I took a job at the Yukon News because then-editor Chris Windeyer said I could bring my dog to work. It was really the only question I had when I interviewed for a position as the paper’s city hall reporter in 2017.
Nowhere but the Yukon does this seem like a reasonable job request, but Memphis was almost 13 – well into the golden years for an arthritic beagle-basset mix. In all the time I’d owned him, I’d largely balanced freelance work with part-time jobs, so I worked from home more often than I left home. For more than a decade, he was my sole colleague and my best friend. I wasn’t eager to disrupt that with a full-time job unless it was one he could come to.
Fortunately, the News already had a stable of honorary canine staffers, so Memphis was welcomed into the mix, even if the crotchety old man personality with which he seemed to have been born took some getting used to. He was like the J. Jonah Jameson of the paper, only, instead of pounding his fist on his desk to make a point, he howled.
Howling was how Memphis told you he wanted your lunch. It was how he told you he wanted your snack. It was how he told News photographer Crystal Schick that he wanted her to stop looking at him. It was how I got called into the publisher’s office after two weeks on the job. With a little training though, the howling was (mostly) curbed and Memphis developed a daily routine at the old News offices on Wood Street.
We would commute either by bike in the summer (I had a child carrier that alternately horrified or delighted the people we passed, depending on what they were expecting to see in it), or by sled in the winter, with Memphis mushing me and howling at passersby. From there, he would:
• Check the dumpster outside the door where he had once sniffed a piece of French toast.
• Get carried upstairs.
• Solicit Heidi Miller, the paper’s graphic designer, for treats.
• Wander into Chris’s office in a misguided attempt to negotiate bites of breakfast sandwich.
• Stand, rebuffed and indignant at the centre of the newsroom before sleeping until noon, when the sound of the microwave door opening roused him.
In the new offices on Main Street, this routine remained unchanged except that, instead of the stairs, he took an elevator he never fully trusted, and he added a daily side trip into the office of editor Ashley Joannou, whose mother often mailed him treats from Ontario.
There were occasional breaks from routine, including the odd indoor poop, or a siesta in the sunlight rather than his bed, but mostly his days revolved around mooching and/or thieving food.
In the words of sports reporter John Hopkins-Hill, “he was the manifestation of the balance between laziness and food drive.”
He was also the reason everyone in the office had to keep their garbage can on top of their desk rather than under it. Memphis had a schtick where he would act like it was tough to get around on his wonky old hound legs until he saw you toss a muffin wrapper in the garbage can. Then he moved with the speed and stealth of a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
Ultimately though, it was tough to get around on his wonky old hound legs. One Saturday this November, months after I’d left the News, he tried to stand up and his back legs simply wouldn’t work. Mentally, he seemed fine, pushing himself around with his front legs, trying to race after crumbs and howling when he couldn’t get to them, but he was paralyzed from the hips back and there was nothing he would have hated more than a life where he couldn’t beat all the other dogs to a treat. So I made him a steak bigger than my head and slathered it with peanut butter and he went out eating, just the way he would have wanted.
I used to joke that having a job gave him purpose. Yes, that purpose was largely tipping garbage cans, but it was true. He loved the newsroom. On the rare occasion that I didn’t take him to work, he was furious, standing at the door of my apartment and howling after me.
Court reporter Jackie Hong made him a breakfast sandwich on his 13th birthday. He raced down the hallway every morning with such excitement to see Heidi that he had to close his eyes due to the force of his ears slapping his own face with every step. Crystal took glamour shots of him. He even lost weight because, despite the amount of trash he was eating, he was up and moving around more than usual.
Because of this, I think 2018 was the best year of his life and I’m grateful he got the gig. Thanks to everyone at the News for indulging his old man eccentricities, helping me hide poops from the publisher, giving him treats and (on the rare occasion he would tolerate them) pats, and making him a true newshound.