Meet The New Guy

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12 April 2015.   3.00PM.   42F    Slight clouds and sunshine

As mentioned in The Timmies, Part 2 post, we were delighted to welcome a new, young pup into our lives. Davaar joined us from Grizzly Valley Kennel and is one more bond in a friendship formed through our mutual association with JJ Bragg and Seppala Kennels.

Davaar got his name from a small tidal island close to Campbeltown, on the west coast of Scotland. It fits nicely with the themed names (Scottish islands) we had for Queen’s litter of pups a couple of years ago and purely coincidentally, continues the unintended pattern of all of our SSSD pups being named after places.

heading home newpup march 15

With a “what the heck just happened” look, Davaar sets off on his journey to Alaska

He was an absolute star on the whole trip home, made very little fuss and even managed to eat and drink at our stops – and almost as importantly (for the sake of my nice leather interior,) he seemed to time his toilet requirements perfectly too.

His introduction to the house dogs was done gradually – even though everyone loves a puppy, sometimes things can get a bit boisterous and we didn’t want any accidents or shenanigans. It goes without saying that first to greet the pup and to establish a relationship with him was Ciobair.  She relishes her role as guardian, of us, the property and all her 4 legged subjects. For all that she has a fierce demeanour when required, she remains the most wonderful babysitter and “aunt” to every pup we have had here. And young Davaar is just her latest project.

About as far away from him as she has been since he arrived. Ciobair on duty.

About as far away from him as she has been since he arrived. Ciobair on duty.

Over the next few days, he got to meet the rest of the house dogs and we have had a couple of “meetings” with one or two of them about boundaries, puppy toys, not teaching him to run across the furniture and just how boisterous the wrestling is allowed to be. He has also been out and wandered around with Ciara and seemed completely oblivious to the fact that she has no eyes.

What is it and does it squeak ?

What is it and does it squeak ?     Seven,Wink and Ruya check out the new guy.

In time, he will move out and become a running dog, and live outdoors with the big dogs, but for the next few weeks and months, he gets to be a puppy, a house dog and to learn everything good and nothing bad.

The only way to keep his toys safe.  Behind bars !

The only way to keep his toys safe. Behind bars !

Getting bigger. He can now climb up onto our bed.

Getting bigger. He can now climb up onto our bed.

As many of you who know us are aware, we’re devoted to the Seppala, and our kennel reflects that. The majority of our dogs are Seppala Siberian Sleddogs and that is just one of the many reasons that we were so pleased to acquire Davaar.  Over and above his delightful personality, his happy demeanour and his slightly scary level of smarts, he brings us the opportunity of much increased genetic diversity, as his mother is a full Chukchi dog.

The Seppala Siberian Sleddog was recognised in 1997 as an evolving breed by the Dept of Agriculture in Canada, with WCAC established by JJ Bragg of Seppala Kennels to operate as the Registry for the breed. Simply put, the SSSD is perhaps easiest described as having its roots with Markovo Seppala Siberians combined with native Chukchi dogs.  In 2010, JJB closed down what had become known as the SSSD Project but continued to operate Seppala Kennels purely for the love of the dogs. He made a number of dogs available and as a result, several other kennels, including ourselves, were able to acquire breeding stock and to try and continue the original hopes and aims of The Project.  With the subsequent closure of WCAC, there is no Registry for these dogs and yet, without exception, the kennels with SSSDs have continued to breed and operate within the spirit and goals of the original concept. “The goal and ideal is the restoration of the original Siberian sleddog to whatever extent that may be possible today, using the McFaul/Shearer bloodline broadened and restored to genetic health by the addition of new Siberia import bloodlines. The Project ideal is a versatile sleddog rather than a specialist racing dog. Assortative mating is emphasised, inbreeding is deprecated and will be kept as low as feasible, while many different sleddog traits are considered rather than speed and endurance only.” Seppala Siberan Sleddog Project.

 

The Amazing Ciara

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9 April 2015.  2.00PM.    41 F.    Overcast

Just a few weeks before we emigrated to the US in 2009, I had bought several dogs as I knew we would need/want to have a bigger pool of running dogs than we were bringing with us from the UK. One of those dogs, still a pup at the time, was Secondwind’s Ciara.

