Denali came into Stephanie Klaamas' life quite unexpectedly. Stephanie was a public bus operator in Toronto, Ontario around 15 years ago. One of her regular passengers, a homeless man, travelled with Chow Chow (Denali's mother). But on this particular day, he boarded her bus with a "big ball of blonde fur".
"I asked him where he was going with the puppy and he told me that he was going to sell her to another homeless man he knew for $10. That was it for me. I gave him $20 and drove the rest of the night with her on my lap until I could bring her home after my shift," said Stephanie. "My husband and then young daughters immediately fell in love with her too! She was the best money I've ever spent!!"
Denali and her family shared many happy years together. The Labrador Chow mix was the ringbearer at the Canadian couple's wedding. And after she was successfully treated for mammary cancer a year ago, Stephanie and Steve began planning one last trip with her to Alaska. They planned to celebrate Denali's 15th birthday and to visit the mountain she had been named after. Stephanie and Steve were excited about the summer adventure they were about to embark on, but sadly, it was not meant to be.
Here is Stephanie's account of their final journey together:
"A few months ago, my husband and I were going to take our beautiful dog Denali to her namesake Denali Mountain in Alaska for her 15th birthday. We had planned the trip for over a year. Denali had mammary cancer last year and we had brought her to a specialist in Calgary, Alberta - which is a 7 1/2 hr drive away from where we live.
We purchased an RV months earlier than we planned to ensure that Denali had a comfortable trip to the specialist and for her ride home after surgery. She beat Cancer's butt and recovered incredibly well, so the trip planning to Alaska began.
A week before we were due to leave, my husband drove back to Calgary to take our RV in the shop to ensure a safe vacation and to have Denali checked by the specialist. She had a problem with her paws for several weeks. We had taken her to our local vet who gave us creams for her paws. We gave her a foot baths several times a day, rubbed the cream on her paws and occasionally bandaged them - also allowing for air to get to them. We had noticed that Denali was starting to struggle a little bit getting up and walking, but we figured that it was due to her sore paws and from the minor arthritis she had in her back legs and had hoped she would heal.
Our local vet had signed forms to ensure travel to the U.S., stating she was healthy enough to enter from Canada. They were not concerned. I am incredibly grateful to the specialists at Western Canada Veterinary and Emergency Clinic in Calgary. Having done Denali's cancer surgery last year, they knew her history. It's thanks to them that we were able to have an extra year with Denali.
Upon examining her, they immediately knew that Denali was not well enough to make the journey to Alaska and that she was now suffering - there was nothing we could do - and we would have done ANYTHING we could to have saved her.
Denali was having problems with her liver and that was what was causing her paws to become infected. I immediately covered my husband's and my work shifts and flew to Calgary to be with them both and say goodbye to Denali.
I arrived the following day - May 29th - and spent it with Denali in our hotel room (my husband had rented a nice suite so she would be comfortable). My heart was breaking, but her breathing was starting to become laboured and it was obvious she was now in pain.
My husband and I spent the rest of the night with her on the floor (she didn't want to be in the bed), hugging her, cuddling her and loving her. As we knew there was nothing left to lose, we spoiled her rotten with all types of food. That night, I went to a restaurant across the street and ordered 2 of the best steaks they had for her. In the almost 15 years we had her, my husband Steve and I never saw her get full...she did this night, having eaten everything that she wanted (and no, it was not from the sickness!!! she ate like a little piggy!!!).
The next day, we brought her to Western Canada Vet and Dr. Malden (the specialist) agreed to help us end Denali's suffering. We completely trusted her as she had been so amazing at saving Denali's life the previous year and diagnosing her the day before. She and the tech Jen, were wonderful. They let us have time alone in a beautiful room - not sterile, more like a family's living room, and when we were ready, started the process.
Denali was lying on a blanket on the floor. Steve was lying behind her, cuddling her and I was in front of her on the floor, cuddling her and petting her tummy. Steve always had a song he made up that he used to sing to her, so Dr. Malden allowed him to sing as the meds were administered. We both started sobbing as we realized Denali only had moments left. As he sobbed, she snuggled into his chest trying to comfort him. She died very peacefully, knowing how much she was loved and adored.
While we are both devastated, we know it was the most loving thing we could do for her. Alaska for her 15th birthday wasn't important as we realized she wouldn't understand and that it was more for us.
I have NEVER known heartbreak more than after loosing her. I posted a lot on Facebook and received a lot of support, but found many to not understand - thinking she was only a dog...she wasn't just a dog, she was our furry child.
We decided to have her cremated. Arthur Magega at the Pet Cremation Care Center was so kind and patient with us. He allowed us to see Denali again and to escort her to be cremated. We wanted to ensure that Denali would be treated with dignity in her death. Arthur was very patient, understanding and sympathetic - not something you would expect from someone in his profession. He allowed us to pick up her ashes the same day as we didn't want to leave her alone.
It was the longest drive home the next day and then entering our house without her was devastating. The emptiness without her presence has been almost unbearable. I am however, so grateful that I had the privilege of sharing almost 15 years with Denali.
While I feel I have lost a piece of my soul, I gladly endure this pain than to have never had the love, friendship, loyalty and happiness that Denali brought to my life everyday since she was 6 weeks old."
Stephanie and Steve ended up cancelling their trip to Alaska, as they couldn't bear the thought of going without her. Now a few months have passed, Stephanie shared happier news with DogHeirs. She explained that Steve "could'nt bear to live without another dog" so they adopted a rescue two weeks ago. She wrote, "Her name is Keira. She was on her way to the SPCA when we 'adopted' her. She's 8 months old, a Border Collie/Lab cross, and gives us much joy."
She added, "While I initially felt like I was betraying Denali, I realized that she wouldn't want us to be so sad and it would make her happy to know we saved another doggy. We both have too much love to give not to give another fur baby a second chance."
She explained, "I realize now that we have enough love for both Denali and Keira. It's like having children - you can love them with all of your heart and still love more the same way. I am grateful for all of the years we had with Denali and look forward to sharing many years with Keira too...we are truly blessed."
"Steve and I were fortunate that the Pet Cremation Center had charms that we could put some of her ashes in. We both bought silver chains long enough so that she rests against our hearts - she will always be with us."
"Portrait of Denali at Denali Mountain in Alaska that we had commissioned by a wonderful artist - Cherie Sibley Wasyliw"
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