FORT KENT, Maine — His name was Magoo. He and his siblings Miss Piggy, Maggie, Mouse and Casper were all part of what came to be known as “the cartoon litter.”
The entire litter was from a long line of racing Alaskan husky sled dogs bred by my friends Amy Dugan and John Osmond, who live near Greenville.
The most consistent and steady dog on the team, Magoo had the heart of a champion and the work ethic that could put a Puritan to shame.
Most definitely not the brightest bulb in the box (I often pictured the inner workings of his brain as an endless game of Atari’s “Pong,” with the little light bouncing back and forth on the slowest and easiest setting) but that lack of smarts was more than made up for by an attitude that never soured.
He was my teammate and my friend; and on Thursday I had to say goodbye.
Never one to complain, Magoo pulled up lame seemingly out of nowhere Wednesday with a swollen front wrist.
Thinking it was due to a bad jump or stumble from running around the new snow in his run, we rubbed it with liniment, gave him a doggy-version of Advil and made arrangements for the veterinarian to see him the next day.
I should have known something was amiss when we drove to town.
Pound for pound, Magoo was the strongest sled dog I have ever had. He was 65-pounds of solid muscle covered in soft brown and tan fur, and when he decided to go a certain direction, there was not much else to do but hang on and hope for the best.
But on Thursday he walked fairly calmly at the end of the leash from the dog yard to my truck. For the 12-mile ride to the vet’s office, he sat in the backseat, head on my shoulder, and looked out the front window.
I dropped him off and returned home already planning for what I anticipated to be several weeks of medication and therapy to treat what I was assuming was a simple sprain.
By noon, I had a definitive and very unexpected diagnosis: Bone cancer.
X-rays showed a large tumor on the wrist, numerous small fractures and a weakened section of bone.
We discussed treatments and options — none of them pleasant for a dog who was born to run — and, as so many of us who are lucky enough to share our lives with these amazing creatures have done before — I made the painful decision to send Magoo on his way.
But before we parted, he and I spent some time together in an exam room at the vet’s, talking and reminiscing about the miles we’ve run and trails shared.
As a pup, I was told, this was a dog who attacked life with a boundless, crazed energy.
“All I remember about harness-breaking him was trying to get that harness over his head while he twisted it around about a million miles an hour,” Amy Dugan once told me with a laugh.
But harness-break he did, and Magoo never looked back. From that point on, he went through life head down, ears back, bright blue eyes front and full-speed ahead.
Not that there were no challenges.
“He tends to eat necklines sometimes,” Amy told me when I went to pick him up along with stellar and now-retired lead dog Apollo and team dog Patriot — three dogs who were a big part of getting me back on a dogsled after the death of my husband Patrick due to cancer.
Tends to? Cable, plastic, chain or rope — that dog never met a neckline he could resist chomping on.
We tried everything from wrapping the lines in garden hose to tying socks that had been soaked in hot sauce, mustard and vinegar to the necklines.
Magoo simply considered those tasty condiments.
In the end, I just kept a very close eye on him and bought lots of extra necklines.
Some sled dogs are born leaders, some can be trained to lead and some just never, never get it.
I was fairly certain Magoo fell into that later category until my friend Alan took the team for a spin and chose Maggie and Magoo as his two leaders — based on what, I really have no idea.
OK, maybe part of it was because the first time Alan ran my dogs he had my main leader Cannon up front. She thought it was super fun to take Alan and the team around the same quarter-mile loop a dozen or so times in a row apparently knowing the trail system was very unfamiliar to Alan.
Now, it is often the case that a dog who leads well for one musher will do diddly for another, but I was still pretty skeptical of Magoo leading a team.
So imagine my surprise when Magoo was near flawless in lead, charging down the trail, tongue flapping and grinning from ear to ear.
On another, albeit ill-fated, run last fall, Magoo again had a turn in lead with his sister Maggie on a training run pulling the ATV.
About a mile into the run, Maggie decided she really would rather just go home, and proceeded to take the team into a very sharp U-turn, despite all of my pleas to the contrary.
It was a huge tangle of dogs, lines and cable.
Alan was with me — thank goodness — and leapt off the ATV to attempt to untangle the ball of dogs.
Wanting to be helpful, I locked the ATV’s park brake, put a log under a tire to block it and went to start undoing what was quickly becoming a Gordian knot of dogs.
This was when I learned no brake or log in the world is going to stop nine huskies from going anywhere they want.
Next thing I knew, the ATV was taking off, pulled by a ball of dogs with poor Alan somewhere underneath that pile.
I leapt and grabbed the back of the ATV and somehow we got everyone stopped, untangled and sorted out.
Maggie, looking thoroughly traumatized by now, was taken out of lead and replaced with a cooler head.
Thinking Magoo was likewise stressed, I went to move him also. But one look was all I needed to know, not only was he fine, in the minutes it took to shuffle the two other dogs, he’d forgotten the entire incident and was ready to keep going.
We reminisced about this and so much more Thursday afternoon at the Fort Kent Animal Hospital.
After a bit, Dr. Christiana Yule, owner of the clinic, and Alan, who happens to work there as a veterinary technician, came in.
Magoo’s final moments were very peaceful as he went to sleep and passed on with his head in my lap and I whispered my goodbyes, asking him to say “Hi” to Patrick when he saw him.
Magoo’s strength, commitment and constant good humor are going to be missed next season, of that I have no doubt.
But I like to think that somewhere, Magoo even now is running head down, ears back, eyes front, full-speed ahead, chewing on necklines to his heart’s content.