I have hesitated writing about Tumble – partly because it may prove to be a long post and not necessarily upbeat . . .and partly because I still tear up every time I think about her life and death. However, I have been reminded several times over the past few months that good friends deserve to be remembered. So, here’s some of Tumble’s story.
Two fuzzy, round Border Collies came to the cabins when they were 5 weeks old. Their breeder, a farmer up north in the Peace Country, said the female was too timid to make a good cow dog and the male . . . well, he was just a dog. Within a couple of days, Chris had named the pups Ruff and Tumble – the male would ram his sister at full speed . . . and she would roll (usually down a slope).
Within a short time, the puppies learned their way around the cabins, discovered that horses were not to be barked at or trifled with (the old mare would cock a back leg, glare over her shoulder and challenge ‘Come on pup, make my day!’), found that touching a wet nose to a hot cook stove HURTS and mischievously hid (not chewed, mind you, just hid) personal items of the log building crew. To be found when the snow melted the following spring: 1 sock, 1 glove, 1 toque and 1 boot (how on earth did one of the crew manage with only one boot??).
The puppies’ first winter was bitterly cold, and we ended up moving back into civilization for a couple of months until the cold eased up a bit. Travelling back and forth between Brule and the cabins when weather permitted, Tumble would get horribly, horribly car sick. Ruff would puke in sympathy. Hoping to spare the van further insult, Chris built a hootchie (similar to an igloo, but with packed snow instead of ice blocks) and the puppies were content to stay ‘home’ alone for a few days at a stretch.
Tumble made decisions that winter and over the course of the following years that her ‘dumber-than-a-post humans’ would eventually come to understand:
- I will never, ever get into a vehicle voluntarily or willingly (unless it’s during a thunderstorm). Expect to spend several hours to trap me.
- I am not a PET and I will not wear a collar. I will lose any collar you put on me within minutes, then will slam-dunk Ruff and remove his collar as well.
- I will not cross unsafe ice. She who does so, despite my blatant warning, deserves to soak her ski boots.
- I will play “stick” until your arm falls off . . . or I get bored. Then, I will take the stick away and pee on it so you get the message. Please note: It is my job to retrieve the stick, not Ruff’s (I will bite him). Ruff’s job is to pick up the stick at the 5-foot mark where I dropped it for final delivery to your hand.
- I can move a black bear off the trail . . . if Ruff drops that dang stick he’s been packing for the last half hour and takes the other flank.
- I cannot move a Grizzly, even with Ruff’s help, but I will stand between you and said Grizzly until you remember to do the smart thing and back away.
- I am the lead dog and will scout ahead on the trails and make sure you don’t (blindly, stupidly) run into dangerous wildlife.
- I will do “camp perimeter” checks several times every night, just to let the resident wildlife know I’m on the job.
- I take my job very seriously. If you are too busy or otherwise uninclined to take me hiking or skiing every day, then I will go find someone who obviously needs a dog. I’ll come back when I’m done.
- I understand every word coming out of your mouth and have the option of ignoring you . . . in your own best interests, of course.
- I am smarter than you, but have infinite patience at teaching slow learners. Leo will prove to be an exception . . .
Tumble’s first encounter with a wolf pack occurred early one morning during our second winter at the cabins. Chris and I were in the cook tent fixing breakfast when we heard Tumble’s BARK-BARK-BARK over by the ravine. A few minutes later, Tumble poked her head through the tent flap and looked at us expectantly. “Hi Tumble. What’s up?”. Tumble darted back out, another BARK-BARK-BARK at the ravine, and her head would poke back into the tent. Six times. “Hey Chris . . . do you think Tumble is trying to do a Lassie routine? Maybe wants us to follow her?” On with the coats and Tumble is dancing from foot to foot (YES, they finally got it!). Dashing to the edge of the ravine, pausing just long enough for her rather S-L-O-W humans to get a look at a lone wolf at the bottom of the ravine. A BIG wolf . . . waiting. Bolstered by her humans, Tumble charged down the slope with Ruff right on her tail. Within striking distance, the wolf lunged towards the dogs. OH NO! Chris and I both grabbed the nearest available weapon (happened to both grab dead branches which would disintegrate on contact with a fly) and started yelling. The wolf did stop his death-dealing lunge, calmly weighed us and his options, then slid noiselessly back into the bush. Calling the dogs back, shaking a bit from the adrenaline rush, there were a few “Oh, wows . . .Good dog, good Tumble, good Ruff . . .Did you see - . . . the size . . . how BIG . . . the eyes . . . that wolf was . . . went for my dogs!” comments. Then the wolves (plural) started to sing. ALL AROUND US. We spent the rest of the day finding fun things to do in the cook tent. The dogs slept inside that night.
