Archive for September, 2009

Training update

Friday, September 25th, 2009

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Training continues to go well this year, as we are surprised by each day’s weather. This past week alone it went from 45 and sunny, to 20 and cold, then back up to 45 but with strong wind and rain. We take these changes in stride though. When it is too warm we give the dogs a few days off, no sense pushing them hard in the heat for just a few miles. These guys swam a lot this summer, so in terms of fitness they’re not falling behind by sitting out a few short training sessions.
Compared to some falls, this year has been relatively dry, which is keep the trails in good shape. As such, we haven’t been training on the beach as much as usual, just occasionally to run a different circuit for gee haw training some of the pups (see photo). Because we frequently have puppies in lead, we have been running at around 5 or 6 a.m. to beat all the traffic. Even in Kasilof the walls can close in on you I guess as this year we have count more than a dozen teams training in the neighborhood. As the runs get longer, we’ll eventually overlap with some of these people, and have more head-on passes, but for us, mushing is about the solitude of being out in the woods with just each other and the dogs, so we’re in no rush to see other musher, their handlers and the other assorted posers that make up the neighborhood.
Every season brings with it, its own unique set of challenges and this year, the two that come to mind are porcupines and wind. Earlier in the week the team had a run in with a dead porcupine on the beach, that someone (likely another musher) had killed and left their. It was right next to where numerous teams run, yet oddly no one else picked it up, but not wanting our dogs or anyone else’s to get hurt, we picked it up and disposed of it. Sadly, yesterday morning in almost the same place, the team encountered another quilly rodent, only this one was alive and feisty. It was at the bottom of the only hill on our training route at this time, and in the dark the dogs saw it before we did. Hildy, Seeker and Nuk, each took quills from it before we could get the team by. In these situations the quills have to come out immediately, they can self-migrate into the dogs quickly causing serious infections or even death. We began pulling the quills as fast as we could, but with two fresh teams raring to go, it was a lot of chaos. Hildy had a bout 50 quills, mostly in her nose and muzzle, and she was great about letting us get them out. Nuk only had about 20 and was a little squirmier. Seeker was the worst though. She had about 100 at least, and they were in her nose, muzzle, the roof of her mouth her tongue and her gum line (sorry no photos, so instead I posted on of my friend’s dog which got into a porcupine last month). We basically had to sit on her head and body to restrain her while yanking them out, and got bit (accidentally) several times in the process. We were able to get all of them out, but one that broke off in her lip, so we will keep her on antibiotics, and keep a close eye to ensure this doesn’t cause an infection or other problem.
As to the wind, it has actually been good training. The Yukon River, which makes up a large portion of the Yukon Quest trail, can be a wind monster, so it is good to have the dogs used to such challenging conditions. On the beach, and tracks there would be to follow disappear in the wind, and the dogs must rely on their mushers calls for direction, and their own self confidence to keep moving forward. It great training. Unfortunately back in the dog year, the wind was not such a good thing. It blew down two huge trees that fell very close to dogs. We were very lucky no one was injured. Another also fell on the dog trail out of the yard, so there was quite a bit of chain sawing to be done afterwork last night. Looking at the glass half full though, it will just make good fuel for the wood stove, when the snow finally comes.
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Cole giving out water on a warm morning run.
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Our friends dog after meeting up with a porcupine. Seeker looked worse than this if you can believe it.