Getting settled in Alaska

Getting settled in Alaska

traning sept13

Ciara, lying down after a run

She is a little firecracker of a dog, full of vitality and imagines she is about twice the size she actually is, judging by the challenges she issues to the other dogs. She earned a spot in the training group and was passable as a working sled dog.

Running with the team on sleds

Running with the team on sleds

In August 2012, she was diagnosed with glaucoma in her left eye and with a rigorous regime of medications and drops, we were able to keep the eye pressure down to an acceptable level for several months. However, as time went on, the pressure started to creep higher and higher until we were left with no real option for relief, other than enucleation.  In May 2013, she had that eye removed by the vet. Once she had recovered from the surgery, she was, very quickly, back up to her usual tricks and foolishness.

one eye

Post op recovery

Not entirely unexpectedly, apparently over 80% of dogs who develop glaucoma in one eye will go on to have it occur in the other eye, but dishearteningly all the same, she did indeed start to have eye issues in her right eye in late December 2014. Despite immediate treatment, it quickly became obvious that she had lost the sight in her remaining eye. Repeated tonometry tests showed that we were not reducing the eye pressure with the medications, and as she has already lost  her sight, there was no real reason for not carrying out the enueclation. Other than the fact it was January, it was -30F and having a dog with a large area of shaved fur in those conditions is far from ideal. However, we opted to ahead with the operation and Ciara came home for her post-op care and recovery.

We cleared much of the furniture from our bedroom, to enable her to move around without bumping into things and one of us spent much of  the next 4 weeks in there with her. What amazed both of us was how quickly she adapted and how confident she seemed when being taken out for her walks and toilet breaks. We adopted the word “easy” as our warning word for her that she was approaching a hazard, such as the stairs on or off the deck, the woodpile or the BBQ. Her response was amazing – after the first couple of incidents, she grasped the association and on hearing “easy” would slow right down and start extending her front legs in longer, exaggerated strides, feeling for trouble ahead.

Still able to explore and wander.

Still able to explore and wander.

We contemplated her future at length. Could she become a house dog, and live in harmony with some of our more troublesome inhabitants? A couple of them have less than stellar reputations for sociability. We were also concerned that she would have issues with the deck, stairs and if I’m being honest, her own chippy attitude contributing to starting nonsense. When she first lost her sight, she was living in a pen with Rimi. Not exactly a calm dog, Rimi has earned a reputation as being a bit of a headcase. Generally, he was fine with Ciara, but there was the occasional squabble. Amazingly, he somehow sensed or knew that Ciara was now different and he gave her much more space and no longer pushed her aside to get to us. It also was apparent that she had learnt her way around that pen, she could jump onto her house, and when loose, was quite adept at wandering around, avoiding the swivel posts, and seemed to like dozing in the large, communal box. With her wound now fully healed, the fur mostly back in place and strangely mild temperatures, it seemed a good time to see how she would cope, back in the pen she had become familiar with. Rimi had been given another companion, while Ciara was recovering. Mermaid, at 11, was just retired from our running pool this Fall, and still thinks she is a young thing, with all of that bounce and attitude. In many ways, she’s a fine match for Rimi, she’s as hyper as him but has a bit of savvy and knows how to sort him out. We reshuffled the yards, and put Ciara back in with Rimi and returned Mermaid to her original spot. Over the next few days, it became apparent that while Ciara enjoyed being outside, and could often be seen basking in the sunshine, she wasn’t entirely comfortable around Rimi. Equally, he seemed less than happy, having lost his playmate.

So, we moved Mermaid back in with him, and decided to try Ciara living with Trouve. Trouve is a big Alaskan husky we took in as a rescue dog a few years ago. He had some trust issues and was a bit of a fighter, liking to get his retaliation in first, but over time, he has become much more relaxed and settled. It seemed like a good match and so it has proved. He, like Rimi, seems to be aware that Ciara is a “special case” and has behaved impeccably around her. Now, several weeks later, she is free running around the big exercise yard every day with 2 or 3 other dogs and if it wasn’t for the occasional stumble, or the odd time she bumps into the fence, you would never know she cannot see.

