More than ten years ago I turned to my wife and said “Every once in a while you should do something really stupid just because you want to do it. Let’s get a dog.” It’s been one of the best and most life-transforming decisions we’ve ever made.
My wife grew up with Samoyeds. Her family had them since before she was born. Her earliest memories are of burying her face in the long, warm, white, sweet-smelling fur of a Samoyed. Through her love of the breed I’ve come to love the breed as well. We searched for nearly two years before we found breeders whose dogs were just what we were looking for.
We told Mary and Joyce, the breeders at Kendara (their kennel’s name), that we were looking for a girl but we would take whatever they were willing to give us. In the next litter that was born at Kendara two boys survived. And one of them was ours.
Our puppy’s sire (father) was Noah (Ch. Kendara’s Star Duster’s Legacy) and his dam (mother) was Gabby (Ch. Kendara’s Unforgettable). The “Ch.” in front of their registered names (the names registered with the American Kennel Club or AKC) means “Champion”. It means they’ve competed in dog shows and been recognized by the AKC as outstanding specimens of their breed.
When he was eight weeks old we took him home on a cold, snowy February day. We were pretty silent as we drove the hour and a half out to Marseilles. We weren’t really sure what we were getting into. He came home riding in my lap in the backseat. When he became restless we sang Unforgettable, the song with his mother’s name. We spent a nearly sleepless night in wonder intermingled with shock. He was the most beautiful thing we’d ever seen.
That’s him up there. Kendara’s Spirit Guide. His “call name” i.e. the name we call him is Qila (pr. KEE-la). It means “spirit guide” in Inuit.
There’s an amusing story behind his name. When my wife’s parents got their first Samoyed nearly fifty years ago, they called the Alaska Chamber of Commerce in Nome and asked them about sled dog names. The name they used was U-Chee which presumeably means “little girl”.
We tried to do the same thing. But there was no Alaska Chamber of Commerce. We called the Nome Chamber of Commerce. They referred us to the University of Alaska at Nome Department of Native Languages. We called the department . A woman answered the phone. Imagine Marilyn from Northern Exposure. We certainly did.
Marilyn: “Department of Native Languages”
Me: “Hello. I’m calling from Chicago. Do you have a book on native language sled dog names?”
Me: “Great. Can I buy a copy?”
Marilyn: “It’s out of print.”
Me: “Oh, gee. How long is this book?”
Marilyn: “About twenty pages.”
Me: “Would it be possible for you to Xerox it for me?”
Me: “I’d be happy to pay for it.”
Marilyn: “Oh, that would be no problem.”
Me: “How can I arrange for payment?”
Marilyn: “Don’t worry. I’ll send you a bill.”
Three days later we received the Xeroxed copy of Alaskan Native Sled Dog Names.
Qila is my first Sam. He has taught me an enormous amount: when to get up, when to walk, when to eat, and when to play. Whether pack hiking, letting a sick child fall asleep with head buried in his fur, jumping up on the bed at 5:00 on a cold winter’s morning for a nice cuddle, giving the neighborhood children a ride in his wagon, or just falling asleep on our living room rug, Qila is a beloved friend and a valued member of our family.
Qila has a working title: WSXM (Master Working Samoyed), the first such east of the Mississippi and the fourteenth in the history of the title. He received the award for his work in backpacking, herding sheep, excursion sledding, and therapy dog work. He is a brilliant therapy dog with a remarkable ability to determine who needs him most and do just the right thing.
The picture above was taken about five years ago at the Skokie Lagoons while on a pack hike for Qila’s Working Samoyed title (WS). It’s a beautiful picture but not his most beautiful picture. But I thought you’d like to see it.