Goodbye Echo

22 August 2016       1.00 PM    57 F       Raining

Echo of Seppala 27 April 2005 ~ 15 Aug 2016
Echo of Seppala                        27 April 2005 ~ 15 Aug 2016

It’s been a week since Echo died. It’s been a week of unhappy days and unsettled nights. His circle is empty, his house unused and as I feed and work with the other dogs in the Happy Crew, his space is a constant reminder of his absence. I have even topped up his water bucket a couple of times, force of habit or just flat out denial that he is gone.
It’s take me until now to write about him, to be able to see the words on the screen through the tears.
Echo came to us in May 2011, on my second trip to Seppala Kennels in Manitoba to bring home 5 dogs. Seemingly, on the spur of the moment, Jeff gifted Echo to me as I was preparing to leave on the long drive home.  As generous as the gesture was, standing next to this large white dog, who was perpetually on the move and had managed to turn his circle into what looked like a bottomless mudpit, and liked to coat himself liberally in the stuff, gave me cause to question his motives – for the briefest of moments  – before hastily putting Echo in the truck in case Jeff thought about changing his mind.

Echo of S May 2011
Echo on his way home to Alaska with me. Some of that Manitoba mud still clinging to him.

During the long drive home, Echo confirmed all my initial impressions of him. Large, strong, vociferous, huge appetite with a boisterous, ebullient personality. Over the years he has been with us, he was a fixture on our team because of all of those traits. His enthusiasm and drive was always evident, and he became a solid, reliable swing dog, backing up his leaders and driving the team forward.

Always ready to go
Always ready to go

Off the team, he was a much loved member of the “Happy Crew” and managed to devote much of his free time to digging large holes and appearing happiest when emerging from a deep cavern, covered in sand, his huge smile evident, and looking forward to inhaling any snacks you happened to have on you.

Echo always knew who had the snacks.
Echo always knew who had the snacks.

His diagnosis of round cell tumours, that seemed to spring up almost overnight, and multiply at any amazing rate, and defeat any treatments that our vets tried, caused him to become a shadow of himself. Our huge dog that never flinched from anything, became increasingly painful and body sensitive, refused food and was becoming ever weaker and thinner. We reached the point where it was apparent there was to be no recovery, no miracle and our love for Echo and his indomitable spirit was no match for his illness. Holding him close as he passed, we whispered calming words, and hoped that he could forgive us.

Run free Echo, may your paths be clear, may your snacks be endless and may your foodbowl always be filled.

That’s A Definite Maybe

15 August 2016    10.00 AM     63 F     Sunny and bright

There are probably two topics of conversation that take place here on an almost daily basis, that provoke angst and indecision. One of them is “what shall we have for dinner? ” and the other one is ” are we going to try and get a handler for this winter? ”

Thankfully, the first one, we normally manage to resolve by dinner-time. (Tonight apparently, we’re doing something with rockfish fillets, from my fishing trip last week.)
The second one, not so much.  In fact, it’s been an ongoing, unfinished discussion subject for several years. The last time we actually got as far as semi-seriously trying to recruit a handler was 2010. And even then, we didn’t try that hard.
For every upside, we can find a downside, for every advantage that a handler could bring, we can think of several disadvantages. We have known some really nice people that handled for friends and other kennels around here, and we’ve also heard some real horror stories about handlers – and in the interests of fairness, some pretty crappy treatment of them by a few kennel owners too.
It would be reasonable to say that we’re ambivalent, at best, about having a full-time handler but are teetering on the precipice of actually looking for one, nonetheless.
Of course, on top of our general doubts about having a handler, we also live in a small town that has numerous well-known racing kennels that advertise for handlers every year. I suppose the only thing in our favour would be that we’d be looking for someone who is sane and fairly normal, and not the kind of person that thinks running for a 100 miles at 40 below at 3 in the morning is an acceptable way to squander valuable sleeping time.

So, in the event that we actually seriously, or even semi-seriously start looking for a helper, our ad would go something like this.

