It's a Dog's Life

Kim Luke writes a column "The Manicured Farmer" for the industry publication "Christmas Trees" The World's Leading Magazine for Christmas Tree Growers.  This is her most recent column.

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     Creatures are everywhere at Fort Osage Farm. More than once the storyteller in me fantasizes about plot lines starring these wonderful little characters in the magical place we live. Every day we see turkey, raccoon, turtles, hawks, fox, coyote, deer, and the smaller varieties: frogs, snakes, squirrels, moles, possum and mice and rabbits. They would make a marvelous cast of characters, as long as they STAY OUTSIDE! Our strapping Alaskan Malamute "Karibou" lives both outside and inside. He is the 120lb star of the farm.

    Karibou mastered his role seamlessly. Thankfully visitors to our farm love being greeted by the brawny snow-white greeter as they slowly open their car doors upon arriving. Christmas tree shopping produces a unique kind of adrenalin among children, the young at heart, and gigantic white Alaskan Malamutes. After being welcomed the hunt begins and Karibou wanders into the field with the jovial groups. In the first couple seasons, Karibou had to be distracted from crouching under the tree as the saw blade moved back and forth! After the tree is harvested, families enjoy cocoa and candy canes near the cherry red wood-burning stove. Karibou knows the sound of cellophane opening means a peppermint treat, and eagerly anticipates candy droppings. Often times he gently swipes the candy from the smaller ones then gulps it down unwrapped! Usually replacing the candy cane immediately quells the crying tot.

     When his high energy routine wears him out, he lies by the bonfire and accepts belly rubs for the rest of the afternoon. He effortlessly tolerates even the little ones who are only learning how to pet an animal. Each season those same kiddos grow older and Karibou grows bigger. Part of an outing to Fort Osage Christmas is seeing Karibou, many having never seen a dog like him. Alaskan Malamutes are a unique breed in Missouri. He is often mistakenly referred to as a Husky. Although both Huskies and Malamutes are northern breeds they are distinctly different. Malamutes have brown eyes, are more broad and strong. Huskies generally have blue eyes, and are smaller and faster. How did we ever end up with the unusual breed as our family pet? Our first Alaskan Malamute puppy made its home with us long before we owned a tree farm.

     Fifteen years ago the saga began with our son Nick's passion to own a dog. Each of our three children are seven and eight years apart, so Nick missed out on our first two dogs, but I didn't. I prayed that owning a tank of fish, and a kitty might suffice, but after five years the desire for a dog still remained. Long before we owned and operated our Christmas Tree Farm, both Bob and I were busy with three children and demanding careers. The thought of adding a dog to the mix of our busy household did not appeal to this mom.

     Our fourteen year old research guru son found the Malamute variety is family/pack oriented, good with children and a dry mouth breed (no drooling). He somehow glossed over the shedding dynamics of the thick-coated northern breeds . . . that was all to be discovered later. I began to think his aptitude for cruising the fairly new internet highway might be a curse, because he found a breeder in Tennessee. Nick was hot on the trail to bring one home. He didn't sign any contracts about his responsibility towards caring for an animal, but his father made a deal he couldn't refuse. At that time my husband was a head high school wrestling coach, and Nick would be a freshman hoping to make his team. If Nick would agree to wrestle in a spring tournament in Saint Louis, they would travel on to Tennessee and pick up the dog! After forty-eight hours our wrestlers returned home with not one but TWO Alaskan Malamute puppies! (this is another story to be told, but surprisingly hubby and I are still hitched)

     Within a short time, we moved to Fort Osage Farm and our two beautiful Alaskan Malamute dogs became distinct mascots for our farm. The friendly male Kodiak greeted all the families. Our female Kianna, spooked by everything, stayed inside. After a nice long life, we lost Kianna at age 13. We planned to get another Malamute puppy with the notion the seasoned Kodiak could teach him the ropes of being our Christmas tree farm mascot. This sounded reasonable, but the new puppy annoyed Kodiak with his playful energy, so our older dog was not onboard with the mentoring.

     Our new star Karibou wins the hearts of every family who visits our farm. His personality is contagious. This puppy arrived oversized and only grew. He made Kodiak look small! As a puppy he even followed a few cars off the property, and had to be returned. Kodiak passed way the next fall and Karibou filled his epic shoes with ease.

     Karibou roams our twenty acres along with Farmer Bob. But when we leave the property he is confined. This wandering giant does not follow rules, and visits every neighbor in a two mile radius! In his clever escapes he's made many special friends. He is always welcomed and seems to lift the spirits of everyone he comes into contact with. He rides high on the Fort Osage Christmas parade float or runs alongside the route greeting everyone.

     Our son Nick carried his passion for dogs into his adult life. He and his wife Amy own four dogs and construct the best American-made dog collars in the country (Slik Hound) Their collars are now in 70 stores across the United States! The recent World Series run of our beloved Kansas City Royals prompted a Slik Hound blue campaign and guess who starred in videos and photo shoots? KARIBOU! A perfect ambassador for not only our Christmas Tree Farm, but Slik Hound too.

     Spring of 2017 our four and a half year old Karibou was hit by a car and killed instantly. It was a sad time at the Luke house. He is sorely missed. The families, especially the children who come to our farm always lingered for his kisses, and posed with him for a picture. The extensive comments left below our farm Facebook tribute post are a testimony to the impact of animals. I began journaling about his antics through the years, and have written a children's chapter book about a little mouse named Ollie who wants to be a king, Karibou his best friend and a cast of characters here at the farm. The name of the series is the Enchanted Farm at Fort Osage and the title of the first book is: The King of Nobody finds His Castle. The first in the series was published in Aug. 2017, and books 2&3 were published in Oct. 2017. 

     I hope my stories will help fill the empty place in the hearts of all the kids who will be looking for Karibou this holiday season. But his bigger than life personality and sweet spirit will live on between the covers of my books. Writing about him helps ease the pain of loss. I don't miss the white dog hair all over, but I sure miss him. He roamed free on a Christmas tree farm and was adored by all, headlined campaigns for Slik Hound, starred in many parades and outings, a stellar ambassador for our farm . . . sounds like a pretty charmed life, but in truth we were the lucky ones.  

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Karibou is the star of children's chapter book series "The Enchanted Farm at Fort Osage". A heartwarming story of a big dog and a little mouse,  unlikely friends who team up to make dreams come true. Books available on Amazon, or at Barnes & Noble Independence location. Illustrations: Rembrandt's Sister. Visit to view trailers for the books, adult book series and audio books. 

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