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Category: Sasha the Husky

Tracking the genetic background of Sasha the Husky

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.

Sasha_iiSasha the Siberian Husky has a story, but she’s never going to tell. Lacking any knowledge of what befell Sasha before I rescued her from Spring Street near my office a few months ago, I decided to learn about her breed.

Nearly every inquiry pointed me to a May 2004, issue of the journal Science, in which researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle reported the first extensive genetic comparison of domestic dog breeds.

The Siberian Husky is one of the ancient breeds that are genetically closest to the gray wolf, thought to be the ancestor of canines. Of the 14, the Husky is a member of a group of seven with some of the oldest genetic patterns.

But while Sasha’s genetic pool is closer to a wolf than other dogs, that doesn’t mean she acts like a wolf. Huskies will moan and howl, but that’s about as far as it goes. The breed likes to hang out with people, not hunt them. The Chukchi tribes of Siberia, the source of the Husky name, used the animals to pull sleds and had the animals sleep with their children to help keep them warm. After feeling Sasha’s lush coat — she’s a living Cashmere sweater — I can see why.

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Sasha the Husky goes to school

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.

Sasha_the_husky_6Sasha the stray — the Siberian husky I rescued from Spring Street in front of the L.A. Times office — needs training. For the most part, Sasha is sweet and friendly, but she considers basic commands such as "sit," "stay" and "come" options to be followed depending on factors that are well understood by canines but not us.

Much of her behavior remains a mystery. We think we understand why the snow-white dog with blue eyes suffers from anxiety attacks and engages in constant resource guarding. Her weeks or months on the street left Sasha with a strong drive to protect anything that can remotely be considered food and even water. We once watched her hover for 10 minutes over a French fry she had no immediate interest in eating to make sure our Labrador retriever wouldn’t snatch it. We eventually tossed it in the trash.

Jennifer enrolled Sasha in the Level One Dog Training class at the SPCLA facility in Long Beach. Kathleen McElderry, one of the animal behavior and training specialists, is one of the instructors. We remember Katie as a Los Alamitos High School student as she watched her younger brother play with our son Jacob in the local sports leagues.

Since high school, Katie has worked as an animal handler and trainer at Universal Studios Hollywood, as the assistant curator at Rainforest Café and as the falconer with Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament in Buena Park. We figure if anybody can help us turn the once-nearly-feral Sasha into a civilized dog, it’s Katie.

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Sasha the husky: Fulfilling a need to run

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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?

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Sasha the husky eases into the role of therapy dog

Wednesday, 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 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.

Sasha_and_roni_2Sasha the stray is still with us, despite an almost super-canine ability to escape through fences and metal crates and her giant house trashing panic attack.

Perhaps only the piercing blue eyes of this husky would tell you she is the same delirious, diseased animal I found wandering on Spring Street more than a month ago. The eyes still penetrate into your soul, seemingly questioning if you are friend or foe. Cleaned of fleas and feces and brushed, her coat is snow white cashmere. People stare at her beauty.

Sasha (above left) has become an impromptu, but patient and loving therapy dog, tagging along on visits to a senior living center in Seal Beach. The residents gravitate to Sasha, stroke her and talk about the dogs that once gave them joy in their lives. There’s one lady who dashes -– as best you can with a walker-– to get snapshots of her son’s dogs and compares them with Sasha.

Sasha will be spayed next week and will be ready for adoption when she recovers. At one point I was ready to haul Sasha to the pound to whatever fate would await her. Now I’m not sure if I can give her up. (And I am pretty sure Jennifer couldn’t do it.) Yet as my thinking changes, I wonder if I will ever truly trust this dog. Could we ever leave her alone in the house without coming home to damage? Will walking three to five miles a day really be enough, or will she require more work than I am prepared to provide?

Sasha appears to be 18 months old. If she is to stay we are going to have to reach some common ground between dog and human. Roni, our hyper Labrador Retriever (above right) will never be perfect, and I know how she will misbehave -- snatch food from the table, steal a shoe or great a visitor with a slobbery kiss on the lips. But I also know that she will always play catch and tug with a rope and then lie down next to me when I watch a football game. I don't know what to expect with Sasha. Like her past, Sasha remains a mystery.

Want to read past posts on Sasha? Click on Part one, Part two, Part three or Part four.

Sasha the husky gets another chance

Sasha_ii_2Today, 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 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.

When we last left Sasha the stray, she had trashed my house, causing several thousand dollars of damage. My wife, Jennifer, had 24 hours to find her a new home or else I was hauling the dog to the nearest animal shelter.

Readers thought I might have been a bit hasty in my judgment, and a bit too inexperienced in doggy rescue to be taking on this task. Some suggested various forms of doggy Valium and others wanted to know why we didn’t use a crate to contain Sasha.