We are looking for a handler to help us out in the kennel for this coming winter.

For those who don’t know us, we now live in Willow, Alaska, following our move from Scotland several years ago.
We are home to 49 Siberian Huskies/Seppala Siberian Sleddogs and 1 extremely efficient guard dog.
We are a mid-distance kennel, aiming primarily hopefully, at 200 and 300 mile races.

Handler’s duties would include assisting in feedings, which we do twice a day, scooping the yard, helping with hook up, assisting in dog care chores, running a team with 4 wheelers and a sled (obviously not at the same time) and pretty much anything else that needs doing.

Hours are variable and long, there’s no pay, and no union !
The work is pretty relentless, if the dogs are all sorted and happy, then something else probably needs doing. Chances are you will be cold, wet, too hot, dirty, scratched, smelly, bruised and exhausted at the end of the day. Ideally, you should be in reasonable physical condition (because I’m not and someone needs to be) – you will need to be able to carry 5 gallon buckets full of water, meat and kibble, and obviously buckets full of food going one way result in almost as full buckets of poop going the other way.
You won’t be asked to do anything we don’t do and you won’t be left to get on with things unattended except in the direst emergency.

We have some big, strong dogs, some upwards of 60 lbs, and you’d need to be confident that you can cope with walking those dogs around and also boosting them into the truck – we also have small, lighter girlies, so it’s not all powerlifting.

Alaska gets very short days in the depths of winter, around 5 hours of daylight and it gets cold ( we saw -35F for spells this winter and this was a mild year. )

If you have a driving licence that would be a benefit, and you will need to be ready to drive on snow and ice.

In exchange for signing away all your freedoms for your time with us, you will have accommodation in a separate modular home, complete with full kitchen and bathroom, central heating and a wood stove. In lieu of the pay you’re not getting, we’ll occasionally put some food in the pantry and if you’re really nice (and use the shower), we might even have you over for dinner sometimes.

We have trail access from our yard for both 4 wheeler and sled running. The trails from here go hundreds of miles in all directions.

Willow is home to the official Iditarod Restart, which takes place on Willow Lake, about 4 miles from us. There are around a dozen kennels in the immediate locale, as well as many others in the surrounding area.

If you would like to know more or have any further questions, please send us an email to gealachmor at aol.com (replacing at with the usual @)

7 Year Itch

12 August 2016        2.00  PM           65F    Overcast

As us old people are fond of saying, time flies by…  when you’re the driver of a train. Oh wait, that’s the Half Man, Half Biscuit song, but the premise remains the same. Somehow, in the blink of the proverbial eye, 7 years have passed since we first landed in Anchorage, Alaska, with a couple of pieces of luggage, stuffed to the brim, and beyond, with all the clothes and mushing gear we could carry. Our 16 dogs were sitting on the east coast, awaiting clearance from US Customs and onwards flights to us. Over the next couple of days, they made their way over to Alaska and we began this chapter of our lives.

The plan – and it’s a bit optimistic to call it a plan, was to live here till we decide we have had enough and then return to Scotland to live out our old age, or something. In the intervening period, we would enjoy life in Alaska, have some great experiences and get to run sled dogs in some of the most amazing areas around. Racing wasn’t, and still isn’t, a driving force behind the desire to be here or to run dogs. Just running sled dogs is an end unto itself. The joy, pleasure and privilege of being at one with your 4 legged team-mates is reason enough to keep exploring new trails, trying new training methods and learning new things. We have raced our team and almost certainly will do again, but it’s not why we’re here.

It’s fair to say that Alaska has given us lots of memories already. Most of them have been great but there are a few that we’d probably rather not have experienced. I could certainly forgo breaking my leg again whilst mushing and having our house burn down will not be something that is high on our list of “things to repeat”. Although, being able to tweak our original design (which we loved and it worked well, but the few changes seem to have been good choices)  and be part of the actual rebuild was a plus point.

ciobair 16
Ciobair supervises the big return. She was very happy to be back in her house.

