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 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.

 

Little Bundles

So, if we take Yuri of Seppala for a little walk and to visit Queen of Seppala, nature dictates that 9 weeks later, give or take a day or two, we’re going to be blessed with the arrival of little bundles of joy.

Yuri of Seppala
Yuri of Seppala

And so, it turned out to be.

Queen and her 2 pups
Queen and her 2 pups

On 11 February 2016 we became the happy caretakers of another 2 Seppala Siberian Sleddogs, when Queen whelped 2 little girls. They are growing well and Queen is finding looking after 2 much easier than taking care of the 6 she had last time. Actually, we’re finding it a whole lot easier too.

Puppies Day 1
Puppies Day 1

Now, at 6 weeks old, they are developing nicely, growing well and are as pretty as all get out. We finally gave them names, Kenzi is pup #1, and Bella is pup #2.

Mum is taking good care of them
Mum is taking good care of them
6 weeks old, chewing on toys
6 weeks old, chewing on toys
Queen still lets them suckle, but it's on her terms at this age.
Queen still lets them suckle, but it’s on her terms at this age.
Still looking good after 6 weeks of nursing.
Still looking good after 6 weeks of nursing.
Kenzi  (R) and Bella  (L)  on 27 March, contemplating the big wide world.
Kenzi (L) and Bella (R) on 27 March, contemplating the big wide world.

The colouring of the girls is still developing and changing, as it always does. But it’s looking like we’re going to lumbered with another couple of whites………..  at least at first glance. Both of them do have some colour, in the shades of isabella white. Kenzi will, in all likelihood, like her half brother Eris, be a piebald, but with such light shading that it isn’t very noticeable. Bella has much more of the isabella colouring and it is fairly obvious in real life.

Welcome to Gealach Mor, girls.

Silver Linings

10 May 2015    1.00PM       62 F   Cloudy

It’s May already.  The last of our snow has just gone, it was clinging on stubbornly in a few sheltered spots out in the trees, but otherwise we have transitioned from winter, through break up into Spring.

The Serum Run trip I was supposed to be on, was this year’s cunning plan to avoid having to deal with break up. With my damaged knee being the reason for missing out on the trip, I was able to safely skip the worst of the mud and water due to being housebound because of that injury. Silver linings and all that !

Normally, I would have felt terrible at the prospect of my wife having to deal with all of the dogs and the thaw on her ownsome. But this year I didn’t feel so bad.  Not because I’m a horrible person but because she actually had help.  Her brother and his girlfriend had already arranged to fly over from the UK and spend the 4 weeks I was supposed to be away, with her here in Willow. Robert’s a very handy guy to know, not only is he a qualified general contractor, but he’s also real problem solver and hates sitting about doing nothing. So, he got stuck into the daily dogcare routine, and he also tackled my ever growing list of projects that I dream up and never quite get round to starting, never mind completing.

First, he had to find all the sump pumps and hoses that got put away somewhere safe last Spring and haven’t been seen since. Then it was a game to work out which ones still worked and which ones should have been thrown away. Next step is unravel the spaghetti tangle of the multiple hoses that somehow managed to have melded into one giant knot. Honest, I very carefully laid them out individually when I finished with them last year. Maybe. Oh, and I might have forgotten to mention to him that one or two of the hoses had been squished and had greatly reduced flow through the pinch point – which greatly irritates me and leads me to throwing them in jumbled pile in the corner- or cutting them up to make bucket handles. And then the fun task of placing the pumps in a good spot to get lots of water, but not where they, the hoses or the power cords can be reached by any of the dogs.  It usually involves moving dogs around, and then taking all the equipment out of the pen each afternoon when the dogs get their free run time. I’m assuming all went well, I haven’t seen any chewed stuff and I never heard too many complaints, other than how wet and muddy it was.

After wrestling with that task, I’m sure Robert was happier when he got the chance to turn his attention to actually building stuff. In his time here, he built 12 dogs houses, 7 decks, a dog apartment complex and best of all, he renovated our “dog room”.

The dog room is in our workshop and was intended to be an unheated indoor space for our original dogs to continue their loose living habits that they were used to when we lived in the UK. Those dogs were very well behaved and the dog room survived untouched for the first couple of years.  However, the inclusion of some of our younger American bought dogs soon changed that. Ciara was definitely the main culprit – well, at least she was the one that I continually caught, eating the walls ! It’s a pretty fair bet that she wasn’t alone in the practice – some of the holes were way out of her reach – so it would appear that she had accomplices, much taller accomplices, in the vandalism.  I had the thought to redo the walls with GRP panels. Enquiries at various hardware stores merely resulted in puzzled looks – apparently the stuff I was looking for is actually FRP  – oh so close, just the one letter out. Even with the proper name, I wasn’t able to track down a supply locally – and by locally, I mean within 50 miles.  However, I knew a neighbour had used the stuff in his own dog barn so I asked him where he got his from. Turned out he had lots of panels left over and we worked out a very reasonable trade and Robert was now able to complete the transformation, from badly abused space to super clean, functional dog room again.

Entire lower half of the room is clad in FRP, same for the doggie apartment complex.  Tough and easy to clean.
Entire lower half of the room is clad in FRP, same for the doggie apartment complex. Tough and easy to clean.
doghouses
Yuri inspecting the second batch of new dog houses.They all passed the sniff test and most of them were christened by him.

 

The new decks getting put in place. Zury and Jak seem to have got the idea.
The new decks getting put in place. Boof, Zury and Jak seem to have got the idea.

Meet The New Guy

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.