Here are some answers. First, I granted Sasha clemency. She isn’t headed for the pound. Do you really think I could condemn those laser-like blue eyes to death? Sasha remains in our home, though we don’t leave her alone in the house. Her beautiful snow-white coat gets brushed and she gets walked three to five miles a day. We even have figured out what treats Sasha likes best.

And don’t worry about her being outside. The backyard has fences well over six feet tall and double gates.

Some readers might have missed it, but we did try to crate Sasha. We have a large metal crate that our Labrador slept in when she was a puppy. But metal crates are no match for a husky. She escaped from it twice with shocking ease.

We then put her in a heavy duty plastic crate and gave her a sedative at night. That works, but who wants to keep a dog on drugs constantly? Sasha now sleeps in a dog bed next to the Labrador in our house.

Sasha is sweet and friendly. We took her to an assisted living center for seniors and she was calm and loved it when the residents petted her. She is patient on her morning walk to Peet’s Coffee, and unlike the Labrador, won’t try to snatch a latte or pastry off the table.

Sasha has a date with the knife in October. She will be spayed and if she is carrying puppies, they will be aborted. After that, we hope to be able to adopt her out.

In the saga of Sasha the stray, more trouble

Today, 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 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.

Sasha_the_huskySasha the stray is finally starting to settle into our house. She escaped from crates and through fences but after fits and starts we’ve been able to round her up and keep her safe. She’s now pretty much recovered from fleas, parasites and a mashed paw.

She has a gorgeous snow white coat and piercing blue eyes.

But is Sasha is healthy enough and calm enough for Jennifer to leave the animal alone in the house while she takes our 14-year-old daughter and yellow Labrador retriever shopping to Fashion Island in Newport Beach?

Big mistake. Really big mistake! I am just getting off my bicycle, having ridden 101 miles to San Diego. I’m bushed and waiting around for the train to bring me back to Irvine, where a friend has a car waiting.

The phone rings. Jennifer explains how Sasha trashed the house. 

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A rescue dog proves to be an escape artist

Today, 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 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. Click here to read the first chapter of the Sasha saga.

Sasha_the_huskyWe returned Sasha to our side yard. But beforehand I reinforced the wooden gate with paving stones and bricks. Nothing was going in or out.

Sasha didn’t seem to appreciate that. She went right back for that wooden gate, pulling a heavy paving stone onto to her back foot. After midnight a visit to the vet ER ($399 including stitches, meds, de-fleaing) she slept or howled for most of the night and early morning in the side yard.

Her next stop was finally to our regular vet ($91.25). Sasha was pronounced healthy with the warning that blood work would be back in a day. It turned out she had whipworms ($61.75 more for meds) but the rest of the blood work was fine. We also learned she was about 18 months old and in heat. Might she be pregnant? After her run along the local creek, could she be carrying coyote pups?

So it’s clear this dog has a drive to run, and that the wooden gate in the side yard just isn’t up to the maximum security prison grade we need. We set up the a large metal crate we once used for Roni in the middle of the garage. In went Sasha for the night. We shut the latches, locked the garage and went to bed, trying to ignore her wolflike keening. What could go wrong? She was in a locked crate in a locked garage.

About five in the morning we heard an amazing ruckus. It could only be one thing. Sasha got out of the crate and spent much of the rest of the night knocking things over trying to get out of the garage. After the same basic drill the next night, we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t keep her safe for the moment. Off she went to a local kennel ($139 for the weekend), into the portion of the facility that I call Doggy Guantanamo Bay.

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An odyssey into the world of dog rescues

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Today, Times staff writer Jerry Hirsch starts his chronicle of Sasha, a Husky he encountered on a street in downtown Los Angeles. Look for periodic updates on Sasha in the weeks to come on L.A. Unleashed.

Call me the reluctant rescuer.

A filthy and thirsty dog was wandering around Spring Street in Downtown L.A. about a week ago. It had no tag or collar, and it obviously needed help. It looked up at me with piercing blue eyes, so I did the emotional -- I put the animal in my back seat and brought it home. I didn’t even check to see if it was a boy or a girl.

So began an odyssey into the world of dog rescues that has left me questioning my judgment. I have spent more time and money on this animal than I would ever have on the human strays I pass daily along the same stretch of Spring Street near my office. Maybe I should have put the people first.

Here’s the story. My wife, Jennifer, was waiting for me with a leash and a collar by the time I got home to Rossmoor in Orange County. We put the animal -- now named Sasha -- in our locked, double-gated side yard to isolate her from our yellow Labrador Retriever Roni (as in macaroni). We figured we would get her checked out at the vet the next day and start looking for a home.

When we got up the next morning, Sasha was gone. She had pried her way through wooden fence planks on the gate and took off. Jennifer was crushed. Our Lab can open a gate latch with her paw, but never pulled things apart. Welcome to the world of Huskies!

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