The positives far outweigh those few negatives, and we are blessed to have the lives we have here. We’ve been able to have as many dogs as we would like, and that has given us the opportunity to acquire, work with and breed our much-loved Seppala Siberian Sleddogs. We’ve met some amazing people and made enduring friendships. And we’ve built a house, twice !

house 2010
The house (Mark 1)
house 2016
The house (Mark 2)
door
Our “famous” front door. Stained glass was designed by my wife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No-one knows what the future holds, but we’re certainly going to do all we can to enjoy it and make the most of our time here. Here’s to the next 7 years, to new memories, new challenges and a few less disasters.

 

The Jekyll-ettes

30 July 2016    2.00 PM   70 F  Overcast

Readers with better memories than me will doubtless recall the pleasure with which we related the arrival of Queen’s small litter of just 2 puppies. We noted how easy it was to take care of those little girls which left more time for the loving and playing with, rather than tidying, cleaning and generally being their servant. We also imagined that Queen had to be finding the raising of her 2 little angels somewhat less of a task than the 6 she had in her first litter, three years ago.
Fast forward 5 months, and now we’re not so sure…………….   and Queen definitely isn’t convinced. Of course, usually by now, the pups have been moved into their own space and have learnt to co-operate, be sociable and just generally get on with each other. Their mothers have been returned to “gen pop” and the youngsters are safely ensconced in a secure pen until they too get to join the adult dogs.

Kenzi and Bella in the puppy pen
Kenzi and Bella in the puppy pen

With the house rebuild going on, and the subsequent disruption of our outside spaces and routines, Queen, Kenzi and Bella have stayed together. And those two little darlings have become rather over-confident and a bit disrespectful in their dealings with their mother. We’re fairly sure Queen didn’t put up with half the nonsense she does from these 2, when she had the 6, but perhaps that’s understandable. If she had, I’m not sure she would have made it out in one piece!
I don’t mind a bit of rough play – and the pups do know about bite control, because they are exceedingly gentle with us (if a little boisterous sometimes), but my goodness, they don’t half terrorise their mum. When we take them out for their walks, poor Queen runs for her life, as the 2 girls hunt her, knock her down and then proceed to drag her about until she squeals.

Queen ( with the collar) being manhandled by her girls
Queen ( with the collar) being manhandled by her girls

It’s not done with meanness, just an inappropriate amount of over-exuberance. The pups do know how to behave and are much more respectful of the other adult females they have met.
These two are both much more “bouncy” than our other Seppala pups – they both seem to spend as much time on just their back legs, as they do on all fours.

Bouncy Kenzi
Bouncy Kenzi

They are pretty confident around people, having interacted with all of the different guys working on our house over the months, but there is still a healthy degree of wariness around people they consider strangers.

I have a feeling Queen is going to be very happy to move back in with the adults and her two little darlings will doubtless discover that not all dogs are quite as forgiving as their mother.

Going for a walk
Going for a walk
Kenzi and Bella
Kenzi and Bella

Just Pottering On

23 July 2016       2.00 PM       74 F        Cloudy

Summer in Alaska is a time of great activity.  The near perpetual daylight for weeks on end, means that one’s perception of time gets a bit distorted. It is not uncommon to find yourself outside doing chores or gardening at midnight and thinking that it must be getting close to dinner time.

This summer, we’ve had some wonderful sunny weather, days of endless sunshine and temperatures in the 80s – which is verging on the ridiculously hot for us and the dogs. It has however, meant that our garden has done well, in great part due to the generosity of the Willow Garden Club, who organised a program to donate a variety of plants to those who were affected by the Sockeye Fire. The splash of color that our new flowers have brought is always a welcome sight.

