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In MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA, deeds to one square inch of Alaska are based on a 1950s promotional campaign by a cereal company that also sponsored the radio (and later TV) show, “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon,” which featured the brave sergeant and his Alaskan husky, Yukon King.
For the purposes of my novel, I modified the show and promotion a bit—the show becomes “Sergeant Striker and the Alaskan Wild,” and the dog’s name Trusty. But I knew that Trusty had to be based on an actual dog that my family rescued years ago.
At the time, our daughters were three and five. My husband, daughters and I were just nearing the end of our hike on a beautiful late spring afternoon. Suddenly, out of the woods lunged a large dog, mostly German Shepherd. Our first thought, of course, was to protect our daughters, so we picked them up. After that, we frankly weren’t sure what to do—turning and running didn’t seem wise, but surging past the large dog didn’t seem particularly brilliant, either. So, we stood calmly, and thankfully, our daughters picked up on our signals, and became quiet and still in our arms.
But as my husband and I observed the dog, we realized he was more terrified than we were. He was filthy, scrawny, trembling, and silent. The pleading expression in the dog’s eyes touched us. His collar was gone, but that his neck had sores where he must have once worn a too-tight collar. His right ear was torn in half in a distinctive, jagged rip and crusted with blood. We realized this dog just needed help. As we began slowly walking and quietly encouraging him to follow us, he limped after us back to our car, an old hatchback.
Somehow, we got him into the cargo area, and I sat in the back with him, holding the trembling animal as best I could, both out of sympathy for the dog and out of protectiveness of our daughters sitting up front with their daddy, who drove to an animal shelter reputed to work very hard to find homes for stray animals. I’d always been a little nervous around dogs, but I felt so sorry for this one—and so angry that someone had so cruelly neglected and abused him—that I forgot my fear.
At the shelter, we explained how we’d found the dog, but with two young daughters, two full time jobs, a very tiny house, and three cats, we knew we weren’t the right family to shelter or foster this dog, but we wanted him to be taken care of. We paid the required fees and completed paperwork for the dog’s care. My husband and I worried that he might not be adopted… that he might be euthanized… but consoled one another that at least that would be more humane than the starving to death in the woods.
About a month later, though, we were at our older daughter’s T-Ball game, and saw a young couple sitting with a quiet, gorgeous German Shepherd. Immediately, we thought of the dog we’d rescued… but this dog had a sleek coat and healthy physique, had filled out to a healthy size. Then the dog turned to look at us, and we saw that his ear, though healed, had the same distinctive jagged tear as the dog we’d rescued. We talked with the couple and confirmed that, yes, this was the same dog. We were so relieved that the dog had found his happy forever-home.
As I wrote MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA, I decided the dog we rescued would make an appearance as Trusty (albeit as a Husky rather than a German Shepherd). Since my novel is about the power of dreams, I also thought why not give this dog his dream come true all over again– the love and care that all dogs deserve.
Side note… a few years later, when we were better prepared to care for a dog, we adopted another rescue dog, a beagle we named Cosmo (after the lovable, funny sidekick Cosmo Brown in the movie “Singin’ in the Rain”). That’s another story… but I’m glad to say Cosmo is still happily with us.
Talented high-school senior Donna Lane yearns to leave her Midwestern home in pursuit of a career in design, but she feels obligated to stay and care for her helpless father and her younger brother, Will. In fragile health and obsessed with the television show Sergeant Striker and the Alaskan Wild, Will’s dearest companion is a mute Siberian Husky named Trusty. The arrival of two outsiders inspires Donna to consider her dreams anew. Then Will falls sick, and Donna packs up their yellow convertible—with Will, Trusty, and a road atlas—and sets off for the Alaskan Territory. A portrait of a singular American moment, My One Square Inch of Alaska is a moving tale of exploration and love—human and canine—that dares to believe the impossible.
About Ariel Lawhon
Ariel Lawhon is the co-founder of She Reads, novelist, blogger, storyteller, and life-long reader. She lives in Texas with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.