She can easily tell where we are, despite a lack of vision.

She can easily tell where we are, despite a lack of vision.

She has constantly amazed us – nothing seems to faze her – each obstacle and setback she suffers, seems to be such a minor thing to her and yet we have stressed and worried endlessly. She has set us a fine example to follow.

Inner peace is accomplished by understanding and accepting the inevitable contradictions of life—the pain and pleasure, success and failure, joy and sorrow, births and deaths. Problems can teach us to be gracious, humble, and patient.
Richard Carlson

1800 Miles for a Timmies Part 2

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22 March 2015.    4.00PM.      45F   Sunny

Having survived my first 100 mile race, it was time for the main reason for my trip to visit Jacob and the city of Whitehorse. Sadly, Jacob insisted we had to go straight back to his place – it seemed my dreams of fresh coffee and donuts from Tim Horton’s would have to wait just a little longer to be fulfilled.

However, once at Grizzly Valley, I remembered the other main reason for driving all that way.davaar's littermates

Having taken care of my travelling dogs, and had a refeshment or two,  the rampaging horde got brought into the house for some puppy chaos and mayhem – after everything between floor level and 2 feet high had been tidied away. The pups charged around, investigated us all and happily chomped on the newcomer. Even their mother was relaxed enough to only gave me a couple of suspicious glances when I had a puppy climb up onto my lap.

The next morning I had the difficult task of deciding which of the pups would be making the long drive back to Alaska with me. At that young an age, I pay less attention to structure and dimensions as I do to character and temperament. In the end, the puppy chose me. Jacob took the 2 that he was keeping out of the little yard we were in, leaving me with 2 to chose from. Puppy 1 scrambled after Jacob and stood at the gate screaming. Puppy 2 watched this, wandered around a little, picked up a stick, ambled over to me and climbed up onto my legs. He then lay there, chewing his stick, while his brother screamed the place down. Decision made.

Having done the hard part, we then had to drive the pup into town to get his health certificate for importing him into the US, buy him a travel crate, and, most importantly, fulfill my craving for some Timmies.

A fun evening with a wonderful dinner with great people rounded off my stay in Canada nicely. Early the next morning, I loaded my dogs into the truck, did my best to tidy up our parking area in Jacob’s driveway and slid our new pup and his crate onto the passenger seat of the truck before setting off for home. Davaar, as the pup is now called, was an excellent travelling companion. Aside from his occasional bout of travel sickness………..

New pup in his new crate heading for his new home.

New pup in his new crate heading for his new home.

It was fun to drive the stretch of highway from Haines Junction to Kluane Lake and spot the road crossings used during the race and to marvel at how much easier it is to go uphill when one is powered by a 6.7 litre engine. My drive/rest schedule was amended a little by Davaar’s requirements, but I felt like we were making good time and had my dog drop routine down to a fine art. However, as they say, pride comes before a fall and so it proved. As I filled the truck’s fuel tank in Beaver Creek, I noticed that the door on one of the storage areas was open. A quick mental backtrack placed my last stop about 2 hours earlier, which meant that somewhere in the preceeding 100 miles or so, there was a good chance that someone had to take avoiding action to escape a flying poop shovel, scoop and bag of recycled dog food.

The incredible vastness

The incredible vastness

Empty roads

Empty roads

heading home xar march 15

Father and daughter, Xaros and Brooks.

The next part of the adventure would be the border crossing. Having done this several times, it has always been different, from a full on interrogation to a genial “welcome home” and almost everything in between. This time, I was ready, the dogs’ papers were in order, filed alphabetically and presented in their binder, along with the puppy’s certificates and records. And of course, they weren’t asked for – seems the more prepared I am, the less requirement there is.

