Volume 23, Number 131, February/March 2020 The Scent of Getting Closer to Home by Jon Krafchek
Immediately upon turning onto Rivers Edge Dr., I glanced into the back seat of my car and put down the rear right window like I used to when Mackenzie King was alive. He’d shove his twitching nose out and inhale the scent of getting closer to home with the Grand River flowing next to us as we traveled away from the noise and nose pollution along Highway 86.
Stepping out of the car on that early March evening, I gazed into the moonlit sky and asked him if he was galloping across the galaxies like he did on the snow crusted fields of winter and the freshly plowed corn fields of spring when he’d run so fast his blurred feet appeared to never touch the ground. Before moseying into the house I reminded him,”You can come around anytime.”
For 5 years Mackenzie King, a Siberian Husky who I rescued in November 2012 from a Toronto animal shelter at the age of two years and eight months was my constant companion and running buddy. Together my black, white and grey handsome brown-eyed man and I ran 1000s of kilometres, anywhere from 5 to 20 a day. Many routes started from our home on the edge of West Montrose, a village in the north half of Waterloo Region surrounded by forests and old order Mennonite farms and through which the Grand River flows.
On the days I didn’t feel like running Mackenzie King’s pacing back and forth from me to the front door, along with his doleful stares, always lifted me above my lethargy, and our feet would be kissing the forest trails, dirt roads and fields regardless of the weather.
As a Siberian Husky he was the progeny of the Chuckchi dog developed by the Chukchi people of the Chukchi Peninsula in Eastern Siberia whose most important trait was its instinct and desire to run. Mackenzie King just didn’t want to run, he needed to run and to run and to run some more.
When I adopted him his name was simply King. I wanted to add something to it so that as a King his name would stand out among other dogs named King. I briefly considered B. B. King and King Edward, but being Canadian I desired something distinctly Canadian.
At the time I was watching reruns of a TV series called Due South. The main character is a Mountie who’s been exiled to Chicago with his Siberian Husky named Diefenbaker who is part wolf. John Diefenbaker served as Canada’s Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963. While viewing an episode and hearing Diefenbaker’s name, William Lyon Mackenzie King popped into my head. He served as Prime Minister from 1921-1926,1926-1930 and 1935-1948 and was commonly known as Mackenzie King. He was born and raised in Berlin, Ontario which is now Kitchener. Kitchener is in Waterloo Region and when he was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 1908 his constituency was Waterloo North. A believer in spiritualism, William Lyon owned three dogs (Irish Terriers) at different times and participated in seances where he communed with the spirits of deceased family and colleagues, including his dogs.
“I’ll call him Mackenzie King,” I blurted to myself.
Returning to the evening in early March when I reminded my deceased dog he could come around anytime, I dreamed about him for the first time in the five months following his death.
In the dream I’m running north along Middlebrook Rd. which is west of the farm field I’m running beside, and I see the garage on the north-east corner of Middlebrook Rd. and Highway 86 with the field behind it. The tips of green shoots poking through the black soil tell me it’s early spring.
I turn east onto Kissing Bridge Trail, a trail Mackenzie King and I frequented more then any other. Heading towards the Grand River it rises and I’ve a bird’s eye view of the field and the river flowing past its eastern edge.
When you reach the river the main trail continues on the opposite bank but a secondary trail continues to the south, between the river and the eastern edge of the field. From a distance I see a black, white and grey husky running along it up river. “King,” I shout. (Much of the time I referred to Mackenzie King simply as King). The dream ends.
About two weeks later I itched for a change from my regular running route and decided on one I rarely take. A part of it adjoins the stretch of Highway 86 between Katherine St. and Middlebrook Rd. which gets buzzing with traffic from Elmira to the west and Guelph to the east. The last time I ran it was six months earlier with Mackenzie King.
The first full day of spring had arrived. Rivers Edge Dr. ends at Katherine St. and in a few seconds Highway 86 cuts across the latter. I turned west onto 86 facing the oncoming traffic and as I started down hill towards the bridge crossing the Grand River I noticed a black dog about 150 meters ahead of me on the bridge also traveling west. Speeding cars whizzed passed us in both directions. I slowed down in order not to scare him.
