Ae
The woman getting out of the skiff on our remote beach looked up in disbelief as the five of us kids raced toward her behind a pack of snarling, barking dogs. “Kill her! Kill her!” she heard us screaming.
Alaska for Real: Twenty-plus dogs 032917 AE 1 Tara Neilson, for Capital City Weekly The woman getting out of the skiff on our remote beach looked up in disbelief as the five of us kids raced toward her behind a pack of snarling, barking dogs. “Kill her! Kill her!” she heard us screaming.

Clockwise: Tara with Little Anne; Megan with Sonya; Tara with Lady and Vicki; Robin and Chris with Junior and Little Mac; the puppies on cannery foundations; Moby, Tara, Lady, Jamie, Bear Killer, Junior and Vicki. Submitted photos.


Moby and Lady. Moby has just captured a salmon. Submitted photos.

Click Thumbnails to View
Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Story last updated at 3/28/2017 - 7:58 pm

Alaska for Real: Twenty-plus dogs

The woman getting out of the skiff on our remote beach looked up in disbelief as the five of us kids raced toward her behind a pack of snarling, barking dogs.

“Kill her! Kill her!” she heard us screaming.

Dogs were a huge part of our childhood. It all started when my parents decided to get me a dog, which friends brought out from Ketchikan on their fishing boat. Lady was an eight month old golden Cocker Spaniel. We already had one dog, Moby, my brother Jamie’s Sheltie (with just a touch of Cocker).

“Oh, look, he likes her!” My parents had been concerned that the dogs wouldn’t get along, but that wasn’t the case. Shortly after Lady’s arrival we had six adorable puppies.

We had more puppies every year until at one point we had more than 20 dogs. Although the dogs were good at scavenging on the beach and we cooked up huge piles of spawned humpies for them, we spent a large part of our budget on dog food, and we kids spent a lot of energy carrying pallets of fifty-pound bags of dog food up the beach.

It was worth it, though. Besides the dogs protecting us from bears, my mom says one of her favorite memories is of looking out the window and seeing her five kids running across the beach with a stream of dogs chasing them, living childhood freedom to the fullest. I remember that on generator days, after watching “The Man From Snowy River,” we’d run outside and crack bull kelp whips, pretending the dogs were wild Australian brumbies (horses) that needed to be rounded up.

Our dogs were good companions, full of personality. (Since they were a Shelti-Cocker mix, we called them Shockers.) First there was Lady who was maniacally loyal and would dig through walls and break windows to get to me whenever I was too long out of her sight. She climbed a ladder when I slept in a loft. And whenever we played hide and seek, my brothers and sister cheated by letting Lady loose—she’d sniff me out no matter where I hid, leading the others right to me. She also chased bears and swam underwater, especially if we lit jumping jacks and tossed them into the bay.

Moby was king of all he surveyed, a fierce protector of his territory. When a strange dog arrived with a rare visitor, we had to lock Moby inside the house. He’d nearly lose his mind, whining, moaning, and growling as he watched from the windows as the strange dog marked its territory all over his domain. He’d almost rupture his bladder afterwards trying to eradicate all evidence of the other dog’s existence. He loved Lady—there was nothing he enjoyed more than racing across the rocks in the creek with her, fishing for salmon or chasing off bears. However, he never could understand what possessed her to litter the place up with all those bumbling, nuzzling puppies. He treated them like they were an evil that had to be endured only because she was so fond of them.

We loved naming the puppies: Cheerios, Saber, Zarkhov (from Flash Gordon fame), Gee Willie, Wee MacGregor, Dickens, Bear Killer, Sylvester, McGillicuddy, Pistachio (Stash), Deja vu, Sonya…..

Lady and Moby and their descendants produced some of the most adorable puppies in history—Disney puppies, we used to say. But when they grew up, the Shocker came out. Many of them boasted a smirky, Bruce Willis grin and an Einstein hairdo passed on by Lady. My brother Robin accidentally shot one of the dogs, the bullet just grazing Sylvester’s face. Afterwards, he could only lift one side of his muzzle and he went from grinning to sneering.

One of the puppies was born with a perfect white heart on his head. The white puppies in every litter became particularly useful in the woods at night when we had to get from one side of the property to the other without flashlights. The white dogs glowed in the low light and we made it safely through the woods following them.

One of my standout dog memories is of when a friend of my parents, who left under a cloud years before, decided to visit us in our bush home. She brought her baby daughter to help mend fences.

The dogs had a habit, because they saw so few people, of running toward newcomers and barking violently. Our kids’ job was to run after the dogs and stop them. Bear Killer was always the worst offender, always in the lead, so when we ran after the dogs, we were always yelling his nickname: “Killer!”

The returning friend was faced with a pack of raving dogs and kids screaming what sounded like: “Kill her! Kill her! Kill. Her!” at the top of their lungs.

Amazingly, after this greeting, she continued up the beach with us. But when I went to help her get on the floathouse by taking the baby, she refused to allow the baby to leave her arms. Perhaps not surprisingly, she never visited again.

It was a sad day when no more puppies were gamboling about on “Puppy Hill” which retains its name to this day, but we still have all of our Shocker stories to reminisce about whenever my brothers and sister and I get together.

Tara Neilson blogs at www.alaskaforreal.com.