Looking down at her right hand, Laura Dunning's eyes shine with unshed tears. They are not tears of sadness, though, but of remembrance, for her darling Siberian husky and best friend Shenka.
On the ring finger of Laura's right hand is Shenka's name, tattooed for permanence. This is no ordinary tattoo, however, as Shenka's ashes have been incorporated into the ink that was etched into Laura's finger, and now the two will be forever indelibly linked.
"Shenka was my everything," recalls Laura fondly. "She was like my firstborn child as I got her when I was 24."
The red Siberian husky was a constant in Laura's life. "I miss her when I wake up. I miss her when I go to sleep. I miss her welcome homes and her crazy little quirks. She was always there through my break-ups. I knew her longer than I have known my husband!"
With home in the idyllic countryside village of Otaua, in the Franklin region, the 38-year-old and Shenka used to hit the trails of nearby Waiuku Forest.
Laura, who operates a mobile dog-grooming business, says huskies are generally quite hard work. Their athleticism and intelligence can be quite the challenge for their owners.
"They're into everything and they're not always best with other small animals," asserts Laura. "But Shenka was one in a million. I used to hand-feed baby rescue kittens and she used to mother them."
The animal lover didn't originally set out to acquire a large dog like Shenka. "I really wanted a dog, as I'd never had one, and my boyfriend at the time said I could only have one if I got a husky. I just wanted a little rescue dog!" laughs Laura.
The idea for combining Shenka's ashes with the tattoo came about after Laura was chatting with a friend.
"I always said I'd get a tattoo when Shenka died and my friend said that you could get it done with their ashes mixed in with the ink," explains Laura.
Laura met husband Robbie, 34, when they were both serving in the New Zealand Police, which Laura left after 10 years. Robbie, who now works as an electrician, isn't the biggest fan of tattoos – and as well as the Shenka ink, Laura has two other small ones.
"One is an Ironman tattoo from when I did the event in 2013 and the other is a little butterfly where you can't see it – I do regret that one!" laments Laura. She chose Shenka's tattoo to be placed on her right hand ring finger as she felt it was symbolic of the tight-knit relationship she enjoyed with her special canine partner.
Tattoo artist Dani, of Black Rose Tattoo Studio, had never used ash with ink before.
She explains, "This was my first time incorporating ashes, but it's quite popular in England and Australia. And not just for pets' ashes either. As cremation is conducted at extremely high heat, the ashes are completely sterile."
In preparation for the tattoo, Laura only needed to supply a small quantity of Shenka's ashes, which tattooist Dani carefully blended into the jet-black ink.
"I think it's an awesome idea and a very special way to remember a much-loved pet," says the ink artist.
Laura chose to have a paw print tattooed on one side of her finger and Shenka's name tattooed on the other. Asked if it hurt, the Ironwoman replies, "Not at all."
At 14, Shenka, whose breed originates from Asia, had reached a ripe old age in husky years, but was suffering from canine dementia and losing a lot of weight. So with Laura by her side, Shenka was quietly put to sleep in July.
Shenka's final day ended with delight as she nibbled on her favourite treat – a Ferrero Rocher. The chocolate hazelnut confection became Shenka's foodie heaven after she cheekily raided the Christmas tree one year, leaving Laura extremely worried as she knew chocolate and dogs were not a good mix. But as a last meal, it was the perfect send-off for her dear dog.
Laura's initial wish to take in a rescue pup has now been granted as she has adopted two little characters, Gordon and Whistler, who love nothing more than jumping for cuddles and yapping about."They're little terrors!" exclaims the doting new mum. And while the little bundles of energy bound about, Laura's tattoo will keep Shenka forever in her thoughts.
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