Archive for August, 2010

Busy, Busy

Friday, August 27th, 2010

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Running a sled dog kennel seems to be non-stop work, but it’s the type of work that is mostly fun, so you don’t really notice all the labor your constantly doing. First, let me answer a question from the last blog. The dogs pictured are Oaky (rearing up on two legs) and Squirrel is next to her. I tried to photograph the leaders (Brick and Metoo), but they went by too quickly. In the photo below it, Zoom and Quigley are in lead.
O.K. on to this week’s news. As is typical for this time of year, we are racing the weather trying to get everything done to last another cold weather season. We don’t usually get out first snow until Halloween, but we usually start getting fall rains around now, and they frequently last until the snow flies, so it’s now or never to finish all the projects. We have been busy building new dogs boxes, getting screen sand dumped and spread in the yard to fill all the holes the dogs have dug in summer while burning off energy from not running enough. We also had that wet, wet summer, so we had more water than usual in places we didn’t want it, and it took a lot of work to compensate so they dogs could stay high and dry. We have also been refurbishing our dog truck box. It’s a few years old now, and starting to show the signs of its age, so we replaced the wood on the top which had started to get soft and delaminate. In the photo above, Cole is finishing repainting it after we had replaced and resealed to box.
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Despite all the work getting ready for winter, we are still running dogs, weather permitting. It tough to run the dogs if it’s above 40 degrees, and the nighttime lows have been hovering right at 40 to 50, so it’s been hit or miss. Also, this season, since right now we are leaning toward likely not running any 1,000-mile races this year, and sticking to 200 and 300 mile races for financial reasons (last year’s Iditarod cleaned us out), we have started working with a junior musher who lives local. Madeleine is 12 years old and comes from a mushing family, but her dogs are starting to get a bit too old to race. Madeline would like to work toward running the Junior T, which runs simultaneously to the T-200 and T-100, so we are going to work with her on making that dream a reality. Above is a picture on Madeleine taking out a team for training with Colleen behind her keeping a watchful eye.
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We have also acquired two new dogs recently, so it’s time to introduce them. One is named Keno (above), and he’ll be turning eight this year. Turning eight for sled dogs is kind of like a human becoming eligible for AARP. He’s getting up there in years, but he’s still not so old he can’t make a real contribution to the kennel. Keno should be a little familiar to regular readers of this blog, since we test drove him toward the end of last season. Keno helped round out our 20 dog team for the Denali Doubles race, and he helped Cole on the trip to Nome in the Iditarod. Due to his age, we’re not expecting Keno to be a superstar this season, but any contribution he makes will be welcome, and hopefully he can run a few mid-distances races before he fully retires. He is a big, sweet, playful male, so he is a joy to watch interact with the others. He is also related to one of our race leaders Zoya, so its always nice to have more kin of the dogs already in our clan.
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In addition to Keno, we took on another dog named Wolf (above). Wolf is an interesting addition to the kennel and we have felt a connection to him for a while, even though we have never run him until now. Wolf was a promising up-and-coming lead dog for a close friend of ours (who I’ll get to in a minute), but this friend was struck by some of the worst luck any musher could ever have. While training near a road crossing, the dogs pulled through his brakes, and several dogs got into the roadway and were hit by an on-coming car. Several died, but not Wolf. He was struck and had his rear leg shattered. As a journalist, I was doing a story on it for the newspaper, and I remember seeing Wolf in the emergency room, his leg looked like a sock that was too big for a foot. You could see skin, but everything in it looked all wrong, and piled up at the bottom. The musher did what everyone should do, but so few mushers actually would have done, he sprang for the expensive surgery to fix a dog he knew in all probability would never run again even with the surgery. Since we rescue a lot of dogs, we know from experience that often dogs that we are told have no chances, defy the odds and prove everyone wrong. It just takes time, faith and a little luck. Wolf was one of these exceptional few. Despite having an ankle fused in place, he learned to walk, then run, and eventually pull in the team, and I did occasional stories of his remarkable recovery. He’s now 5 years old, and while he’ll never be able to run the Iditarod or Quest, last season he finished in the top 10 of the T-200. Anyhow, this musher friend of ours is moving and getting out of sled dogs, so he sold most of the professional athletes, but asked if we would take Wolf. We couldn’t say no. He is a bit shy of people, and a little aggressive to other dogs during the excitement phase of being hooked-up, but we are working with him on these behaviors. In time we think he’ll become part of the family.
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O.K. this is getting long, but I have to mention one more thing, the family Keno and Wolf came from. They belonged to Jon and Bree Little (see photo above on JOn), two quality mushers also from Kaslilof who are preparing to turn the page to a new chapter of their lives. The Little have always been kind and generous to us. So many mushers talk about wanting to foster the sport and helping newcomers, but they don’t do much without the promise of pay or sponsorship at the end of the deal. Not the Little’s, they talked the talk and walked the walk, giving us clothes, gear, dogs and lots of sage advice when we got started and throughout the years. They were among the most compassionate mushers we have known, never culling dogs and always providing fantastic care and treatment to their kennel. They will be sorely missed from this sport and this community, but we wish them the best as the forge a new trail to Texas.

