Yukon of Griffith Park
July 18, 2020
We didn't want a dog. So when Ben came home from his 6 a.m. run in Griffith Park on a foggy, Monday morning with a dog, we hoped to find its owners.
When Ben came into the bedroom and showed me this dog, who was standing on the patio outside our bedroom, I said to him, "That is the most beautiful dog I have ever seen - what kind of dog is that?" I was uttering the exact words that hundreds of family, friends and complete strangers would utter for the next 12 years.
That day, because the dog had squatted to pee in our back yard, we assumed that it was a she! However, that afternoon, with my dog-knowledgeable girlfriends helping me, I began to brush the somewhat matted coat and discovered our error. And he was neutered. Certainly, the owner of such a beautiful dog would be looking for him and he would be leaving us soon.
As we felt duty-bound to find the owner of this remarkable dog, we immediately put ads in the newspapers about him all around the Griffith Park area, which included Burbank (where we lived), Glendale and a number of Los Angeles City areas. We called all of those shelters; no one was looking for such a dog. We contacted the rescue groups who worked with the animals in the shelters and asked them to keep this dog in mind if anyone would inquire.
As day one, then two, three and four went by, we were falling in love with this gentle dog. As best anyone could tell, he was mostly malamute; however, as his nose, body and hair were longer than any of that breed, we assumed that he was some kind of wonderful mongrel. More about this later in the story.
So, as the days went by, Ben would tell me his heart would drop when the telephone would ring, as Ben was sure that his owners would be calling any time to take him away. But no one ever called; amazingly, no one was looking for this dog! He could be ours! We named him Yukon.
As I said, Ben was a runner and so he started taking Yukon with him on his daily runs in Griffith Park. Ben ran many hundreds of miles for several years with Yukon by his side on a leash. Ben used to say that Yukon was a perfect running companion, as he never left Ben's side, never caused the leash to be anything but slack, no matter how rough the terrain.
As we had two horses and most of the time I rode both of them myself, I was in Griffith Park about nine times a week. When Yukon and I reached the edge of the Park from the streets of our Burbank Rancho neighborhood, I would release Yukon from the leash, and he was free-and, boy, did he run. He would run ahead and then back to me, covering twice the distance the horses were. And he increased his distance many times over as he would chase any wildlife he saw, for he would leave the trail all of a sudden and run down into the very wild canyons or run up the mountain side chasing critters that often I didn't even see. (Thankfully, he never caught anything.)
Years later, when people would remark about how laid back Yukon was, I would reply that that was because he had a hundred thousand miles on him!
I titled this Yukon of Griffith Park because not only did Ben find him in the Park, but for the next half dozen years, Yukon spent a lot of time in the Park. And he spent a lot of time with us at Shaver Lake, where he was the best dog to hike and swim with! Then we moved to Bear Valley Springs and Yukon joined us here, too, on the wonderful trails.
Through all of our adventures with Yukon, each day he would be running in the dirt. So I got quite a workout every day brushing that long, fine coat to get the dirt out so that he could be a clean house dog, too! I say, if one has a long-haired dog, you must keep your friend brushed!
We believe that Yukon was a young dog when Ben found him, as his coat was not yet as long as it would be within a year. We had him for 12 wonderful years, and everyone loved his gentle personality and his beautiful look. Unfortunately, he suffered from hip dysplasia the last couple of years, which I never thought he would get as he was so fit; but I guess if the weakness is there, it doesn't matter what one does. He died of a stroke when we took him from Shaver Lake, which is 5,500 feet in altitude, to Mammoth, which was 8,000 feet where Ben's brother lived. I guess altitude is hard on dogs as well as people who are old or who have heart weakness. We estimated he was 13 or 14, so he had a good, long life.
Back to his breed: Years after Yukon was gone, I saw a picture of a dog who could have been Yukon. I was able to talk to the dog's owner. She said that her dog was a pure malamute, but a throwback to an earlier type of malamute which the breeders tried to breed out. However, it still appeared in some litters. What a shame this type is not revered because it is so elegantly beautiful!
Life was even more wonderful during those years with Yukon. He was all the more precious, of course, because he needed our home. Rescued pets are always grateful, don't you think? (Well, maybe not cats.)