We’re still here, just still grieving, and not really ready to get back to finishing the Iditarod journal or making happy posts at this point. Sorry for anyone who is dissapointed, but please try to understand. We got Kawlijah cremated to keep him with us forever, as we believe this is how he would have been happiest. I wish I could say it brought some closure to picking up his remains, but there is nothing settling about picking up a few pounds of ahses that a few days ago was a dog so sotrong he nearly wretched my arm out of the socket. Anyhoo, I can’t get back to that dark place right now.
We appreciate the kind words we have already received from family, friends and total strangers who have read about Kawlijah. Sorry not all comments make it up on the blog, but if you wish to contact us directly we have started a new email account just for the kennel. It is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can still reach us via regular mail at POBOX 1244, Kasilof, AK. 99610. All for now.
Joseph, Colleen and the dogs.
Archive for April, 2010
His name alone speaks to who he was
From Hank Williams’ song about the stoic Indian head. Whenever I picture him standing on his box or howling in the team, I hear the heavy drumbeat of his song in my ears, and my heart matches the beat.
This loss has great impact on my life and I find it incredibly difficult to put it into written word. Pictures flash through my mind of moments spent with this amazing dog. Captivating just to look at, let alone run with. Kawlijah grew into the embodiment of the perfect sled dog. He had the best attitude on my entire Iditarod team. When I finished the race, the notes I wrote regarding him were: “totally nuts at the finish”, “always a cheerleader and team motivator” (which included motivating me), “grew stronger with every mile”, “perfect appetite and attitude”. A musher couldn’t ask for a better dog, and a person couldn’t ask for a better companion. Giant in size and personality, yet gentle with nuzzling and snuggles. His wolf-like appearance left people awestruck and yet his sweet personality left you thinking briefly that maybe there is good in the world. He has left his mark in my life and another crack in my heart, and losing him literally cripples our kennel and our future plans with our small number of race dogs.
Taken too soon is an understatement. Unfair is an understatement. I walk around the room in circles. Looking for something… and I already forgot what it was… and I don’t even remember if I care. I try reasoning, I even try begging. To what? To whom? There is no answer. I’m willing to play the hand I’m dealt, but the rules of the game keep changing, and no one seems to tell me anything. I miss him so much… my Big K pup.
On day one he held you so close
Cupped in his hands
A red fuzz-ball and puppy breath
Always by his side, you brought him so much happiness
I know you ran for me, because he asked you to
Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!
Said your eyes.
Always scanning for him, knowing he was your purpose
You filled his heart with love, you filled our life with love
I don’t know if he can heal from the pain of losing you,
Perhaps that’s not a pain you overcome, but one you grow with
I know your spirit will walk with him
Stoic and beautiful
The crack in my heart grows deeper
But the wound will begin to scar
With the healing power of memories
Thank you for those
Thank you for you
I love you both
Chalk it up to God, fate, coincidence, whatever you call what you believe in, that force of nature acted today to, I believe, remind me of what is important in life. Kawlijah, the strongest and happiest dog in the kennel is dead.
Let me explain why I believe his death is a sign. I have for years valued nothing as more important in my life than my wife and my dogs. We are “one of those types” that see our dogs as part of the family, our kids. I believe there is NOTHING you should put before the things you love, and my fear of injury to my dogs has caused me to rarely leave the state for family reunions or vacations since we got into dogs. And I definitely would not choose work over my dogs’ well being. However, a new boss at my work has been causing massive problems for me. I’m on the verge of losing my job due to a conflict of personalities. The last two days have been the worst of it and this morning I needed to rush in to speak with a human resources person on the east coast.
Kawlijah, being both the perpetually energetic dog that he was, and an amazing escape artist, has been slipping his collar for the last three days, after being moved to a new spot while his usual abode dried out for spring break-up. No matter how tight we put it, he would still find a way to work on it through the day, and loosen it to the point of sliding out. I worried he could end up in the road while we were at work and get hit. Last night he slipped his collar again, and in a rush to get to work, we quickly put him in our chainlink puppy pen until we could get home and find a better collar.