It’s That Time of Year Again

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

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Spirits were soaring and tongues were on the ground this morning as it finally cooled down enough to make our first run of the new season. The weather has been nothing short of atrocious this summer, (which is why we haven’t written in so long…too bummed out). Until yesterday, it had rained for roughly 70 days straight. Even the days that weren’t pouring, the sky was still dark and cloudy. The weatherman actually reoprted for the month of June there were only 17 hours of dry, sunny skies. Finally that all changed.
We woke up this morning to 38 degree temps and knew it was “go time.” We got the wheeler out and as soon as the dogs saw the harnesses they went crazy. A neighbor from across the street said their histarics woke her up from a dead sleep.
For the first team Zoom and Quigley led the way (see photo below), while Metoo and Brick led the second run. They were all so raring to go. Even with new front and back breaks put in the wheeler last week, and those brakes tied down, the dogs still managed to drag the wheeler before the whole team was hooked in. I guess we’ll be chucking the wheels and tying the wheeler down early this year.
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It’s exciting to think about all this season will hold. Some dogs remain the same from year to year, but some dogs dramatically change from one year to the next. We can’t wait to see who will step up and lead, or who will become the next power house, especially since this year we have so many up-and-comers. Metoo and all her brothers will be two this year, so they will really start to get tested in some tough races, and Klaus and Boo will be yearlings, so they will be largely learning the ropes of distance training, since they didn’t do anything over 10 miles last year as pups.
As we train these young guys, we will do some of the work, but largely we rely on the other dogs to teach them for us. One of the ways we do this is to run a dog in lead who knows what they’re doing with a dog who is not so knowledgeable. This already began this morning. Quigley is a big, powerful male who just loves to go, go, go. He began picking up some of the basics of gee and haw last year, but he still has trouble with the “line out” command, which is so essential for leaders to know. Lining the team out at hook up, during tangles, or at the end of a run, keeps dogs from getting wrapped in the lines, and it just basically makes everything run smoother. ALL leaders must know it. So to teach Quigly to line out, we are running him with other big dogs, like Zoom, who will is too big and heavy for him to drag around. This morning when we finished the run Quigley tried to wander a few times, but Zoom knowing what needed to be done, looked at us and then deliberately layed down so she could use her weight to keep him from going anywhere.
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Brick, who ran with Metoo (Quigley’s sister), employed a different technique. Brick really loves leading. She’ll even try to run around the dog in front of her if she’s not in the front of the team. When we put her in next to Metoo, she just pulled forward so hard, there was nothing Metoo could do but stand there lining out next to her. Metoo got the hint and started to do the same. The photo above is of Brick AT THE END OF THE RUN, and she still was leaning into her harness and lining out like the excellent leader she is.