The days are growing shorter, the temperature is falling, and as evident by the flowers behind Rolo in his photo, the fireweed is almost to its tip. Summer will soon be over and we can get back to doing what we love the most: mushing dogs.
Much like every season has its own personality for weather, so too does every season bring changes with the team, as all the dogs are another year older, more mentally mature and more experienced from the previous season. As we head into the winter of 2009-2010, we have several dogs we are excited to keep our eye on and one of them is Rolo.
Regular visitors to our web site will remember we adopted Rolo in 2007 after he was rescued from the Fairbanks Animal Shelter by another musher named Martina Delp. Sadly, Martina met an untimely end when a power line came down in her yard, and she had many dogs that needed new homes. We had no records for Rolo, they were lost with Martina, so we have never been entirely sure how old he was. Veterinarians believed him to be between 2 and 7 years old when we got him, but that is a big difference in terms of what we could expect from him as a team member. Sled dogs typically hit their prime from about 3 to 7 years of age, so if Rolo was only 2 that would be great, because he would just be on the way up, but if he was 7 that would be another matter.
One thing we have noticed with rescue dogs is that it takes at least two years to bring them up to speed to where they can make meaningful contributions to the race team. Sometimes this is because this is how long it takes them to build up the muscle mass and cardiovascular stamina to compete at the high level the race dogs perform at, but also it takes that long for some dogs, especially those who have come from abusive or neglected backgrounds, to fit in to the kennel and feel safe and part of the pack.
Rolo was one of these cases of a dog that must have had a negative experience in his past because (with the exception of Katahdin who is absolutely insane most of the time) Rolo was more scared of people than any dog in our kennel. Over the last two years we have worked on this issue and Rolo has come along way. He is very friendly now with us and a lot better with some strangers who visit the yard, but in the team he is still difficult to get into and out of checkpoints where checkers (strangers to him) are often standing in clumps.
Still, Rolo has really developed a lot of confidence, particularly in regard to leading. Rolo led several very challenging runs last year, including one run on the Denali Highway where the temperature was minus 30 and the winds were blowing about 30 miles per hour, making an even lower chill factor. Still, Rolo, put his head down, ears back and cut through the wind like a total pro. Rolo was also an invaluable leader for Cole last season when she ran several puppies and B-team dogs in the Goose bay 120.
This season will be Rolo’s third year with us, and if he really was a 2 year old when we got him, that would mean he is about to be around 5 year old, so we are really hopeful that Rolo may have a great season this winter. He has in the past been able to do long 50 to 70 miles runs, but he has always been just a mile per hour or two slower than the racers, but with two years of training behind him now, and plenty of swimming this summer, we are hoping this beautiful, tan-colored husky has what it takes to make the move to the A-team. As the temperature continues to drop and the snow flies, time will tell, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed for him.