The dog stuck to the inside shoulder until it trotted past the entrance to a trailer park. With a break in traffic he scooted across 86 to the north side with the farm field, and the garage a tad further up. Unable to see the creature I also crossed the highway. My eyes searched the culvert between the highway and field and then just the field towards the Grand. “Where is he? Under the bridge?”
I then remembered the day a year and a half earlier in October of 2017 when Mackenzie King ran away and a West Montrose resident found him wandering along the same section of Highway 86.
That Saturday afternoon I was away. As Mackenzie King and Linda, my partner, ambled in the sun’s warmth along the banks of the Grand behind our house thunderous gun fire boomed out from the forest on the other side. MacKenzie King bolted like he had done in the past when hunters blasted the peace.
Linda headed towards the house calling him. In the past Mackenzie King returned within an hour, but not this time. I arrived home three hours later.
Linda remained at the house in case Mackenzie King returned and I strode up and down the river bellowing his name near where he bolted. After about an hour when darkness arrived I scurried home, fetched a flashlight and drove through the housing development off of Covered Bridge Rd. twice. I asked pedestrians if they’d seen him. I zipped up to Highway 86, turned east and stopped at the trailer park. I pounded on the office door but nobody answered. While searching around the front of the park my cell phone rang. Several minutes earlier Linda received a call from a woman whose husband had found Mackenzie King, and he and my beloved dog were at the emergency vet clinic in Cambridge where the furry beast had been scanned in order to read his micro chip ID number.
Yelping with joy I sped to the vet’s, but first I stopped at an ATM to withdraw reward money and then at a pizzeria.
I arrived at the clinic to find my dog on a leash seated in front of his rescuer and his rescuer’s daughter. I thanked Cole profusely while on my knees hugging Mackenzie King. He then proceeded to tell me the story of rescuing my handsome husky.
Cole lived on the south-west corner of Covered Bridge Rd. and Highway 86. While working outside at around 5 pm he noticed Mackenzie King running back and forth along the south shoulder of the highway. Cole got one of his dog’s leashes and Mackenzie King allowed him to clip it on his collar. What a brave and caring soul to approach a strange 65 lb dog with the appearance of a wolf.
He read Mackenzie King’s rabies vaccination tag with the vet’s phone number, but being a Saturday at 5 pm the vet was closed. He then called the phone number on King’s micro chip ID tag. Some of the paint had come off the tag along with some of the identification numbers. As a result, the micro chip ID company couldn’t identify Mackenzie King’s owner and told Cole to take him to a vet where he could be scanned. Being late Saturday afternoon the only clinic open was the emergency vet in Cambridge.
By the time I arrived Cole had sat there for over an hour. I offered him reward money, and when he refused it I handed it to his daughter. When they left Mackenzie King and I chowed down on pizza.
Reflecting on my gratitude for King’s rescue in October 2017, I sprinted back home, told Linda about the dog wandering on Highway 86, grabbed the collar and leash of another Siberian Husky I once owned, Nanook, and took giant steps to my car.
I drove along Covered Bridge Rd., turned west onto 86 and scanned its shoulders and beyond. I passed the trailer park, crossed the bridge and on the south side of the road behind the guardrail I spotted the dog and noticed his collar with a tag dangling from it. He trotted towards the river on the grassy incline with the cedar trees which separates 86 from Rivers Edge Dr.. The incline steepens and the cedars thicken and get more plentiful as it nears the bridge and the first house on the river side of Rivers Edge Dr. .
By the time I pulled over and stepped out of the car the dog was gone. I softly called, “Here pup,” as I walked towards the bridge to peer over the railing at the hill going down to the river. I crossed the highway, surveyed the north side of the bridge, returned to the south side, hopped the guardrail and climbed the grassy incline towards Katherine St. .
I then drove to the first house on the river side of Rivers Edge Dr. and finally located him in a stand of cedar trees beside it.
Squatting on the shoulder of the road, I beckoned to him. Keeping his brown eyes on me he took short steps towards me then stopped about three metres away. When I inched towards him he retreated. Thick black fur covered his body, a black and brown husky mask covered his face and a crescent shaped tail finished off his back end. He weighed about 50-55 lbs.