Additionally, we’ve been enjoying the fruits (literally) of our labours. I say “our”, but last summer a dear friend brought over and planted quite a number of strawberry plants. Those have flourished remarkably – so much so that they’re at risk of taking over the driveway, never mind the patch of garden they were put in – but they have produced a great number of delicious strawberries and we did intend to thank Carrie for her hard work by giving her some of them. But, you know, they just tasted so good and ummm, well, we ate them all.
We haven’t had the same success with our raspberries, similar to to the strawberries, the plants themselves are making a land grab, plus we got several more raspberry plants from the Willow Garden Club, but for some reason, none of our bushes flowered, and we managed a total haul of 5 raspberries, yes  FIVE, not pounds, not gallons,   five solitary little berries.  But our rhubarb, which survived the fire,looking just a little frazzled around the edges, continues to live up to rhubarb’s reputation as the plant you can’t kill.  Our 4 have so far given us 6 kilograms of rhubarb, and we’re hopeful of a good second harvest as well.
The beans we planted, courtesy of WGC and Carrie are also doing well and have been fun to watch grow. They were starter plants, germinated by the kids at the local Elementary School. Labelling of the different varieties was, let’s call it broad brush – everything was “bean”.  So far, we have identified, french beans, runner beans and yellow wax beans.

Of course, living in Alaska, we are encouraged to take full advantage of the opportunities to get fresh meat and fish. As someone who is a terrible shot at anything more than about 50 yards away, I tend to shy away from hunting. The fact that we’re not the biggest fans of the taste of moose either (whisper that, it seems to be sacrilegious to admit it out loud up here) means that is less of an issue for us anyway. However, the fishing is a different tale, and the opportunity to bring home fresh salmon and halibut is always seized, when offered.
I’m not long back from a trip to Seward to go halibut fishing, which also doubled as a sightseeing visit, never having been there before. The trip was great, the fishing good, the scenery wonderful and the natural wildlife amazing. As well as catching halibut, rockfish and a ling cod, we saw several whales, lots of sea otters, a couple of sea lions and a porpoise or two.

Heading out of Seward
Heading out of Seward
One of the many glaciers we got to see on the trip
One of the many glaciers we got to see on the trip
Floating Sea Otter
Floating Sea Otter
Sunbathing Sea Lion
Sunbathing Sea Lion

With our house finished being rebuilt, our furniture finally delivered, and all of the back garden fences reinstalled, it’s time to move back in to our home and resume normal living.
This past year or 13 months have been rather eventful, here’s hoping for a quieter year to come with a winter full of running dogs and lovely snow.

Goodbye Teague

Harry, Teague and Seven at 2 years old

Gealach Mor Teague  5 Sept 2003 ~ 10 March 2016    (flanked by Harry and Seven)

Today, we say a stunned, heartbreaking farewell to Teague.

It has often been said that these dogs are incredibly stoical – and that many of us don’t regard that as a trait that is very helpful, as time and again, the first indication any of them give about being unwell, it is usually something major. And so it was with Teague. At bedtime, he was fine, at 4 AM he was uncomfortable and by 9.00 AM at the vets, he was gone.

Puppy Teague
Puppy Teague

We’re still in a state of denial and disbelief. Partly, because his sister Seven, was saved by our vets at the end of January following a ruptured spleen caused by a hemangiosarcoma. Her diagnosis isn’t especially hopeful, and we are constantly watching her with varying degrees of trepidation. To lose Teague in such a manner, and the vets suspect that it was a hemangiosarcoma in his chest that had ruptured, was a gut wrenching blow.  Teague had been a house dog since he retired a couple of years ago, and he was a steadying, calming influence, as well as a wonderful cuddler. A dog who loved people, from a very young age, he was also one of my main leaders and a strong favourite of my wife.

Teague and I, after the Can-Am 30, Fort Kent, Maine 2005
Teague and I, after the Can-Am 30, Fort Kent, Maine  March 2005
Goodnight to our sweet boy.
Goodnight to our sweet boy.

We wish our darling boy Teague safe travels to the Rainbow Bridge, and to the joyous reunion he will have with his 5 brothers and his sister, as well as his parents Vader and Beth. Carry our tears and our unending love to them all.