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Tanner rides on the bow of a jet boat, headed up Lake Creek to pick up float plane guests at Wilderness Place Lodge.

In Our Own Backyard...There's no love like the love of a dog

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Last Sunday, our beloved “grand dog,” Tanner, lost his fight with cancer.  But it is not in dying that we remember him — but in life.

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In his brief time here on earth, the yellow lab taught us more about love than most people. And as our son recently attested, “He reminded us daily that the simple joys of life lie in the moments we share with each other.”

It seems there is never quite enough time in the lifetime of a pet, but Tanner packed a whole lot of living into his nearly 11 years. He was born in Alaska and spent his first summer growing up at our son’s remote fishing lodge. From that time on, the lodge was always home to him. And though Tanner spent a lot of time at our house as well, we never fancied that he was there for anything more than a visit.

Every year Jason and Tanner would return to Alaska, jump on the float plane and head out to the lodge for another summer, where “The Tanman” became almost iconic among the staff and guests. He greeted everyone as they arrived by boat, hailed their comings and goings from his perch on the front porch of the lodge, lavished love and attention on whoever needed it, and appeared in almost as many guests’ photos as did the trophy salmon they caught.

As many chances as he could get, he would jump aboard one of the lodge’s jet boats and go along on the brief trip to the sandbar in the river where the float planes landed. He’d always ride right up on the bow, nose pointed into the wind, ears flying and a goofy “smile” on his face as he anticipated another load of guests.

Guests from all over the world, including Great Britain, Germany and South Africa, learned to associate Wilderness Place Lodge with Tanner, and they looked forward to seeing him on their return to the lodge each summer.

During the fall and winter seasons, when Jason and Tanner returned to the “Lower 48,” they traveled all over the country, from the East Coast and Florida’s sunny beaches (where Tanner drank salt water for the first — and last — time!) to the forests and coastlines of Oregon and Washington. After spending several winters in Duluth, Ely and Grand Marais, they finally put down roots in a house in Montana, where together they scaled tall peaks, scouted elk and explored miles and miles of the surrounding countryside together.

Tanner even had his own Facebook page, with nearly 100 “friends” to his credit, far too many photos to count and frequent comments from those who cared about him.

Next week marks the first anniversary of the day Tanner and Jason “married” the love of their lives, Sondra. Tanner was front and center in many of the wedding photos, stealing the show with his affability and charm.

Tanner had struggled with various health issues for the past few years following a bout with Lyme’s disease, but he remained high on life no matter what came his way. He bounded out of bed each morning with his tail whacking from side to side and was genuinely happy to see whoever it was who greeted him. He ate enthusiastically every day, and one of his greatest joys was to be invited to “ride shotgun” when Jason or Sondra went anywhere in the car.

And so, it was especially difficult when the vet delivered the dreaded news that Tanner had cancer and would likely have only a week or so to live. He made it nearly a month, and what happened in the meantime was nothing short of amazing.

As the news of Tanner’s illness spread among family, friends and long-time lodge guests, they started posting favorite photos of him — on their Facebook pages, as their timeline or profile photos and in other forms of social media. It was a tribute so powerful that we realized all over again just how big an impact this single dog had on the lives of so many others.

Jason and Sondra posted word of his passing on the lodge website, and almost immediately the tributes began to pour in.

“What a great dog. It will never be the same without Tanner greeting you,” wrote one of the lodge guests.

“Rest in peace, Tanner,” wrote one of the lodge staff members. “You were my best friend during the summer. You made me feel like I was at home.”

“Tanman was one of the good ones….,” commented a friend of Jason’s. “I am sorry for your loss. He’ll always be riding on your bow, ears flopping and smiling.”

Tanner may have lost his fight with cancer on Sunday. But what he gained was a world of love and respect from those who knew him, a world where his legs are strong once again, where he runs wild and free along streams teeming with salmon — and whenever someone walks out the door, they’ll always turn to him and say, “Let’s go!”

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