Passing through Tok, grabbed a quick bite to eat and filled the truck’s fuel tank again, before pulling over at Chistochina to drop the dogs. It  was there I discovered that the poop handling equipment weren’t the only items that had made a bid for freedom when the door had been left open earlier. A frantic search revealed that I was also missing all my dog bowls. That made giving the dogs a drink somewhat tricky. A few of them drank their soup from the ladle, but most seemed highly suspicious of this new tactic. Opting to feed more meat and fish, I figured that would be a sufficient source of moisture for the last leg of our journey. It also made the decision about whether to take a more leisurely pace over the final 200 miles, much easier. Pushing on, I made it home without incident and had all the dogs back in their own houses before midnight.

Many thanks to Jacob and Gwen for their hospitality and for trusting us with Davarr.

1800 miles for a Timmies

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12 March 2015     5.00 PM      13 F    Sunny with blue skies

Despite my best intentions, I have once again fallen behind in my blogging. Things have been a little hectic, with the Yukon Quest and Iditarod preparations in full swing right up until the proverbial last moment.

We’ve still been trying to get our dogs out and running, but the weather has not been at all co-operative. Most of the tail end of February and early March saw us suffer with rain, ice and temperatures rarely dropping below freezing even in the dead of night. This played havoc with the trails and the dogs – it’s not much fun trying to run in 35F in your fur coat when you’re happier at -20F.  Despite this, we had been making a fair attempt at keeping them ticking over. By chance, a friend in Whitehorse suggested I come over for a visit and bring the dogs.  There was a 100 mile race in the little town of Haines Junction, not far over the Canadian border and it is on the way to Jacob’s place.  So, I decided to enter The Silver Sled 100 and duly completed my entry form, and started to pack the truck with everything needed to survive a week on the road in winter.  At some point during that process, I realised that I am definitely an “err on the side of caution” type when it comes to packing stuff. For 6 days away, just me and 10 dogs, I had so much gear that I could barely get it it all in or on the truck. Thankfully, I didn’t need all of it – actually I didn’t need most of it, and I didn’t even bring some of it back – but more of that later……..

Early on the Friday morning, I roused the dogs -who were not unduly impressed at being asked to get up at that ungodly hour – loaded them and we set off on our big adventure.  All my previous drives into Canada have been in the Spring/Summer time and the outbound leg has always been done without dogs. Fortunately, the mild winter meant that the road was clear and driving was easy. The dogs very quickly got into a good drop routine and around 10 PM, we pulled into our overnight accommodation, just outside Haines Junction.

First drop of the trip in Chistochina

First drop of the trip in Chistochina

Jaw dropping, breath taking scenery.Complete lack of traffic.

Jaw dropping, breath taking scenery.Complete lack of traffic.

Moody sky, happy dogs.  Somewhere on the Alcan.

Moody sky, happy dogs. Somewhere on the Alcan.

With the morning’s dawn, dogs were fed and Jacob and I set off to find breakfast and then track down the location of the drivers’ meeting. Vet check completed, and only a little alarmed by the trail talk, we headed off to the start area and to get ready for the race. I will confess to being a bit panicky at this point. There’s something about a race start that brings added pressure and complications – even when I’m telling myself that this is just a training run. The fear of forgetting something vital or mandatory meant that the area around my truck looked like a bomb site – things were going in and out of the sled several times. Eventually, I calmed down and packed just what I needed, plus a couple of extra everythings and left most of my “rookie bulge” at the truck. Things were going swimmingly until one of the volunteers pointed out that there was no bib 14  and that bib 13 was just leaving – rather than having 6 minutes to go, I had less than 2. Let’s just say as we got to the start line, the starter was already waving me through as being late. Hardly an auspicious start and it got worse only 500 yards later when Rosie decided she didn’t want anything to do with the volunteers manning the road crossing and tried to take us anywhere except where we were meant to go. Mini excursion over, we were back on the trail, already hotly pursued by the next team out.

The next few miles were a bit of a blur, several more road crossings, several more avoiding the marshals by Rosie and being passed by a lot of teams as we struggled with the gradients, the heat and the disruptions. Eventually, I figured we had been passed by everyone who had left behind us and I could stop looking over my shoulder. As we climbed out of the trees and back into the sunshine, I had to remove my jacket it was so warm. A brief sojourn alongside the Trans Alaska Highway and then we turned back into the treed trail.