Two New Rescues

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

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Once again we’ve broken our word. We said no more dogs at the beginning of this summer and ended up with Ghost and Coolwhip from the Kenai Animal Shelter in May, now just a few months later and we had picked up two more mouths to feed. The story is long and dark, so we’ll just give a brief, less heartbreaking synopsis. An (Iditarod) musher with a history of neglecting dogs was once again not caring for his lot, another (Iditarod) musher swooped in and took many of the dogs, but there was a litter of scrawny pups of questionable parentage he did not want to keep and couldn’t find homes for. He was trying to move them off on people from a parking lot at a local grocery store, and if that didn’t work he as going to put them down. We know we can’t save every dog, but these two seemed like they deserved better. Their only fault in life was being born in the care of a musher without a conscience.
We took them home and began the road to recovery. We named them Klaus (on the right in the above pic) and Boo (although he is already being called Booboo most of the time).These dogs had poor nutrition at their first home, and we’re not only skinny, but their growth seemed stunted for their age. They were supposedly eight-weeks old, but they were about the size of four-week old pups. They also had had minimal socialization, so we could barely get near them the first few days. Fortunately, dogs are highly adaptive creatures and can often compensate for human ignorance.
We have been bringing them in the house every night and attempting to basically “bombard” them with socialization. We constantly hold them and pet them, give them lots of treats and toys to make it all very positive, and have been having friends and other dogs come in to play with them. They are getting better in leaps and bounds, and last night for the first time they both came when we called them and let us pet them. They had been coming when called, but diving away when you tried to touch them, so this was a real positive step.
Hopefully with enough time and love these guys will be able to fit into the pack and possibly even make a meaningful contribution to one of the race teams. IN the meantime, it is fun having puppies around again, although it is a lot of extra work. The dogs (some of them anyway) are also enjoying them. Coolwhip, who mentally appears to be the same as the pups, has been having a blast since they got to the kennel.

We’re like the Marines…

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

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Cole and the team passing a stand of aspens with the golden leaves of fall, just before sunrise. Kawlijah and Hank are in lead. (Sorry for the low quality of some of these pictures, but they were taken before sun rise and low-light always stinks when your subject is moving as fast as the dogs are).
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Fog from the breath of the dogs is a sure sign its cool enough for a run, but as the sun rises it will quickly get warm, so we try to be done before sun-up. I love the glowing eyes!
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We’ve taught all the dogs to drink from squirt bottles, so they can stay cool and hydrated on runs. Here Brick and Squirrel each try to get a sip.
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Nuk saying “Mmmmmm, water.”
Except we run more dogs before 6 a.m., than most people run all day. With the coming of September, the leaves have changed colors and fall training is well underway. Although, much like it is every year at this time, the weather is still a little warm. This makes running challenging, since while the dogs are fit enough (both cardiovascularly and muscular-skeletally) from swimming all summer they can can quite far without getting fatigued, but we must still keep the runs short due to temperature in the mid to upper 40s. Many mushers opt to run closer to 11 p.m. to take advantage of the cool night air, but since we both work, that’s not really an option at this time. Instead, we get up around 5 a.m. and hook up the teams while its still cool and dark (see photos). We bring lots of water (see photos of them sipping from water bottles), and take frequent breaks so the dogs can get a drink and cool down. We usually make it back to the yard just as the sun is starting to come up. As the runs get longer we won’t be able to do this because there simply won’t be enough time before work to run the dogs long distances. But typically, just as we need to start added miles toward the end of the month, the weather cools enough to switch to running in the early evening, after work.
So far many of the dogs are off too a great start. Ghost, the dog we got from the Kenai Animal Shelter over the summer, has taken to the life of a sled dog quite remarkably. She absolutely loves running, and has had no problem doing back-to-back runs. We typically don’t do this often too early in the year, but since Ghost basically has no real running muscles yet, we have been running here a little more often to build up her body, so she doesn’t fall behind some of the other dogs later in the year when the runs starts to get longer and more challenging. Still, since she is a new acquisition, she liked won’t race at all this year, and will instead stay running with the up-and-coming puppies, so that she doesn’t get hurt or burned out from being pushed too hard too soon. She is exciting to watch though, since you can see her develop with each run. She has also led a few runs and seems to be completely comfortable out in font of a 12-dog team.
Kawlijah, who is two years old this year, is also showing a tremendous amount of promise. He has been leading several runs very well, so we may soon start to work on some on-by passing practice with him. And, as more mushers who live around us start to run their teams, Kawlijah will likely get a few opportunities for head-on passes soon too. Kawlijah’s sister, Seeker, is also showing a lot of promise in lead. Since these two are the nephew and niece of Colleen’s best race leader, Penny, we will keep a close on them this year in the hopes of having one, or hopefully, both of them step up in ranks to join Penny as a main race leader in the future.