We were the second people we know to rescue the Old Man, a.k.a. Sampson. We knew of a woman who lived in Salcha who did what we have done on more than one occasion…taking in unwanted dogs. Sadly, she was electrocuted while felling trees in her dog yard and few people tried to adopt her dogs after her death, which she had already adopted from shelters and other mushers. That’s a sad reality of this sport, most mushers have no problem breeding litter after litter in an attempt to be the next big thing, but few mushers want to step up and actually give a dog a home that may not be able to help them get to the finish line in first place.
Anyway, we were at capacity then in our own kennel, but sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper into your pocket when it’s the right thing to do, so we made the trip to Salcha with the intention of adopting one dog. We looked past the strong, friendly dogs in the hope they could go to a home with someone less experienced in dealing with troubled dogs, and instead looked for a dog no one would likely choose. We picked a young, super spooky dog that wouldn’t even come out of his box (this is Rolo for those who know our dogs), but as we were preparing to leave we noticed an old dog who’s circle looked like pictures I’ve seen of the beach at Normandy during the D-day invasion.
Apparently this old dog had a passion for digging, but he didn’t just dig holes, he dug caverns and trenches. Between his age and his destructive nature, we knew this guy wasn’t going home with anyone else, so we took him too.
Here at the kennel, he fit right in. He loved running in the team, even though he was so old he could never do more than a mile or two. Still, if he saw the harnesses come out, he would try to run up our legs and dress himself he would be so excited.
He continued to dig and in summer we would often look out to only see him flinging dirt into the air from one of his latest tunnels. His whole body would be below the surface and he loved every minute of it. We later figured out he was digging out of some kind of self-play game he had with his food bowl. If he didn’t have a bowl, he would spend the day resting in his box, but if he had a bowl, he would spend the day digging after it as if it were perpetually out of his grasp.
The only time he would actually stop pretending he couldn’t get the bowl was at feeding time, when he would magically suddenly be able to catch it. He would then just parade around with it in his mouth until he got fed. I’m not sure who taught him this, or if it was some type of stereotypy, but it was comical as heck to watch.
Sadly though, as I went out to feed yesterday morning that was how I knew something was wrong. I didn’t see Old Man running circles of excitement with his bowl in his mouth. He’s been deaf for years, so sometimes he wouldn’t know all the dogs were barking and he’d be fast asleep in his dog box until I tapped him to let him know it was time for breakfast.
I peeked in his box and he was curled up on a thick nest of straw. I tapped him to wake him up, but he didn’t move. I reached in and he was still warm to the touch. My heart sank. Our last dog to die was Bashful who died in our arms, and we found it crushing, but somehow this seemed worse. Even though it looked like he didn’t suffer and possibly died in his sleep, he died alone. We never got to give him one last pet or scratch or got to tell him how much we enjoyed the few years we knew him, or how much his silly antics brought a smile to our faces daily.
In the end we gave him more than most others would have, but still only half of what he deserved in life. That’s the hard part of living with 40 dogs…there’s only so much time in the day, so you never really feel like everyone gets that one-on-one attention they deserve. We do our best, but it never feels like enough once they’re gone.
God speed Old Man. We’ll miss you. Say hello to Kawlijah, Bashful and our other friends when you see them.
When we showed up to the rescue efforts, the old dog wasn’t necessarily our first pick. We wanted to help out a sad situation, but were only planning on taking home one dog that was still young enough to run with the dogs we had. Within minutes of watching his ridiculous antics I knew deep down we needed to take him home… It’s like rooting for the underdog, or picking the kid that always gets picked last, first… we knew no one else would give this dog a home… whether it be because he peed on anything within streaming distance, he carried his bowl everywhere-making it quite the game at feeding time, or the landscaping job of four-foot trenches he excavated his circle with –in fact there were days when all we could see when glancing his direction was the tip of a wagging tail and a shower of dirt flying out of the latest crevasse. We headed out with our one dog, then without much more than a nod to each other, walked back to the dogyard and arranged to take this obvious misfit. This old guy needed a home for the rest of his life, no matter how long or short it would be.