The dogs generally preferred to stay outside at night. Unless the wolves were hunting. Or it was bitterly cold and Tumble would pretend the wolves were in the valley.
Tumble was ambushed by the wolves when she was 8 years old, and it would prove to be fatal.
I was taking guests snowshoeing up the little valley towards the Avalanche Chute, and all (by now) 4 dogs were with us. Tumble, with Leo on her heels, took the lead as usual with Ruff and (then) little Molly staying with the people. I had seen the fresh wolf track . . . and ignored it. Only a few minutes away from the cabins, I hear Tumble’s “There’s a dangerous animal here” BARK-BARK-BARK and stopped a moment to listen. She’s moving it, I hear . . . then a yelp like Tumble just stepped on a sharp stick . . . then she cried. And I was running – in big snowshoes in deep snow, with Molly tangled, trying to hide, between my legs. Ruff, bellied out in snow with his crippled hips, was trying to reach his sister, too. We were too slow. The pack leader posed on a small rise, making sure I saw him gazing at me with those steely yellow eyes. Tumble was gone from the ambush site, and we spent the next hour calling her, trying to find her. Losing tracks, we headed back to the cabins. Tumble had almost made it home, played out on the trail within eyesight of the cook house.
I scooped her up, loaded her amongst hastily piled blankets into the truck she hated, yelled brief, disjointed instructions on how to fend for themselves to my poor guests, and put the pedal to the metal to the nearest vet. Hinton was closest, but the vet there refused to come in on a weekend for an emergency, so I made the 2-hour drive to Edson . . . in 1-1/2 hours.
Tumble would spend the next 5 days in ICU with tireless attention by the Edson vets and staff If she survived the first 3 days, with her extensive internal injuries, there was hope she may recover and the vets could operate on day 10 to repair the punctured lung.
Meanwhile, returning at a more sedate speed to my abandoned guests, I spent the next couple of days tracking the wolf pack and learning the story. Maybe even hoping for revenge . . . I had originally accused Leo of being off chasing squirrels instead of helping Tumble. But that wasn’t the case. There were 3 wolves: one that Tumble was moving away from her people, one that was laid down behind a bush to grab her when the lead wolf led her past, and the third one who kept Leo occupied and out of the action. Leo was inconsolable, whining non-stop and looking for his best buddy.
I picked up Tumble 5 days after the attack, and she wagged her tail in greeting and gave me a lopsided smile. The tip of her tail was not shaved . . . Ensconced among blankets and mats in a cabin where the other dogs would not jostle her, Tumble stoically fought for her life. Tumble quit eating the day before she was scheduled to return to the vets for surgery. That night, I stretched out beside my best friend, stroking her paw (the only part of her body that was not brutally mauled) and we talked.
Another x-ray at the vets confirmed Tumble’s fate. Too much internal damage and chances were she’d not survive a minimal chance of a successful surgery. Decision made, turn on the faucets, I’m so very sorry Tumble, and I held my dog’s paw as she died.
I brought Tumble home again. You can’t dig a grave in the winter up here and Tumble’s body wouldn’t keep until spring. So, I loaded her on a sled and Leo and I pulled her up to the Alpine Meadow. Correction: Laura pulled, Leo trotted along behind (for once not dashing off the trail to bark at squirrels). The Alpine Meadow was Tumble’s favorite hike, and I think her spirit lies there still. Leo sniffed her body, and finally quit whining.
I miss her still.