y new exercise program has helped me lose weight, made me irresistible to women, improved my relationship with my fiancée, and gets me out of the house twice a day, rain or shine. I call it the “Walk The Alaskan Malamute Or It Will Destroy The House” program.
We picked up our 43-kilogram beast at the local dog shelter a couple of weeks ago. My original idea was to get a cat to scare off the mice invading the kitchen of our old wooden courtyard home on a mountainside near Dali in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province. But we decided a fearless, scary-looking guard dog might be more useful, and make my fiancée feel secure when I’m not at home.
Many Chinese cities don’t have a dog shelter at all – from time to time the town management officials just round up the strays and kill them. Dali’s shelter, started by a group of animal lovers who banded together on social media, is tucked behind a factory off a highway on the outskirts of town. It has two fenced in areas, one for sick dogs living out their final days, and another for dogs in good enough health to be adopted.
My dog was the biggest in the crowded shelter by far, and had the appearance of a junkyard fighter. He almost knocked me over when I came into his cage – he was separated from the other dogs because he could overwhelm them with his size.
The shelter manager, a former taxi driver, said the malamute was healthy, but subtly kept hinting a recently arrived golden retriever would make a better pet. China’s shelters are full of prized breeds abandoned by their owners. He noted the malamute had already been returned once by a previous owner – it howled too much.
But the malamute stole my heart. Dogs and people evolved together, and something primeval stirred in me.
Perhaps he fed my ego, a powerful wild dog with a powerful wild man. Fear. Respect. A house people dare not enter. I called him Cupcake, thinking it would make me seem more sympathetic in case of a lawsuit.
At first, walking this alpha dog in my local village went as I hoped, even better. The villagers jumped when they saw him the first time, perhaps mistaking him for a wolf. The men all asked how much I paid for him.
The exception that proved the rule was when pretty young women spotted him. They would shriek with delight, rush up and wrap their arms around him. Women love a bad boy.
The paradoxes of life. Cupcake is a chick magnet. But he requires so much time and care that a bachelor would never have the time or schedule to handle him.
Although Cupcake looked like a scrappy brawler when I picked him up at the shelter, after a trip to the vet including a shampoo and blow dry, he looked absolutely… fluffy. Fancy. Adorable. No one was ever afraid of him again.
A malamute needs to walk for two hours a day, or it will howl, and start roaming around the house knocking things over. Being an Alaskan breed, he cannot exercise in the full day’s sun, or he will get hot and refuse to move for 30 minutes, until he cools down. He is too big to budge. Originally a snow dog, he is pretty much waterproof, and insists on going out in the rain.
Taking care of this dog requires so much work and strategy, my fiancée and I no longer have time for petty squabbles, and instead spend most of our time strategizing about his care. We now spend a couple of hours a day walking him in the mountain or along the lake – something we had always planned to do, but had never found time for.
We had to forgo a plan to attend the Chinese Burning Man event in order to take care of this dog, but spending so much time in nature has brought me something more psychedelic than a dance festival.
There is a reason the poets Wordsworth and Emerson spent so much time walking through the woods. As you slow down and try to see the world from a dog’s perspective, you notice things that escaped you as you rushed from project to project, appointment to appointment.
Cupcake, initially so mighty and intimidating, didn’t turn out to be the alpha wolf I expected.
The first time he saw a horse he dragged me into a ditch running in fear. He yowls piteously if left alone. He howls whenever I play the violin or my fiancée plays piano.
And in terms of being a watchdog, he is pretty much useless. Although he resembles an oversized wolf, he just wants to be friends with every person he meets.
Things don’t turn out as you expect. This fluffy watchdog would welcome anyone into the house. But as frightened as he is of horses, not one mouse has set foot in our kitchen since we brought him home.