And So It Begins

27 Sept 2016     2.00 PM         52F          Sunny

Just in case anyone thinks that all that is involved in having a sled dog kennel is constant trips to the vet and the ability to function normally with a broken heart and tears rolling down your cheeks, I’d like to point out that, contrary to the apparent evidence of this blog, it actually isn’t just like that. It is like that sometimes, a bit too often, truth be told, the price of keeping all your dogs for their whole lives.

However, the real reason for having a sled dog kennel, is to run dogs. And with ending of summer and the beginning of autumn, the season for running draws ever closer. With our heavy coated dogs, we’ve had to watch as our neighbour took his team out in temperatures that would have had our guys frazzled and fried. Daily, we wait for the weather forecast and each morning, I wonder if today will finally be cool enough.  Roughly speaking, our cut-off is 50F – and depending on the humidity, it might even need to be a little cooler than that. Our equipment is ready, all replaced after the Sockeye Fire destroyed everything, the 4 wheeler is fuelled and we’re just sitting, twiddling our thumbs and watching the thermometer. Until……………

Yep, a couple of weeks ago, we started training. That’s actually pretty good for us, I’ve seen seasons where we’ve not been out till pretty late in September, so to get out now is great. With all of the drama of last year, we actually hardly ran at all, so everyone basically had a year off = technically 16 months off, I guess. Plus new boy Niko hadn’t run at all and youngster Davaar was just a pup, so at 20 months old, he is getting a late start. Queen’s first litter only ran in early Fall training in 2014, – are you getting the feeling I’m laying the groundwork for a multitude of excuses as to why training hasn’t been the smoothest ?
Actually, that would be terribly unfair on the dogs. After everyone has had 8 runs, we’ve lost the sum total of 2 chewed necklines, which I consider perfectly acceptable, given the excitement levels at hook-up time. Plus, necklines are way cheaper to replace than just about every other piece of equipment !

A misty morning, a quick water break
A misty morning, a quick water break

Generally, I like a fairly calm team, enthusiastic but controlled. With so many youngsters on the team, we’ve got lots of enthusiasm and maybe just a little less control over that wildness.  However, even in this short space of time, we’re already seeing the young dogs picking up on the cues of the older dogs in many areas – except when it comes to taking a break. We’ve also been trying to evaluate some of those younger guys with a view to finding new leaders. Happily, it seems like we have at least a couple of potential candidates and we’ll work with those dogs in the hope that we will find one, or more, trustworthy, reliable lead dog.

Safely home, with Davaar learning how to be a leader by working with Kazek
Safely home, with Davaar learning how to be a leader by working with Kazek

These first few runs are always interesting, there’s a lot to teach the dogs, even if that is just refreshing their memories, and reminding them of the good habits we’re all trying to develop . Any moments of unhappiness I had after one of these early runs was quickly dismissed as I was reminded by my wife that the last run I had, with the team I was wishfully comparing the current unruly mob with, actually led to them breaking my leg, so maybe these young guys weren’t quite so bad after all.

The wonderful Dawson
The wonderful Dawson
Powerhouses, Turov and Xaros
Powerhouses, Turov and Xaros
Youngsters (and brothers), Eris and Raasay
Youngsters (and brothers), Eris and Raasay

At the end of the day, we run dogs to have fun, and hopefully, the dogs have fun too.   The love and bonds we build with them, lasts their entire lives, as all our dogs stay with us for all of their days.  The retired guys who want to, move into the house and those who would still rather live outside, get regularly dragged indoors to see if they’ve changed their minds yet.

Boof seems to have taken to life as a retired house dog pretty well.
Boof seems to have taken to life as a retired house dog pretty well.

For all of the tears and hurt we feel when they pass, the joy, love and companionship they give us, far outweighs that pain.

 

 

 

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.

Log Home For Sale

2 April 2014   2.00   PM  38 F    Blue skies and sunny

As much as we say there seems to be no reliable weather pattern in Alaska, it has to be said that generally, March is lovely.  We’ve been blessed with seemingly endless days of clear blue skies with lots and lots of sunshine. Our ever increasing daylight hours help too, and there’s just a general uplifting of our spirits, partly derived from Takeo’s continued presence and his bouncy good health,

Spring always sees changes around here. Our friends from Colorado who winter here in in Willow have fled back to their mountain retreat, the last few sled races of the season all take place soon, in the High Arctic, the Denali Highway or Chukotka, which is where our neighbours have headed off to, to race in the Nadezhda race. With the way our winter went, I pretty much put the sled a way a long  time ago, and have just spent most of the days playing with the dogs, setting up new play groups and making sure that Queen’s pups, now a year old, are well socialised and integrated with the adults. The early end to our season has meant that a lot of time of looking ahead and planning for next year has already taken place. A couple of the mainstays from my main team in our 5 years here will likely be stepping back as age catches up with them.  Oscar, who has been a solid, consistent leader (if a little headstrong occasionally) and Mermaid, who has been Little Miss Reliable, will both turn 10 this month and have earned the right to have a bit of an easier life. They will both get called upon to work with Queen’s pups when we harness break them this Fall.

