Fish Camp Fizzle

July 2nd, 2012

Hi all, we’re back from the beach and I wish we had bettter news to report, but the fishing was pretty poor this season. Annually we set up our camp and float our net, and by the end of the 10-day fishery we have filled everyone of permits of the six families we fish withm which is usually several hundred fish. This year, however, we ended up bringing in less than 100 total, for everyone to divy up.

Needless to say this is a crushing blow to the kennel. The dogs rely on the heads we get during this fishery, and usually when the fish are surging in we will get lots of calls from locl canneries and home consumers who have more fish from last year than they know what to do with. They donate it to us, which helps offset the ever expernsive dog food bills. This year, though, few calls have come in and unlike everyother year we’ve ever had, when we get thousands of fishheads from the canneries. We have gotten nothing.
The problem is a slickster from the Lower 48 tapped into this market and got all the canneries to agree to give him their heads exclusively. They normally can’t find enough places to put this by-product and legally by the EPA, they can only dump so much back into the inlet, so we ended up with tons. This guy, though, gets all the heads now, and presses them for oil, which he gets rich off of selling the oil to the vitamin supplement markets. It’s good for him, but bad for us. Summer is a time for us to save and financially get back on our feet for winter. As I’ve written in the past, it cost us $40 for a bag of food, and we go through a bag a day at the kennel, so it adds up quickly.

With so few fish resources this year, we are thankful for the few we got. There weren’t may, but at least they were good sized ones, as evident from the pic above our niece holding up a nice sockeye. Needless to say, with money going out of our bank account like water down a drain, there won’t be any Iditarod this year. I know some of you have asked, because the first day of sign-up was Saturday, but it is just too expensive a proposition for us this year.
We have mixed feeling on this. It is always sad to miss out on the party, and at the age most of the core dogs, like Penny, are at, this may have been there last year to really pull together as a cohesive team at an ultra-competitive level. But on the other hand, we are dog owners/lovers first and an Iditarod racing kennel second. The dogs have just as much fun swimming, lounging around the house, free running on the beach and moooching table scraps, as they do pulling in the snow for hundreds of miles, so I don’t think they’ll miss it too much.

On a good financial note, our canvas photo sales have been red hot. Since the last blog post we have sold many, including to two local restaurants and one fly-out bear viewing service. So in addition to the ones hanging in people’s homes, these are on display for the public to see for hopefully years to come. Well, all for this week. We have been swimming and hiking with the dogs lot,s so hopefully we’ll get some photos of that up soon. Until then, enjoy summer, it’s getting shorter by the day.

Strike a Pose

June 20th, 2012

Hi all. Big news this week. The dogs had their first proferssional photo shoot! As you can tell by the beautiful image above of Butterscotch, and below of Cole and Penny and big man Waylon, the photograpjher does some pretty impressive work. The images were taken by Albert Lewis, a photographer from Anchorage who is working on a coffee table book about the dogs of Iditarod caled “Born to Run/ Athletes of the Iditarod.
We were very happy to hear about the project since most books out there focus on musers and adventure tales, rather than the true talent….the dogs. We were equally excited when we foujnd out that Albert would only be featuring dogs from about 30 different kennels.
He shot about a dozen dogs and we won’t be able to share all the images until the book comes out roughly a year from now. Believe me, we are just as anxious to see the images as you are. He was particularly interested in thecolor patterns in our kennel. Not a lot of mushers like red-coated dogs, other won’t use blue eyed dogs, and we of course have a bunch of both. Our only regret was the dogs coats actually change color in summer, and a lot of the red dogs have a much more vibrant coat in winter, but oh well.
He spent a ton of time with Cyder and Crazy Horse, two of the most beutiful dogs in our kennel. He also shot images of Zoom, Hildy, Penny, Dunkel, Butter, Waylon, and Brick. It was very interesting seeing his techniques for getting good shots. He uses squeky toys and whistles, all kinds of stuff to get the dogs to make, at times, funny faces. It was suprising seeing who did the best and who did the worst. The dogs who are the most spooky of stragners actually did the best becuase they came in and just stood still and stared at him, while super friendly dogs like Dunkel jumped around and acted like a fool beucase he wanted to play with Albert rather than siot still for a photo.
Well, that all the news for this week. Fish camp is going on, so we are living down on the beach for the most part, and nect week we’ll have some pictures and updates about our annual endeavor to get salmon for us and the dogs.