We soon figured out that he was completely deaf, and one of the happiest little creatures ever. Never serious, always up for visitors (as long as they weren’t interested in his dog bowl which never escaped his attention) and if a harness was available he would gladly school you on how you should wear it. By others’ standards he would have been seen as just a mouth to feed and a burden to the kennel.
In the end, he was a joy to have known. Yes, he was one more mouth to feed, and I am thankful that I was the one to feed it. It breaks my heart to think of him alone on his bed of straw for his final moments without the warmth that he brought to the yard, and I hope his mind was on summer and he felt the warmth of the long sunny days and the dirt flying from his paws.
I wish I could have been there for you Old Man, I am truly sorry
Archive for December, 2011
Hi all, sorry it’s been so long, but December and January are always our busiest months. Someone asked us to put down what we do in a day, so here it goes, so you can understand a bit of our life right now.
We get up at around 6 a.m. and soak food, then begin getting things ready for a run, like packing the sled with gear and snacks, loading and tying the sleds onto the truck, and warming the finicky thing up. We scoop all the poop for about 45 minutes, then feed them, then load them up for a trip to the hills.
Once there (it’s about 30 minutes away) we unload all the sleds, dogs and gear, then harness and bootie everyone, and take off for a run. Depending on the snow conditions, the runs themselves are taking 5-6 hours right now, and that’s if we’re not breaking trail, which we’ve had to do almost every other run this year. This is also the time for one run, but we have been doing a lot of camping too, so that doubles all the times. We also have three teams to run, so we can only do two a day.
Back at the truck, we feed everyone, take off all their gear, load them and everything again, and return home. There, we put everything away, then feed them again, and scoop any new poop.
Then we begin the race chores, like sorting booties or cutting meat, which takes a few more hours each night. This past week we got through 3,000 pounds of meat cutting and bagging with the help of some hardworking friends (see below).
All of this on top of typical kennel chores, like re-strawing dog boxes, medicating geriatric dogs, updating the blog, ordering dog food, etc. There also is the responsibility of working for a living too, so on days we work, we typical, do all these same things, but we start at about 5-6 p.m., instead of 6 a.m., and then just run in to the night until about 2-3 a.m.
There also are the unexpected things that come up, like the dog truck also broke down, so it needed to go into the shop for two days, which set us back a bit, and then there is always celebrating Christmas too. Also, the past two weeks we’ve had to shovel our driveway, which takes about 6-7 hours to complete (see pic below of our homemade plow).
So needless to say, when we don’t write regularly, please don’t think we don’t want to keep you all updated. It’s just sometimes, there aren’t enough hours in the day. O.K. all for this week, except for one last plug. We still have Penny Porter shirts in sizes small through 2xl, so if you haven’t already please show your support for the kennel by purchasing one or more. They can be purchased via Paypal or by sending checks made out to one of us, NOT the kennel.
They’re finally ready. We have Penny Porter T-shirts!!! In our perpetual attempt to be able to afford keeping and racing all these dogs, we will be selling these shirts featuring our lead dog, Penny, with the logo from the Kassik’s Brewery beer named in her honor. Kassik’s is our major sponsor and without their help we could not have run the Iditarod two years ago and couldn’t afford it this year either. They have generously underwritten the cost of making these shirts to help get us to the startline of the Last Great Race. The cost of these shirts is $25 if you live locally, or $30 if we have to ship it to you. They are going fast! Get yours while you still can.
In addition to the shirts, Kassik’s has also bottled up another batch of the maple-sweetened Penny Porter beer. We can’t ship this, unfortunatley, but if you live locally, stop in for a bottle or growler. Proceeds from this beer also go toward supporting our Iditarod endeavor.
In addition to Kassik’s, we have several kennel friends who support us, and among our most devoted friends is Susan, our Idita-rider from the start of the 2010 Iditarod. She has very generously made the quilt pictured above, which features several photos and the names of the race dogs, as well as all the ckeckpoints in the Yukon Quest and Iditarod, and a profile of some of the mountain ranges the dogs traverse. She has donated this to the kennel as a fundraiser. It will be on display at Kassik’s, where a lucky individual will have a chance to win such a unique and beautiful item. Contact us if you are interested in trying to win this one of a kind item.
Here is a close up of one of the sections of quilt with a dog team siloutte. It’s just a beautiful quilt!!!