It is also the time to go through our equipment and gear to see how things held up and what needs replaced. I guess the upside of so few sled runs is that I didn’t break or lose anything and that we don’t actually need to do too much. One ongoing debate is the one about switching from a cable-filled gangline to one made from Spectra/Amsteel (otherwise known as “ironrope”.)

One other thing that was reviewed was our other house. Ever since I went to New Hampshire for the winter of 2004-2005 with our dogs, we’ve had a lovely log home there, which was always held onto with the intention that one day, we might go back to NH to live. The reality is, with as many dogs as we have, it is just not going to happen. It seems a shame to part with it, but it is difficult to take care of a property from 6000 miles away, and if it hadn’t been for our friends over there, it really would be nigh on impossible. So, reluctantly, we finally decided to go ahead and put it on the market. It’s listed on MLS and a few other places too. I’d love it to go to a musher, as it is full of happy memories of my Winter of Adventure, as I called it.

The dogyard was built and fenced in for us by a local musher, and it worked really well for our small kennel. Anyone with only a few more dogs than the 11 I brought would likely be able to make the yard work without much effort.  A bigger kennel would need to expand or make changes, but as the lot is 5 acres, there is room to do that. It’s the last house on a dead end road and is only about 20 minutes drive from Plymouth.

Here’s the link to the house listing

http://www.newhampshirehomes.com/grafton/wentworth/home/135-Frescoln-Road,-Wentworth,-NH-03282/4339571

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Wentworth house front yard
wentworth yard
Dog “barn” at the rear of the house.

Acceptance

11 January 2014    3.00 PM      17 F    Overcast

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. – Lao Tzu”

I will confess to having struggled with the acceptance of my fate and circumstances over the last few weeks. One of the main reasons for our move to Alaska, was the desire to run our dogs greater distances and to explore new trails. Generally, we’ve made steady progress each year and I feel that we’re developing a good solid base on our dogs from which we can build and improve.

Things were going well this Autumn/Fall, mileages were up, the dogs were looking good and we even managed to get onto sleds in mid November. And that’s where it started to go in a different direction. In Alaska, we usually get a horrible, warming rainy spell for a few days in January. This year it came early and the trails got a bit treacherous and exceedingly icy. When the trails are like this, my major worry is hurting dogs so we usually take a few days off until conditions improve. It was right around then that Takeo became ill, followed by Junior.  As previously blogged, Junior died after a short but severe illness but happily Takeo continues to amaze, astound and grace us with his presence. He gives very little indication of just how serious his condition is and if it wasn’t for his frequent power naps, you could easily be forgiven for thinking all was well.

All of Takeo's belly fur was shaved by the vet. I'm guessing that must be the furriest dog ever squeezed into a Katahdin dog jacket.
All of Takeo’s belly fur was shaved by the vet. I’m guessing that must be the furriest dog ever squeezed into a Katahdin dog jacket.

Emotionally, I found it impossible to think of running a team and leaving him behind when at any moment, he could pass away. Logically, I was aware that there was nothing I could do that would change that, but knowing it and dealing with it, are two very different things.

It was a difficult period, I wanted to run the dogs but felt that I couldn’t. I felt frustrated but also guilty that I could feel like that. Our aim here is always to take the best care of all our dogs that we possibly can. It took a few days for me to come to an acceptance that contrary to Spock’s statement, the needs of the many do not always outweigh the needs of the few.  The reality is our dogs have a full and happy life, they get free exercise every day and they don’t “need” to go for a sled run. They might enjoy it, they might love going new places and meeting new teams, but they don’t need it.

Of course, my serenity was almost immediately put to the test as no sooner had my wife left Alaska to fly back to Scotland for Christmas, than Seven decided that she would need some vet attention after arguing with a stick, resulting in a large hole in her gum, a swollen face, a drain tube and several stitches – which meant she had to come into the hospital ward, otherwise known as our house. Introducing a new dog to the existing horde that live indoors can be a little daunting. Dogs like Hop and Oak are not always the most welcoming which has created a degree of tension in the past. Fortunately, as they have matured, and possibly (hopefully) as a result of our behavioural training with them, they are much more forgiving now. With Seven safely established, my next drama involved Dawson, who developed an infected sore on his throat, which was weeping and causing a pretty horrible matted mess on his neck. Of course, the freezing temperatures didn’t help this either – so the obvious solution was to bring him inside too. Cue much rumpus and playing around, Dawson is a very boisterous young lad who still needs to work on his manners and learn that just because he can reach things, that doesn’t make them his. Fortunately, I was able to clean up his wound, dry it and get him on the mend and back outdoors before he stole everything that wasn’t nailed down.

As we are fond of saying here – it’s not that hard a life here looking after 50 dogs and living in Alaska, until something goes wrong – and then it’s really hard.

With other minor dramas thrown in, like no power for 4 days, temperature swings from – 35 F to plus 33F and a few snowfalls that required some digging leading to my old man back syndrome rearing it’s ugly head again – I did my best to recall the words of Lao Tzu and let things just flow.