A nice shot of Cole and our pint-sized powerhouse Penny. An always serious dog, Penny seemed embarrased by all the attention.

Big Waylon, we did our best to brush him out before the shoot, but sadly most of the dogs are still blowing their winter caots, so he looked a little scruffy for his shoot.

Paying the Bills

June 7th, 2012

Hi all, sorry it’s been so long since we made a post. Our only excuse is, we’ve come to the conclusion there is no off season with sled dogs. While the long runs of winter have stopped, the workload has not, it has just changed from conditioning the dogs, to swimming them, playing fetch, and making money to pay all the bills we racked up all winter long.
Fortunately, things have been steady on this latter front. As you can see in the image at the top of this post, we have been working hard on selling prints and canvases of some of the artwork we are able to put together from running and being around sled dogs. This week alone we have sold several images from Nome of other mushers, which they will send out to their own sponsors to say thank-you.
We also have several large canvases that just went up in Rosco’s Pizzeria in Ninilchik. Rosco’s owners, as some of you might remember, are big supporters of Cole and the dogs and they sponsored Cole several pizzas to eat along the trail during this year’s Iditarod. Some of the canvases they are now displaying are VERY nice shots of areas or conditions that would not be possible to view without traveling by dog team. It’s great to think of how many summer tourists will now get a chance to see those images and hopefully understand a little bit of why those of us who lives here year-round chose to make this our homes.
I should point out, if you’ll bear with this shameless self-promotion, that almost any images that we post here on the blog can be made into prints or canvases, so if interested in adding one to your home, business, lodge, etc. just sent us an email at to let me know what image you’d like and we’ll get back to you with a price list.
In other news, an Anchorage-based photographer is also working on a coffee table type book on the Athletes of the Iditarod. It looks like it will be a lot of extremely high quality shots of dogs, and a few of the mushers. It looks like he’ll be coming down around the 16th to shoot some of our guys. We, as always, are very excited to share our dogs with him. The tough part now will be decided who should end up in front of thee lens…beautiful, colorful dogs like the orange coated and blue-eyed Crazy Horse or Cyder. Or perhaps we should go with the dogs that deserve the most credit, such as lead dog Penny. Or perhaps, just the dogs we know will be the biggest clowns in front of the camera, like Metoo and Dunkel. Ultimately, it will likely be up to the photographer, but we’ll keep you all posted.
When not working on selling photos, we have been hard at writing for the book we’re working on that we mentioned a few blog posts ago. We’re trying to put together a book of our adventures and misadventures with all these crazy canines. Progress on this project is going well and we have written several chapters already this summer. We promised we’d share some of the stories here, and since we have disappointed you all by not blogging in so long, perhaps a sample of one chapter will make it up to everyone. This is from the chapter we’re writing on poop, that’s right you read that correctly, poop. I know it sounds gross and weird, but bear with us and take a read at this portion of the much large chapter on this disgusting subject. We only ask that you don’t copy and paste, or share it anywhere as this is a work in progress that we will eventually be trying to sell. Thanks and enjoy.

