of his head, and he had an expression on his face that spelled trouble—a sign of things to come. Sure enough, four weeks later when we picked him up from the breeder, we placed him in the car, drove not twenty yards, and he pooped all over the place. We cleaned it up as best we could and drove for the next 3 hours with the SUV smelling of puppy poo. But he was ours, and we could not have been happier.
For generations, whenever puppies were born among the Malamute tribes, they were given to the children to raise until the pups were old enough to begin working, which led to the Malamute’s love of children. And Indio is no exception. He’ll make a downright fool of himself over a kid.
Indio has the typical Malamute repertoire of sounds. There’s the Chihuahua yip, the poodle yap, the talking bark that sounds like the monster from The Young Frankenstein singing Putting On The Ritz, the loud, protracted Malamute howl that startles you awake at 3AM, and what we call his big-boy bark, the sound you don’t want to hear if you’re breaking into the house.
As a puppy Indio was afraid of everything. One time I did what mama dogs do when their pups misbehave and growled at him. He ran away and hid. Whenever the garbage truck came by, he ran away and hid. When we switched him to a raw diet, I bought him a delicious-looking lamb shank. He sniffed it and ran away and hid. Thankfully, he got over his childhood fear of everything, and has grown into a formidable dog that would not hesitate to defend me to his last breath.
And woe be the poor unfortunate fool who messes with him. Once, when my husband was out of town on business, my neighbor came knocking with his six-year old son to ask if they could take Indio for a walk. I was hesitant, but the kid was so cute I said okay. Being a natural-born puller, you can imagine that their walk was a bit of a rodeo. A few days later, they came knocking again. As I was putting Indio into his harness, the neighbor reached down to assist. Whereupon, Indio stood on his hind legs, put his two front paws on the guy’s chest, looked him in the eyes, and gave a deep, rumbling growl which translated to, “Keep your dirty mitts off me”. I called the walk off, and neighbor-guy never came knocking again.
Indio likes to sleep under my desk and lay his big furry head on my feet when I’m writing. He has all the qualities of a true romance hero—intelligence, dependability, strength, loyalty, courage, humor, and he’s one good-looking guy. He’s my own personal hero. That's my handsome boy on the cover of my contemporary romance THE LOVE THAT BINDS. And no, I'm not talking about the bare-chested hunk. I'm talking about the furry one.
My big ole bear is almost 12 now and showing his age. These days it’s me who’s afraid – of losing him, the delight of my life. I can't imagine what my life will be like without him, without the feel of his fur beneath my lips when I get down on the floor to give him a smooch, without holding his warm back paw in my hand as we both fall asleep on the bed at night.
I’m reminded of this anonymous quote: “He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”
I owe Indio a heck of a lot more than that.