A dog’s life Husky’s owner eking out best last days with her very good boy
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Steal a piece of meat (No. 2). Play hide-and-seek (No. 7). Have my friends over for a play date (No. 12).
These may not look like typical bucket-list items. There’s no “swimming with the dolphins” or “seeing the Mona Lisa.” But this isn’t your typical bucket list. This is Trevor’s bucket list.
Trevor is a charming 10-year-old husky with a mischievous streak who bears a striking resemblance to Saturday Night Fever-era John Travolta (it’s those piercing blue eyes framed in ink-black lashes). Trevor also has terminal cancer.
When the now softball-sized tumour began growing on his right leg in January, Trevor’s mom, Aimee Fortier, had two options: amputate the leg, which would likely present too steep a learning curve for an old guy, if he was even eligible.
Or they could make the most out of the time he has left.
“I just decided that we’re just gonna keep doing what we do, and just try and make every day really great,” she says.
We’re sitting on a bench at St. Vital Park on one of those glorious October afternoons, and Trevor is about to tick another item off his list: go for a boat ride (No. 5) with his sister from another mister, another husky named Libby.
When making a bucket list for a dog, one has to think like a dog, Fortier says.
“I came up with a handful of ways that we can be really intentional about having a good time together,” she says. “I added a few things out of pure silliness — obviously he doesn’t care about some of these things. He’d be perfectly happy to run loose a lot and eat a lot of beef.”
Fortier wanted to fill the list with things they’ve never done before — such as sleeping outside (No. 6) and doing a photo shoot (No. 10) — as well as the things Trevor loves to do the most (namely eat delicious things, especially delicious things procured via theft).
To that end, bucket list item No. 2, steal a piece of meat, was a no brainer.
“I wanted to give him stuff that he doesn’t get on the daily,” Fortier says, “but knowing him and how cheeky he is, I wanted him to get it in a way that would be extra satisfying — so like, cook a chicken breast or grill a steak and put it on the edge of the kitchen island. Because he’s done that before when we didn’t want him to.”
Such as the time he took his shot and snagged an entire rotisserie chicken, which Fortier had to pry it out of his mouth.
“He stole a hotdog from a little girl…” Fortier begins and, as if in protest, Trevor interjects. He is, like most huskies, very vocal.
A few weeks ago, Fortier grilled him a steak — rare, of course — and left it somewhere he could reach it (the kitchen island is a bit too high these days) while she surreptitiously filmed. In the recording, he’s tentative at first, taking a few furtive licks before dragging his special treat to the ground and tucking in.
The bucket list, Fortier knows, is just as much for her as it is for Trevor.
“It gives me something to look towards that’s not doom and gloom,” she says. “I know my time with him is limited and I really don’t want to grieve for him before it’s time.”
Dog people will understand this. It’s the cruel fact of loving a dog: their lifespans are so much shorter than ours, and it’s never, ever enough time.
“I just want him to have had, like, the best and fullest life,” Fortier says. “So we’re just gonna keep going on adventures.”
Some items, including the big one, required Fortier to get creative. For “play in the snow” — No. 1, as it would be on any good husky’s list — Fortier and Trevor started hitting up the hockey rinks, looking for the piles of snow left behind by the Zambonis. They’ve been everywhere, from St. Vital to Oakbank.
Fortier can’t know whether or not Trevor will make it through the winter. But she can find him snow to play in.
Before Trevor, another husky had Fortier’s heart: a sweet-faced guy named Blackie.
When Fortier, now 50, was a teenager living in Alberta in the 1980s, she was a dog-sled racer. Blackie led her team, which was once featured in the local newspaper with the headline: “Aimee mushes to success.” Eventually they had about 15 huskies and moved to an acreage.
And then, for 20 years, Fortier didn’t have dogs at all — until about a decade ago.
“I think my kids got to an age where they just didn’t need as much mothering from me,” says Fortier, who has two sons, ages 21 and 23. “I was like, ‘What am I gonna do with all this nuture-y, mother-y stuff?’ I had to redirect it.”
She knew it was time for a dog, and that it had to be a husky.
“He’s absolutely been a lemon, health-wise. But he’s my lemon.”–Aimee Fortier
Fortier got Trevor as a wiggly seven-week-old puppy. “He was just stinkin’ cute,” she says. “I would take him everywhere I could.”
Trevor still gets a lot of attention wherever he goes; no fewer than three people told him he was beautiful at the park in the span of 30 minutes.
Trevor’s cancer is the latest in a line of health challenges. During his first vet check, it was discovered that he had undescended testicles, a heart murmur and floating kneecaps.
“He’s absolutely been a lemon, health-wise,” Fortier says with a laugh. “But he’s my lemon.”
They’ve had a lot of fun and adventures together over the years, and he’s been by her side for the tough stuff, too.
“As we go through stuff in life, we lean on our dogs,” Fortier says. “It’s unconditional and you don’t have to explain yourself and you can just be emotional and they know, and they love you. And they give kisses.
“I’ll be a hot mess when the time comes,” she says, her eyes welling with tears and her voice cracking. “But we’re just trying to have some fun first.”
The dogs are eager to get going on their cruise down the Red River. At the front of the boat, Fortier spreads out a fluffy blanket for Trevor, who immediately settles in. The sun is just starting to set, the leaves are ablaze. He may not remember this day. But she will.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.