Kawlijah must have been his usual energetic self and been jumping around the pen. With the additional height of the snow accumulated in the pen, he apparently jumped high enough to catch his collar on the top of a rung of chain link. He hung himself to death. By the time we got home his body was cold and stiff, his tongue that just this morning licked our face good-bye was now dangling, swollen and purple. Beneath him lay a pile of bloody stool from where he kicked and fought so violently and so valiantly to just stay alive.
Rather than being here to save a dog that in all likelihood was trying to get out to find us, I was at work defending myself at a job I haven’t loved in years. He died alone, scared, suffering for the last few minutes he was able to remain conscious.
When anything dies we look to remember the best things about them, and I would never say Kawlijah was the best leader or the best dog in the kennel, but he was UNDENIABLY the strongest dog in the yard. It is why he went with Cole on the Yukon Quest as a yearling, and why he just finished the Iditarod with her as a two year old. He was built like he was born on steroids, even before he developed his running muscles. He was just naturally strong. He was also literally tireless the whole time he was in races, and regular readers of this blog will remember he was the dog that chewed through Cole’s gangline during Iditarod because he had too much energy to rest. He also was the dog slipping his collar in the dog yard in Nome because amazingly 1,000 miles didn’t wear him out either. He is the only dog we’ve ever had people ask us to sell or breed to, most of the offers coming after seeing his antics in Nome.
His death, following so closely to our race leader Karma’s last year, will ruin so many hopes and dreams for racing success next season and beyond. We have so many rescues, so many rejects, and oh so many are mediocre in terms of their performance compared to our competitor’s champion dogs. We have so few really, really good racing dogs, to lose one as amazing as Kawlijah won’t take years for our small kennel to come back from, it simply won’t be possible to come back from at all.
Kawlijah was also one of the two happiest and most bonded to us dogs in the kennel. I think only Metoo can rival him for this title. Unlike many huskies that are friendly, but not as friendly as a breed like a Labrador, Kawlijah was one of the sweetest dogs I have ever known, all breeds included. With his red coat and golden eyes, he was also the most beutiful dog in the kennel.
He was good buddies with Buckwheat who he has looked up to since he was a tiny, red pup. He didn’t like Shagoo, but after how many times she tried to bite him when he was little, who could really blame him. He liked swimming in summer, but was one of the worst dogs I have ever seen in the water. He would get so nervous, even as big and muscular as he was, that he would try to climb on top of Cole and I, almost to the point of drowning us at times.
I am thankful to have known a dog like Kawlijah and sad we will not see him develop and grow and reach his peak next year as a three year old. I held him when he was one day old, and now carried his lifeless corpse in my arms on his final day. He went too soon, but he was deeply loved and will be sorely missed, as a superstar athlete, a loving pet and one of my best friends. Sorry I wasn’t here for you buddy. You’ll never now the hole you leave in our lives and my heart.
*To see more photos of Kawlijah, scroll down and look at the pics of him on Iditarod, or visit our Puppies 2007 tab on the homepage to see pics when he was born and growing up. Cole’s obituary letter to Kawlijah coming soon.
Hello race fans and Rogues Gallery supporters!
I write with enthusiasm to share my trail experiences, and a bit of sorrow as the 2009-2010 comes to a close just as the dogs are looking their finest. I am working on putting together a journal, recording the journey, and will try to post it in sections.
From the start:
The ceremonial start in Anchorage was one of my proudest moments. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about running at the front of my team, leading them to the start line with family and friends helping the team move up the city streets. For those of you who couldn’t tell, the team wore windbreakers that read the message, “until there are none adopt one”. I could hear spectators reading the message as we passed, and many of them cheered. Iditarod, and many other mushers, continue to ignore the dark side of the sport, but our kennel continues to stand by its belief in an ethical way to do the sport well, and we’ll continue to send this message.
Zoom and Hildy lead the charge, captivating on-lookers with their white masked faces and beautiful blue eyes. Running through the city was quite the experience. At one point Joseph had his cheeks stuffed like a chipmunk, both hands full of goodies, and his pockets bursting with food from the race fans wishing the mushers well and passing out cookies, hotdogs, muffins, and other snacks. Kids lined the streets looking for high-fives and calling for dog booties. The dogs were completely charged and exuding positive vibes for all to pick up on. We encountered corridors of people, tunnels underground and overpasses with cars beeping and people waving, and the dogs were complete professionals. What a great day spent with the dogs and people we love, setting the stage for an emotional start.