Trans Alaska Highway on the left.  Grass and dirt all around.

Trans Alaska Highway on the left. Grass and dirt all around.

From then on, it was all uphill,  apart from the few downhills, but they only led to more uphills, so they don’t really count.  I have always loved the scenery on the drive from Haines Junction to Kluane Lake and one of the main reasons for doing this race was the chance to get to see that scenery much closer and without the distraction of driving.  It sure is pretty but it seems a whole lot more mountainous on the back of a sled than it appeared whilst behind the wheel of my truck.
As hard as we were finding it, things got a little more complicated when Turov started limping. The heat made him want to dip for snow more and more and with the soft edges of the trail, it seemed likely he simply tweaked a wrist trying to get out to the sides. As much as I would liked to have him in the team for the long climbs ahead, it was simply not an option to risk further injury to him. So I had to clear some space in the sled and load the biggest dog I have and carry him the 15 miles or so to the finish line. Fortunately, he was as good as gold, he sat leaning against the sled stanchion and never stirred or wriggled. The others simply got on with their work and we just marched on.

ss5

Turov gets a ride to the finish line on Day 1. The ice of Kluane Lake shimmers ahead of us.

After all the climbing, it was wonderful to begin the long descent down to the lake and to the overnight stop. The race organisers had volunteers drive our trucks up for those of us without handlers,  it was great to be able to direct the dogs towards a familiar sight and to know that everything I needed to take care of them was at hand. A quick check of the dogs, who all seemed fine and they happily started gnawing on a meaty snack.  Turov was still in the sled bag and seemed to be enjoying the attention he was garnering.  The vet came over to check on him and made sure I knew where to find her, if required.  Turov was a little stiff and sore, but ate and drank, and was tucked up into his box after an Algyval massage and the application of a wristwrap.  The others all ate well and happily climbed into their boxes for a well deserved sleep.

The race organisers had done a wonderful job with the checkpoint, we had cabins to sleep in and they fed us an excellent dinner and a great breakfast in the morning.  My catering for the dogs may not have been quite up to the high standards of Martine and her crew, but they did eat without complaint.  In the morning, Turov was moving well, with no sign of his limp, but I decided it would be better for him to have the day off. As the slowest team from Day 1, we would be first out on Day 2. With one less dog in the team, I didn’t hold out much hope for any dramatic comeback, but I was a little wiser in packing my sled and dumped a lot of the gear that I would have no need for. The first couple of hours were a little cooler, until the sun burst through the clouds and the temperature soared. There almost seemed to be a visible slump from the dogs when they first felt those rays of sunshine hit them.  And somehow,  the trail that seemed all uphill on the way out, was also all uphill on the way back.  At least we managed to keep contact with more of the teams for longer on the second day, but we still had a long solitary run for home.

The final stretch, heading back into Haines Junction. What a view.

The final stretch, heading back into Haines Junction. What a view.

It’s a mentally tough thing to be running last, but the dogs don’t care where we finish, they just want to run and go some place, any place. New places are great, after several winters of training on the same trails, we have finally broken away from my comfort zone and done new things. The dogs have had to travel, to sleep away from home, to be surrounded by other dog teams and to climb more hills than we have ever encountered.

As we crossed the finish line, I looked forward over the team and somehow felt we had forged a stronger bond.  They had done everything I had asked of them, without complaint, without quitting and had to endure my loving hugs as well. It is always the leaders who are singled out for praise and special attention – and to some extent that is understandable. If they don’t go, none of us go.  However, everyone needs to pull and be part of the team and it seems unfair to single out any one dog . However, I’m going to do that anyway.  Kazek ran lead both days and for a large part of Day 2 he was the dog driving us forward. I rotated Rosie, Ruby and Quiz as running companions for him, but as they tired, they seemed happy to let him do all the work.  Eventually, I promoted 3 year old Brooks to run beside him – her first time in lead and she rose to the challenge and ran shoulder to shoulder with him for the last 15 miles. Kazek was my MVP,  but it was so heartening to see Brooks, whom we bred, taking such a big step up.

