We adopted Kenai, a 9-year-old Malamute, in early August of 2021. His family had surrendered him because they were relocating and feared that he would not survive the trip from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast. Originally, I was highly suspicious of this explanation and thought that they simply wanted to abandon Kenai. As time passed, however, I realized that they made what was a painful and difficult decision but one that was in Kenai’s best interest.
Kenai had a disease called megaesophagus, which is an enlargement and disfunction of the esophagus. Its underlying cause is often a serious neurological condition called myasthenia gravis. I thought that caring for Kenai would be easy – just administer his daily medication and feed him from an elevated bowl. A trip to the vet, however, revealed that caring for him wouldn’t be so simple after all. It was Kenai – not his bowl — who had to be elevated, his water consumption had to be strictly monitored and controlled, and quite possibly his medication was ineffective.
When I arrived home with Kenai, Yuma, our 11-year-old Malamute mix, initially seemed to accept Kenai but very quickly attacked him and badly wounded the back of his neck. I wasn’t sure that the adoption was viable but segregating the dogs and slowly increasing their contact helped. So did Kenai’s non-threatening nature, as well as Yuma’s recognition that Kenai was ill and required special treatment. (Earlier, Yuma had been very conscientious in serving as the ears for Xena, an 11-year-old Mal/Husky mix who was deaf.)
Kenai’s adjustment to his new life and to the rhythm of our household seemed almost instantaneous. He was docile and actively friendly to all people and all creatures except deer. He was also extremely obedient – the first Malamute I’ve had who was actually obedient when he wasn’t acting to impress. (That quickly changed as his vitality improved – he became an affectionately defiant dog.) But I realized that he was more than affectionate and friendly – he fell in love with us and became particularly devoted to me.
The depth of Kenai’s love and devotion became evident one day when I was playing with Yuma and his favorite toy. Rather than give it to me so that I could toss it to him, he growled to indicate he wanted me to chase him. Kenai misread the growl as an act of aggression and immediately came to my defense, despite knowing very well that he was not a fighter. Had we not intercepted both dogs, the episode could have ended in catastrophe. But Kenai was unconcerned with his personal fate – his concern was with protecting me.
A pattern soon emerged in Kenai’s care. We would succeed in stabilizing his condition, he would thrive for a brief period, and then he would begin to decline. His neurologist was hopeful that we could stabilize him for a long period of time, but each new round of tests simply brought more bad news about additional complications. In January of 2022, his condition began to deteriorate rapidly. He passed away in the early morning of January 12, slightly more than five months after we adopted him. As he died, he was looking at me with the same mixture of devotion and admiration that he showed throughout his time with us.
In a well-known chapter in 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes about the importance of love. What we often overlook is why he argues that love is so important: it is the primary force, along with faith and hope, that transcends the boundaries of space and time and carries us into eternity. Kenai loved with the fullness of his being, and I pray that we will be together again in the fullness of time.