When Alaska communication and transportation pioneer, resources consultant and general public policy activist Walter Parker died June 27, he left behind a large grieving family, legions of friends -- and a dozen huskies.
People have stepped forward to adopt some of the dogs but the Parker clan is hoping to find new homes for all 12.
An adviser to governors and presidents, Parker took up mushing when he came to Alaska in the 1940s, a time when it was still a practical way to get around in the Bush. He continued to keep sled dogs at his Amorak Kennel in East Anchorage but increasingly as pets.
The dogs have lived on six wild acres off Campbell Airstrip Road, old homestead property now surrounded by subdivisions. When they're not sniffing around the trails that cut through the big lot's birch, pushki, nettle and high-bush cranberry jungle, they lounge in large, covered pens or, often, in the nearby house. To the north of the kennels, across a small pond from the main house, is a dog cemetery with headstones for Yuri, Mowgli, Twinkle and other of Parker's past canine companions.
The seven huskies now looking for homes are a mixed lot with regard to their personalities.
"Balto is best as an only dog. He wants all the love for himself," said Amy Brown, a longtime family friend who refers to Parker as "Grandpa" and has been helping the family take care of the animals.
Pithias, on the other hand, loves being around other dogs.
Curly and Lightning, a long-haired mother-and-son pair that look like twins, would be best kept together. "They've never been apart," Brown said.
And some will need extra attention. Colombo, a short-haired husky with beautiful markings, will need an operation to correct an undescended testicle. And, though all huskies can handle outdoor life, Lara might be particularly suited for retirement as a house pet. As a pup, she was hit by a car and has a piece of surgical steel in her hip as a result. Last year she tangled with a moose and lost an eye.
But she was among Parker's favorites, spending more time with him indoors and even sleeping in his bed as he lost mobility and she recovered.
Except for Lara, who had a recent trip to the vet, all are due for distemper shots, which expired a few days ago. The females have all been spayed. But none of the males have been neutered, perhaps because Parker held onto the possibility of breeding the line, which stems from the stock of Joe Redington, "the father of the Iditarod."
Otherwise, the dogs seemed healthy and energetic on Tuesday afternoon. And well-fed.
"Grampa spent a lot on dog cookies," said grandson Carl Wassilie.
Each was polite, gentle and friendly and alertly obeyed the commands of Wassilie and Brown. While it may be a folly to project human emotions onto animals, they appeared to be happy.
"Grandpa loved his dogs," said Brown.
More information is available at facebook.com/adoptwaltsdogs, where inquiries about adoption can be made. The page includes a photo gallery and additional details about the dogs. Some have tentative offers of a new home, but those could fall through, Wassilie said, so the family will consider all appropriate requests.
Reach Mike Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4332.
By MIKE DUNHAM