Back at the truck, after finishing our first 100 mile race. Brooks and Kaz in lead.

Back at the truck, after finishing our first 100 mile race. Brooks and Kaz in lead.

After the dogs were checked, fed, watered and cared for, I was happy to find that we had managed to take 30 minutes off the previous day’s run time and that I had finished in time to make the Banquet as well. Once again, the race organisers had laid on a wonderful dinner and had a slideshow of photographs taken during the race being projected onto a large screen as we ate and chatted.

The awards ceremony took place shortly afterwards and I was duly awarded a very nice Red Lantern for finishing last.  Much to my surprise, I also picked up another prize, The Veterinarian’s Choice Award – I was genuinely shocked and incredibly moved to win this. We all love our dogs and try our very best to take care of them, and I know it is the influence of my friends Mike and Sue Ellis, and Joar, who constantly and consistently set a fine example of dog care for me, that have helped me learn so much about caring for my team.

I’d like to thank The Silver Sled Race in Haines Junction for a wonderful weekend, a fine competition and some great competitors, my buddy Jacob for persuading me to drive 1800 miles for a weekend away, my wife for keeping the rest of our crew cared for at home, but mostly I’d like to thank Kazek, Brooks, Quiz, Rosie, Echo, Ruby, Lily, Lightfoot, Turov and Xaros for being out there with me.

5 4 3 2 1 Go

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16 February 2015   4.30 PM      Cloudy      37 F

Yes, it’s the middle of February and the temperature is a balmy 37 F and is forecast to remain around there for the next week or so.  It’s fairly disheartening to be wandering around the dogyard in just a flannel shirt and to feel too hot at this time of year. (Edit to add – well, not just a flannel shirt, I have trousers (pants for my N. American readers) and boots on, too )

As mentioned in a previous entry, training was going reasonably well and the team were looking quite acceptable.  The 5 leaders, Kaz, Kalekh, Quiz, Ruby and Rosie have been doing a sterling job and all contribute different strengths to the front end. Prior to the cancellation of the Knik 100, Kalekh’s face ballooned to twice it’s normal size – and as suspected, he had managed to do something that had infected his jaw and developed into a delightful abcess. This ruled him out of the 100 mile race, so when it was cancelled, I was happy that he wasn’t going to miss it, and I wasn’t going to have to race  it without him. It is times like that when I realise the importance I place on particular dogs.

And so, with the cancellation of the Knik 100, I decided to enter the Earl Norris Memorial Sled Dog race, run locally in Willow.  Offering a different format this year, of 2 days, at 30 miles a day  (actually 31.2) – it attracted 15 teams and included a couple of serious sprint racers, several local Iditarod teams and a couple of recreational teams like myself.

our race team jumping and barking

They certainly seem ready to go

Right up until the moment that the starter began my countdown, I was fairly sure that something would happen to ensure my 100% cancellation to entry streak would continue. But it was not to be, and after 5 years in Alaska, I was finally on the race trail. behind my own dogs and enjoying the moment.(whilst repeatedly muttering under my breath – don’t fall off where anyone can see you) .

The beautiful and hard working Brooks

The beautiful and hard working Brooks

Over the years, people have asked me what kind of team we have – and I have given the following reply – we have a mid-distance team, being trained at ultra long distance pace but at sprint distance.  It was also fairly apparent within the first 10 miles that I hadn’t quite got the right approach to the race – as several teams passed me I was trying to work out what was “wrong” with their sleds – then it struck me.  None of them were standing on their drag mats and a couple of them didn’t even seem to have them at all. It was sort of nice to finally get passed by Lisbet Norris and her Siberians and to see that not only did she have a mat, but she was even using it to brake a little.

All in all, it was a great race, the trail was really well marked, I thought my dogs did everything asked of them and I was impressed by their behaviour both on the trail and whilst on the drops at the truck, before and after the race. It was a first race experience for every single one of them and they handled it all with aplomb. We even managed to finish in the Top 10 and grab the last pay out spot.

Kazek and Rosie leading our 10 dog team.

Kazek and Rosie leading our 10 dog team in the 2015 Earl Norris Memorial Sled Dog Race

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