A white Audi stopped and I explained the situation. Kim pulled into her driveway across the road, ran into the house and returned with dog biscuits.
I gingerly tossed a biscuit towards the wet and muddy dog and implored him to take it. He sniffed it but didn’t eat. He ventured back up Rivers Edge Dr. and onto the grass, closer to Highway 86. It was about 4:30 pm and knowing a friend would soon be picking up Linda and me to go out to eat I called home on my cell phone to let her know I might be late.
After unsuccessfully attempting to lure the dog for over 40 minutes I thought about going home. I could return tomorrow to see if he might still be around. However, instead of driving straight home I drove to the corner of Rivers Edge Dr. and Katherine St. to check for him. He wasn’t there and I steered my car towards home.
As I neared the house beside the stand of cedars, there stood the elusive beast beside a tree next to the road. I braked and decided I needed to rescue him regardless of the time involved.
I squatted on the side of the road, called, “Here, boy,” in a low voice and again tossed a dog biscuit his way. He ate it. Each time I approached him he backed away. I thought of how when I use to open a rear car door for Mackenzie King, he’d leap into the car. I opened the rear door nearest to the dog, called, “Here puppy,” and with little hesitation he jumped onto the back seat and sat down as still as a statue. I quickly closed the door.
Letting out a sigh of relief I plopped into the driver’s seat and opened the door’s window a third of the way for air. Seeing Kim in her front yard, I jumped out of the car and hollered joyfully that I had the dog.
He wore two tags, a purple and a red one. With my heart beating faster, but attempting to show no fear, I slowly slid my right hand palm side up towards them through the open window. I paused. After the quiet canine sniffed me from my finger tips to my wrist I gingerly touched the tags. His name and two phone numbers were on the purple one. Fritz’s red tag read Ignace Township and had an ID number and a phone number. Neither Kim nor I knew of Ignace Township.
Getting a recording when I called the first number on the purple tag, I left a message saying I had Fritz.
When a woman answered for the second number I fervently explained how I’d found Fritz wandering on Highway 86. However, Bev was unaware of her dog’s absence.
She and her husband lived in Ignace, a town 246 kilometres north - west of Thunder Bay on Highway 17, and were visiting their son in Elmira. They’d been in the woods for several hours collecting maple syrup and she returned to their son’s house believing Fritz was with her husband.
I gave her my address and she said her husband would get Fritz in about half an hour. When I asked if he could arrive sooner she said she’d borrow her daughter-in-law’s car and be at my house in 15 minutes.
Fritz and I drove along Rivers Edge Dr..
Leaving him in the car I rushed into the house and returned with a bowl of water and another brimming with Mackenzie King’s leftover kibble. Fritz emptied the food bowl and I refilled it. Bev arrived.
I opened the back door of my car, held onto Fritz’s collar and he calmly led me to Bev who leashed him. I asked her Fritz’s age and where they got him.
He was 11 years old and some friends who drove dog sleds offered him for free to her and her husband. Fritz was an inconsistent puller and, as a result, was unsuitable for being on a dog team. Even though I knew Fritz was a husky, when I heard Bev say he was a sled dog I thought of Mackenzie King and cried.
I told Bev the story of Mackenzie King being found wandering the same stretch of highway as Fritz. She thanked me for rescuing him, said goodbye and opened a car door. I scratched Fritz behind the ears and wished him a safe trip home. Although over 1500 kilometre from Ignace, I wondered at what distance he would start picking up the scent of getting closer to home. F o l l o w i n g Fritz’s rescue I realized the day I found him was the first full day of spring and in the dream it was early spring. Also, I remembered that Mackenzie King was born in March, the month in which spring begins.
And of course the field and garage in the dream are along the stretch of Highway 86 where he and Fritz, both huskies, were found and from where the section of trail beside the Grand River which he and I used to run can be seen.
Prior to finding Fritz, I felt Mackenzie King’s presence after he died, but sometimes I wondered if it was strictly due to my memories of him. However, when I found Fritz, Mackenzie King, in spirit, manifested himself to me, letting me know he’s more then just memories in my head: he’s still a real presence in my life and possibly the life of any husky who gets lost on Highway 86 near West Montrose and longs for the scent of getting closer to home.