Sunday brought a cold, clear day full of excitement and anxiety. I was surrounded by family and friends, which meant the world to me, but as I spread my love to each of my team, my emotions would just spill over from within. Sled dogs in their element are a thing of beauty. They encompass everything in one moment I wish I could be. Pure energy and passion takes form and flight as the pups begin to howl and scream with excitement and anticipation, ready to give their life for this journey. It’s humbling and at moments I know I’m not worthy of these athletes.
The deafening beat of my heart eventually gives way to the sound of my break scraping across the icy parking lot, and quicker than I am ready, I’m out the shoot, slapping hands, waving at hundreds and hundreds of people, declining marriage proposals, and eventually settling to the rhythm of the team… steady, even, one unit down the trail we go.
For the most part my nerves relax, the task ahead is daunting however it is what it is and I learned many years ago to always work to the best of my abilities and give it all I’ve got. There are few things worse than having one shot and not being able to leave it on the field when it’s all over. Hope for the best, but be prepared (and expect) the worst.
I’m sure I passed thousands of people on my way to Skwentna. When on the trail I quickly adjust to psychological time, for that’s all there is out there. You can look at your watch, but it really doesn’t mean anything. You’re no further or closer to your checkpoint, just moving at the pace you’re destined to move at that time, based on the variables thrown at you… weather, trial conditions, who’s where in the team, how the other teams around are behaving, what’s in the sled, is everyone healthy, and so on. My ride to Skwentna was relatively clean. Once cleared of the forest of people, we would still sail by pockets of cheering, clapping, and even high fives. As dusk set in, this could sometimes be startling, as at one point my team thought it was under attack when 4 young children rushed toward it unhindered by any watchful eyes of authority, for at this point in the evening river parties were in full swing and participants were not feeling the cold, let alone watching where the kids were running. The children were eager to slap hands with as many mushers as they could, and I understood this, but the dogs initially could not read their intentions, and would sometimes mis-step off the trail out of nervousness from the erratic approach of the heathens.
I had started the race with Penny and Oaky in lead. After 40 miles things were going well. We pulled into Yentna long enough to shed my bib and sign a few posters upon request. Penny was solid, her usual sleek and eager self. As the miles passed the temperature dropped along with the trail base. We stalled out, wallowing in some soft snow and ended up leap-frogging with another musher. I had the faster team, but this person didn’t seem to understand how to ride the drag, and that the chase team will always appear faster. Oaky seemed to be tiring a little as she didn’t have the miles the rest of the team did, so I quickly dropped her back in the team and put Goliath up front. Goliath is definitely not an anytime leader, but if the mercury drops, you sure can count on this furry beast. With the cold temperature settling over the team, and the leaders finding the beaten path again we completed our run to Skwentna during which time I made the first mental note for my list to tend to on my 24 hour mandatory rest: switch to my warmer boots. My feet were already cold and I was only 67 miles into this journey.
Checkpoints are the moment when psychological time and real time collide. You’re suddenly on someone else’s schedule who seems to be speaking a different language, answering questions you haven’t thought to ask yet. I had recited my routine in my head for the last 5 miles, but I was a deer in headlights for my first real stop on the Iditarod. It took me a minute, but I lit a fire under my own backside and got to work.
Skwentna was an accommodating checkpoint that I would have enjoyed, if the anxiety of the race that still lay ahead didn’t sit in my stomach like a brick, coupled with the fact that there were close to 71 teams at the checkpoint at different stages of coming and going. I noticed I was much more tired that I usually am at this stage of a race, which I attributed to the excitement of the week including having family from all over the country here together to be part of the journey. My family means the world to me, and nothing brings this to light more that the moments spent in solitude on the back of the sled. I could feel the onset of “exhaustion depression” and turned to my dogs for consolation, but they were peacefully tucked away in nests of straw, so I got out of their way and let them rest. As I climbed the steep embankment with gear to dry, food to eat, and my cooler full of soaking food to feed later, I stepped in to the small cabin designated for mushers. I opened the door and stepped into a room that resembled a packed meat locker, but instead of dangling racks of beef, strung up in every direction was gear of all sorts attempting to dry out, and boots littering the floor. I didn’t count on getting much dried here as gear was piling up, and the room really wasn’t that warm. I moved on to the next room where I was immediately asked to sign my name over my face. Confused I looked at the newspaper line-up tacked to the door, and a bit bewildered graffiti my own face. I was then offered a hot towel, and that’s when my mind started to move to tempo again. Cool, just like on the fancy airlines. It didn’t initially sound that great, but I obliged as the lovely women running the show were eager to please, and boy I can admit now what a treat, and what trail magic. Thank you trail angels of Skwentna.
