Nose to the wind with snow in his face, lead dog, leery of humans; Vasser was a sled dog of character and enigma.

As the beta lead dog, next to his alpha brother Grisman, the two led their team across the tundra of Canada and Alaska. He pulled stoically at the front of the pack for many Iditarod and Yukon Quest races; a working dog and proud of it. He was the one who decided if you’d be invited into his circle; not the other way around. Arthritis in his fore ankles forced him into retirement at the age of twelve. He became despondent; depressed really. He longed for the days on trail.

“Let me take him on walks,” I said to his then owner.

“You don’t take sled dogs on walks,” he replied.

“Well, let me do something with him. He is wasting away.”

Pulling me in his harness, Vasser would lead me down the trail. He soon became MY dog. Better said, I became HIS person. When we came to Colorado, he was happy to finally take solace in retirement. It took him another year or two to consent to come inside and warm his aging bones by the fire. Dog treats? No, thank you. Well, maybe. Hmm. Okay, if you insist.

Every day he would surprise me. Every day he loosened up a bit more. He’d roam the yard a free dog. He would inspect his pack and then lie in the sun a happy dog. Still shy to humans, he would now engage other dogs in frolic and fun. He began to play; to become for the first time playful. The only human he instantly took to was my three-year old grandson; a kindred soul. He was our oldest dog in body and the youngest in spirit. I called him “Puppy.”

Last Friday, after a hearty playtime with me, he stood in driveway watching me work in the dogyard. A yelp and a jerk called me to him immediately. Within seconds he died in my arms of a heart attack.

“On by, Vasser. On by.”