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Sasha the husky: Fulfilling a need to run

October 24, 2008 |  2:32 pm

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Times staff writer Jerry Hirsch continues his chronicle of Sasha, a husky he encountered on a street in downtown Los Angeles. Hirsch brought Sasha home, only to discover that she liked to wander -- and that healthcare for animals who like to roam is expensive. Look for periodic updates on Sasha in the weeks to come on L.A. Unleashed.

I stopped by the Orange County Animal Shelter recently. We were near The Block shopping center in Orange, and Jennifer suggested we take a peek. This is where Jennifer bailed out Sasha after the Siberian husky bolted from our yard on her 8-mile run to La Palma.

The first thing I noticed was how the Theo Lacy Facility, a county jail, nearly envelops the shelter. The combined parcel contains humans and animals housed in cells, each to be taken out briefly for exercise on tightly fenced lawns. I wondered who had a better chance for redemption and happiness — the human or the canine prisoners.

The number of farm animals at the urban shelter also surprised me. Why choose a Chihuahua when you can take home a 400-pound pig or a squawking goose? Do you think they ever become dinner?

We saw four huskies at the shelter. None had the striking snow white coat and blue eyes of Sasha. They were various combinations of gray and white. One had an eye that was two shades of brown, kind of split unevenly down the middle.

Two of the dogs had been "surrendered" by their owners to the shelter. The third "returned" by an adoptive family. The fourth looked to be a bolter like our Sasha, the year-old stray I found deliriously wandering Spring Street in downtown LA.

Jennifer and I looked knowingly at each other. We understood the human side of this equation.

Huskies aren’t dangerous dogs, they are just difficult. They have an almost psychotic need to be with human companions or other dogs. We can’t leave Sasha at home by herself. She’s tried to break through doors and windows to escape outside and look for us. The dogs are hardwired to run.

The Siberian Husky Club of America warns potential owners that "a Siberian, for his own protection, should be kept confined or under control at all times. If you are one of those people who think it is cruel to kennel a dog, or keep him confined in his own backyard ... don’t buy a Siberian."

I suspect previous owners of the huskies at the shelter couldn’t deal with these issues. I don’t know if Jennifer and I can either. Two months after we brought Sasha into our home, we keep going back and forth on whether or not to keep her. On some days, she is an angel. But at other times, she intimidates our Labrador retriever.

And we just can’t figure out how to contain her. Sasha escapes from crates. She digs her way under fences and hops over barriers. Then there is the problem of leaving her alone. We can’t keep her inside when we are not home, and if we leave her outside, Sasha howls like a wolf until we come home.

Before you say, "exercise cures all," let me tell you it just cures "some." Sasha gets walked about three miles a day and still is a handful. I am figuring out how to try to run her without injuring or killing me.

There are these great scooters and harnesses designed for the Sashas of the world, and a club called Urban Mushers that meets in Orange County. Sasha was spayed last week and is recovering. Maybe when she heals, we’ll give it a try.

At the minimum, it might make one of those sappy Disney movies. Foolish animal lover rescues husky from the mean streets of L.A. He falls in love with the breed and starts mushing in the park. Soon he has a dog team and is on his way to Alaska. Maybe adoption is the sane option.

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