Stories From Alaska
Oh, to be a McCarthy dawg. The town’s mutts roam ‘free range’. Highly prized and rarely preened, they snipe for fries, hump, sniff and snooze without human meddling. The pace and population of this remote Alaskan town ensures freedom to wander and build bonds. Packs form and frolic, poised and playful. It’s a medley of mock snarls, curling snouts and ever-shifting dominance. A sign, half way down the main dirt road, urges motorists to heed the pack’s unfettered movements.
I watch them from the steps of the old hardware store. Alliances shift and ebb with each scuffle, until the next stick or bone is claimed and challenged. They duck, dive and dodge their playmates, with barks most usually worse then bites. Vicious outbursts give way to gentle tumbles. Through this tussle of teeth and tails, scores are settled and forgotten. It’s a dance; a wild canine theatre where dramas flair with spittle, butt-sniffing and high jinx. The winner chews the bone; the loser smiles in the sun. It takes the place of any Netflix drama.
This pack cares not of pedigree – from mongrel to Mastiff – no fur is worth more than the next. Neither is size a definitive factor. Molly Maguire, a floppy Corgi/Husky cross with a swishy trot, barks well above her weight. One call from Grandma Patt has her skampering home from her scavenging in minutes. Opha-Mae, an impish, lady-faced pinscher/boston terrier, patrols main street like a matron, when she’s not curled inside her owners hoodie for warmth. Charles, a newbie, was introduced as a ‘licker’. He drinks beer. The human community bestows an equal collective care on these feisty four-legged friends. If one is missing, their whereabouts are quickly pieced together by eagerly shared, watchful sightings.
The tourists that brave the uncertain journey keep their dogs leashed and close, eyeing suspiciously the behaviour of this wild sect. In the city we grip things tightly. Here, collars and control become less important. The grand old dawgs that have passed, live on through local lore. Their place in McCarthy’s history is treasured and often recalled – Jack, Pacha, Achilles, Cinda-Lou, Diesel, IO and many I never had the privilege to pet.
Losses make way for new arrivals. Silas, Echo, Jim-bob and ‘Uh-huh’, Kimmie, Tazlina, Ruger and Cato skip, slobber and slink about town with the exuberance and promise a puppy brings. These hapless newcomers must learn quickly. Fast moving streams, bears and the piercing pain of a porcupine quill are mistakes most can only afford to make once. These dogs are as close to wild as a pet can be. They define the community as much as the hardy humans that whistle from their porches when it’s time for bed. These are McCarthy’s mutts and they’re as free as their owners.