West Tisbury: She and Mike were a perfect match.


We lost our dog last Thursday, our much-loved Nanuk. You have all read about her for the past 10 years or so, and many of you knew her from her travels around town in Mike’s truck, at Cottle’s, on walks, on job sites, on Alley’s porch at coffee time. Nan had a job to do, and she took her responsibilities with a seriousness of purpose. 

I think she was Mike’s favorite of all the dogs we have had over the years. They were so much alike. Stubborn, determined, self-sufficient, following an inner-directed compass that always hewed true north. Loyal. Loving. Fun-loving. Funny. Her eyes were always on Mike, her warm beautiful body by his side. It could have been the endless supply of puppy biscuits he kept in his pocket, but it wasn’t.

Janet Norton had called us the last time we were without a golden retriever, after Murphy died. She knew of a lovely golden who needed a new home. We went to meet Nanuk and her owner, Mari Harman, who became a dear friend. Mari was moving to an assisted-living place off-Island for the winters, and Nan was an Island dog, young then, still needing long walks and adventures and a job to do. She and Mike were a perfect match. 

We both went to Edgartown to take her for walks and get to know her as we prepared our house for her arrival. It was clear from the start that Mike was the person she chose. That was fine. I still had my Tally. We had always each had our own dog, and both of us have big enough hearts to love two dogs at the same time. She and Tally got along right from the beginning. Our house always felt right when we had two dogs in it. This is the first time in our marriage with no dog at all.

“Prepared for her arrival,” as stated above, was not an idle comment. Nan had separation anxiety, and had shredded the trim around Mari’s doors and windows. Mike made Plexiglas panels to cover the bottom halves of our walls and doors. He nailed a second layer of trim to protect the beaded mouldings he had made so carefully many years ago when we built our house. Nan still found ways and places to scratch when she was left alone at home. The sofa cushions always ended up on the floor, slipcovers torn, bedsheets ruined. Nan went through several pawproof screens, and Mike ordered cat flaps in multiples (she tore them out). She got better over the years, but never totally reliable. Mike and I adjusted. We loved our dog. It came as a surprise to me that now we could remove all that stuff.

Mrs. Harman sent Nan to us with a dog bowl, dog bed, dog towel, dog blanket, and the gift of a license plate from her car. All proudly bore the name Nanuk. We found out that Mrs. Harman loved polar bears, and the Inuit word for polar bear was “nanuk.” The Harmans’ boat had been named Nanuk, too. I never knew enough about polar bears to know if it was an appropriate name, but it seemed to suit her well enough.

As Nan got older, she slowed down. She was happy to sleep on her dog bed or in one of the holes she dug in the driveway, to stay home with me and the cats. Mike often had to lure her with puppy biscuits to get her up. She could still muster the energy to romp, though just for a moment, with other dogs she met on her walks. More likely, she plodded along. She still liked to put her paws into the water and swim out a little. She still liked to know what was going on, to be part of life. She remained herself right to the end.
The cats really miss her, too. It has been interesting to watch their adjustment to the empty spaces Nan left behind. Mona, especially, has taken over Nan’s dog bed in our bedroom and the floor space at the foot of our bed, where Nan moved to during the night. I almost tripped over her, as we now wake up to still dark mornings. Nelson has never been without Nan. She was here when we brought him home as a tiny kitten six years ago. He often curled up with her, two orange-marmalade-colored animals; just as often, he attacked her, jumping unexpectedly onto her back, or batting at her tail as it swished back and forth, a perfect, never-tiring cat toy.

Mike and I know there will be another golden retriever in our someday future. We can’t live without a dog forever. A nice dog will come along, needing a home, and ours will be just right. That is our hope. We have lots of friends who will think of us when they hear about a homeless golden. Not yet, but someday.

We are grateful to Dr. Williams and to everyone at the Vineyard Veterinary Clinic and Cape Cod Veterinary Clinic, who all tried to save Nanuk, and cried with us when she died. Thanks, too, to the Steamship Authority for getting us on the next boat to take her off-Island and for bringing us home to bury her.

I had been complaining about Nan just that Thursday morning when I discovered a new hole in my garden, and bulbs dug up and scattered across the ground. I would forgive anything to have her back.