My time passed as it usually does for my first checkpoint in any race. Unable to sleep, unable to eat. Wishing Joseph was with me. Imagining the game ahead. As the voice of Joseph the husband turns to Joseph the coach in my head, I motivate to go. The dogs had rested and hydrated well, and were eager to go, apparent as they hammered their harnesses trying to pull the hook before I’m ready. “Just don’t have another Braeburn” I’m thinking in unison with the coach’s voice. That is now our term for when I should have been ready sooner because the dogs aren’t going to wait and seem to enjoy exposing my rookie status. But I’m ready and pull the hook following the reflective shine of the trail marker into the dark night. So far so good, my run-rest schedule matched the plan in my mind. On to finger lake.
Sorry to be gone for so long, but between catching up on all the chores that got away from us while on the Iditarod, still answering tons of mail from young fans, and most recently dealing with the loss of our friend Scott Misner (who created this web site/blog), we have just been too busy. Hopefully, in the coming weeks we can get back to making more regular posts, since we still have to publish Cole’s Iditarod journal, and we have many photos of Dunkel’s puppyhood to share with everyone. Until then, we need to be there for Scott’s family. Here is a brief letter from both of us detailing how much this man will be missed:
Whenever someone dies, there is a need to search your memories to find everything good you can remember about the person. For Scott, this task was daunting, but not because there was a struggle to find something positive to say about him, rather we have so many memories of wonderful times and good deeds by this man, it’s hard to select just a few to share today.
Scott was many things. Some knew him as a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend or coworker. When we think of Scott there are a few things that stand out in our memories of him. To us, Scott was a true Alaskan. We don’t say this because he lived in a log home or knew all the best places to halibut fish in Cook Inlet. He was a true Alaskan because he believed in helping those he could, without judgment or strings attached. On more than one occasion he would whip up a batch of his famous seafood chowder when someone was feeling down and out, sure to help put light back into their hearts.
He also was a mental giant. He seemed able to fix or make anything work. He developed our website, far beyond our own capabilities to do, but more importantly he believed in us before we believed in ourselves. That’s how he rolled… a true Alaskan. To believe and not to judge, and to act on those convictions. We know he was pleased to help a small community paper reach a bigger audience because he believed in what it represented, so he acted on it. His generosity knew no bounds.
Before we had really gotten to know Scott, we would often be talking with Nan and she would be saying “Call Scott, he could help you.” Why would someone want to help us do this task that we don’t even want to do? But leave it to Scott to want to wire a house or help insulate a Tyvek monstrosity. I know, it’s not that he wanted to wire a house, it’s that he wanted to open a window of love. That’s what life is about, showing the people you love that you love them. We hope and believe Scott knows how much love we sent back through that window.
We also saw Scott as a builder. One of the places he was happiest was in his shop, which he also built and subsequently spent much free time in, building beautiful and detailed woodcrafts for those he cared about. And like the blocks of wood he transformed, Scott also built relationships with all of us. Like the wood in his shop, we have all had our lives molded and shaped by his friendship, his kindness, his caring and compassion.
We believe there is a spirit in the wind, and that some essence of Scott was transferred to it from all his time outdoors. We want to believe this because time is a predator that stalks us all, and so people – even good ones like Scott – will come and painfully go, but the wind is a constant. Scott’s body may be gone, but perhaps, as he becomes part of the elements, we can take solace that when a breeze ruffles through our hair or touches our faces, Scott is still with us — now and forever — in the wind remind us of him always.
Dear Scott, though I miss you, you have left me with the best of you, knowing what it takes to be Alaskan… to not judge but to help when it is needed, to not judge, but to accept others for who they are and to open a window of love for them, to find beauty in the world, even in angry times, to know the wind can move me across oceans and touch us all, I will touch you in the wind my friend.