Takeo accompanies me on a walk to investigate our electricity failure. If I zapped myself, I was hoping he would do a "lassie"
Takeo accompanies me on a walk to investigate our electricity failure. If I zapped myself, I was hoping he would do a “lassie”

Now, my wife is back home, Takeo is still wonderful, Seven is fully healed but somehow hasn’t quite been removed from the ranks of the house dogs yet and there are still many weeks of snow for us to get those dogs out on the trails and go exploring.

Loving sisters, Tiree and Tanera always share a box.
Loving sisters, Tiree and Tanera always share a box.

Dog of the Week – Wink

PseudoTsuga’s Winklestinker – better known as Wink, or Stinks or anything else that ends in “inky”.

Wink at home in Scotland, Nov 2006

Wink came to us from Mike and Sue at Tsuga Siberians, partly as a bribe and partly because they made us an offer that we had accepted before they could finish the sentence or change their minds. We know how much they worried about Wink coming over to Scotland and yet life has a funny way of giving reassurances. Mike and Sue now live and run their dogs up in Two Rivers, Alaska, and Wink lives with us in our new home in Willow, Alaska. So, from being over 3000 miles away, she is now only 300 or so and it’s been our pleasure to have Mike and Sue visit and see ol’ Winkers on a few occasions.

Wink moved to us in November 2006 and decided to become a house dog. A working house dog, to be fair, but a full time, not living outside at all, house dog. In the subsequent years, she has decided to become “just” a house dog, and forgo the working element of her life. Now, at 8 years old, she watches with interest as the others all scream to go running and it didn’t take any persuading at all, to get her back in harness. She is a calming influence around the youngsters and makes a great training partner.

She is also a wonderfully sociable dog, with the fluffiest feet (sorry, Mike) and takes up more than her fair share of space on the bed.

Wink as a pup, in Mike's arms
A young Wink, winking
Our dog Wink, finding a shady spot
Wink, prefers the shade to the sun, Willow, AK, July 10

 

Dog of the Week – Vader

Riverdance’s Vader of Sepp-Alta

 

vader staring off into the distance
Vader in New Hampshire, Jan 2005

We bought Vader in March 2002 from Bob Davis of Tay Marr Siberians, along with Beth and they made the trip to the UK and had to endure 6 months in quarantine, as this was before the introduction of the Pet Passport scheme.

Vader had been running on Bob’s 12 dog distance race team and the transition to running the much shorter dryland distances in the UK seemed very easy for Vader.  He was always excitable, sometimes excessively so, but he had a fluid smooth gait that was a joy to watch.

In 2003, he sired our first litter and fortunately passed on most of his good qualities and none of his nuttiness. He became a great cheerleader in the team, any stops on the trail were always greeted with a swift roll on the ground, a mouthfull of snow and then a session of harness banging and screaming.  The obvious thing to do with this enthusiasm was to run him at lead. Hmmmm, or maybe not. Seems he liked being in the team, just not in front of it.

Vader is retired from running now, lives in the house when he can remember where the doggie door is, but at nearly 12 years old, he’s still quite happy to do a bit of fence fighting with the youngsters. He’s calmed down quite a bit since the time when the adjectives used to described him consisted mainly of words like : crazy, nuts, psycho and lunatic.

 

2 dogs sitting on a picnic table
Beth and Vader, the cute couple

6 dog team in the snow
Vader and Fina leading a 6 dog team, NH Feb 05

Vader standing on his dog house
Vader in the Scottish Highlands, Feb 2007

Dog of the Week – Ribhinn

Time for one of our oldies again. Gefrin Little Wing at Gealach Mor is her formal KC name, we call her Ribhinn. It is Gaelic, is  pronounced (by us at least) as ree-ven and means maiden or girl.  She’s another dog whose name causes chaos at the vets when we try to book an appointment for her.

Head photo
Ribhinn April 2010

Ribhinn was born in January 2001 and is one of the 16 dogs that made the trip to Alaska with us from the UK.  Ribhie is not really one for the outside life and I’m sure it all came as a bit of a shock to her when we got here. Not as much as the shock she got when the thermometer dropped down to – 36 C during our first winter here. Fortunately for her, she is and has been a house dog from Day 1, so she doesn’t actually spend that much time outside, unless she wants to – which most of the time, she doesn’t.

Ribhinn came from a working kennel in northern England and we had high hopes she would be a good addition to our crew. Somehow, the running gene seemed to have missed her and she did some racing as a 2 year old, but you could see her heart wasn’t it. Her siblings meantime, were running really well for their breeder !  Ribhie was averse to water, mud and effort – which if you’re a sled dog in Scotland is about the sum total of your running environment. In tandem with Keetna, who arrived at our place just a couple of weeks before her, this pair of girls declared themselves couch dogs and have happily stayed there ever since.  They are the only dogs we have who don’t make a fuss when we are hooking up the teams from the yard – I think they fear that if they make noise, they will draw attention to themselves and possibly be included. As if, because after all, that would spoil their pedicures.

 

Melt in the mouth cute
Our 3 dog race team at Tenstmuir, Scotland
Probably the only "race" picture in existence of the Terrible Trio