When I realized this column would be published on Thanksgiving Day, I knew it was time to write about Pig.
Some feelings and memories are so easy to pour into words; others stick inside the head and the heart like honey at the bottom of a jar taking its own slow, sweet time to finally make its way to the lip.
I still can’t speak of my beloved Iditarod lead dog without tears, but when I think of Pig and her life and all of the places we explored together and the people I met with her - because of her - I am filled with thanks.
I might not be able to find the exact words just yet, but I need to start somewhere.
Pig, my great girl, passed away on July 23, 2009 at the age of 12 years old. At the time, she was retired and living in Ellettsville, Indiana with Sue and Larry DeMoss, two amazing friends who offered to care for her in her final years. I will always be thankful to them for providing the secure, loving and peaceful home that Pig deserved. She was in the perfect place when she left this world, surrounded by people who love her just as much as I do.
I have nothing but sweet, wonderful memories of the tiny, black and white dog who taught me to be a musher.
Yes, Pig led my 15-dog team and me 1,100-miles across Alaska - twice. Yes, Pig led every single race I ever ran and finished: Montana’s Race to the Sky, Maine’s Can Am Crown, Wyoming’s International Stage Stop, and many more. Yes, she taught countless generations of puppies to follow in her paw prints. Yes, she was always ready to run, ignoring her own sore shoulder, trudging into fierce headwinds, dragging along her less-confident comrades, including myself.
But for me it wasn’t just Pig’s career accomplishments that made her special; it was actually something quite simple. Whenever we came to a trail juncture, Pig would always turn her head back over her shoulder, ignoring the 15 dogs all leaping and barking and pounding to go behind her, and lock eyes with mine. She stared at me, straight into me, longing to figure out just what she could do to please me. “Should I gee? Should I haw? Should I wait? What do you want?” she would have screamed if she had a voice.
“Good girl, good Pig,” I’d try to tell her every chance I got. She needed to know that I knew she was trying, she was honest, she was making me very happy. “That away Piggie, good girl...”
You don’t need to be a dog musher, just a dog lover, to understand the power and love behind a dog’s devoted gaze. I still see Pig’s sparkling brown eyes in my mind, and I know I always will.
I want to tell you about everything great Pig ever did, but that would take an entire book not a newspaper column.
“We knew it was her time,” Larry and Sue reassured me the day they visited to deliver Pig’s ashes, dog collar, and a photo album from her last year.
Pig was a heroically tough dog. All three of us knew she’d brave it out as long as she could; she was no quitter.
“It was time and she really was ready,” Sue said again.
“But she needed to know that we were done, her work was finished, and that we were all happy,” Larry added. “So I just told her, ‘That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do...’ ”
One of the most famous last lines in movie history (from the “Babe” movies) became the the perfect last words.
My Pig lived to please, and did so much more.
That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do...