All mushers, if not all dog owners, probably have a story or two about a dog leaving a tightly coiled pile somewhere they shouldn’t, and over the years we’ve had more than our fair share of accidents in the house, truck and many other places. At the time they’re happening, they are never funny, but looking back on the incidents, some of the messiest and most embarrassing bowel blasts are now some of our most hilarious memories with the dogs.
Not everyone can see the humor in a dog pooping at in inappropriate time. We can vouch for this based on an experience when we briefly crossed over into the world of purebred dogdom by attending an American Kennel Club puppy socialization class. Despite that mushers and agility enthusiasts or those who partake in obedience are all dog lovers, there seems to be a large rift separating these groups. It seems to be one of those things like skiing versus snowboarding, being a republican or democrat, being a kid and eating vegetables. You either do one or the other, but people who participate in both are few and far between.
We weren’t aware of this elitism in the animal-lovers world when we signed up for the class. It was right after Butterscotch and Doc had produced the first litter of puppies we had ever had in the kennel. Until then we had been taking in other people’s dogs, puppies and their associated physical and social problems, but we had decided to have a litter to raise them right and help balance the scales.
We had called ahead to be sure it would be O.K. to bring in our puppies, since there were seven of them after all, and even among the high-energy reputation puppies have, husky pups are in a league of their own. The instructor agreed and initially things were going well. Our guys played with the other pups in the class and climbed on the agility equipment, but then Buckwheat – our yellow-eyed husky with a fuzzy, cream-colored coat and reddish muzzle – made sure we and everyone else would never forget that evening.
I should preface this part of the story by saying at the time we had only recently gotten the diagnoses of Buckwheat having a liver shunt. Without getting too scientific here, this is a condition where a blood vessel carries blood around the liver instead of through it, causing toxins to build up in the blood stream. Because many of these toxins come from protein, Buckwheat was on a special diet and taking medications, all of which gave him extremely wet and white-washed looking stools.
We knew going into the class we didn’t want any amorphous deposits, so we hadn’t fed him since breakfast and had walked him before and at several points during the hour-long class. We were almost in the clear. There were only about 15 minutes to go when, as puppies often do, Buckwheat had an accident. We were already juggling our attention between all his siblings which had fanned out across the room, when out of the corner of Colleen’s eye she saw him starting to assume the position.
She made a dash for him, but hadn’t even crossed half the large, rubber-matted floor when he began to release what was nothing short of an anal outpouring. To be honest, I think had any dog pooped in the class it would have been frowned upon, but what really made the folks in the room go from looking down their noses at us to scooping up there puppies and running out in sheer terror was the appearance of Buckwheat’s crappy calling card. It came out completely white, and in a consistency that was more liquid that it was even close to a solid state. Had it not been coming from his behind it would have looked like someone had knocked over an old glass bottle of milk, which was glug, glug, glugging its way to emptiness.
I think parents on a beach where someone has pointed at the water and screamed “shark!” have moved slower than these pet owners did scooping up their puppies and running out of the room. We couldn’t blame them. Without knowing his condition, his stool storm was so unusual in appearance, we likely would have thought he was harboring some horrible virus and in an act of puppy preservation fled, too, had he not been ours.
While Buckwheat blasting in the class was one of our most embarrassing moments, it was far from the most shocking…

Cole’s Goodbye to Tatika

May 12th, 2012

My skin burns
From these toxic tears
Filling my eyes and streaking my face
Without you to lick them away
My protector is gone

This caustic fluid
Sears my cheeks and stains your fur
My love has been selfish; not giving like yours
My confidante, my strength
Gone, gone

I lie here wishing for time to pass
With a hope that tomorrow my breath comes with less pain
The wound of loss scaring over
Never to heal, the you I know pressed somewhere deep in me

Even knowing this day would come
The pain has been so great
Your companionship guiding my journey
Through moments of time which have built me and broken me
Success and failure, happiness and heartache
Your unconditional love gave me strength and purpose
Always when I needed it most
You helped me through the toughest hardships, devastating loss, and times we didn’t know how to recover from
You helped forge my path I have not had to walk alone for the past 14 years
And this burden of life, so heavy without you
I struggle to find my footing… to want to fly again

My dearest friend
I will always howl your name in the wind
Find happiness in simple moments
Think of you when it’s time to lick the ice cream carton
Or shovel snow, dig holes, rake –and roll in- leaves,
When I need a reason to go on a jog, or a reason not to
When I pack the car for a camping trip, or go to the beach, or a long drive
I will learn to love unconditionally, beautifully, just like you taught me
I will miss you forever

May 1998- we are all at a lovely outdoor luncheon… family, friends, the graduating class. While many peers are opening cards full of money, or a car key, or a plane ticket, I open a light blue envelope. Words indicated congratulations are on the card, then as I open it, 3 pictures fall out. A german shepherd puppy featured in all 3. While most of my friends were heading out in the world, I was heading home, facing months of rehabilitation for my knee that had been reconstructed just one month earlier… in fact I was still in a brace most days.
Tatika looked more rhino than dog with her giant pointed ears coming together at the top looking like a horn. Her name is Swahili for “tangled and confused”, as I had fallen in love with East Africa and had planned on returning after graduation, until my life drastically changed course one morning. But Tatika was going to see me through the tough road ahead.
We were inseparable for the next 2 years.
January 2000- one of 10 of my toughest “goodbyes” in my life. I left a detailed list for my parents of how to communicate with my dog. Of course she was so smart, she could understand so much from so many. She was so perceptive, and caring, and conscientious. She understood the temporary meaning of “stay” versus the much longer amount of time indicated with “I’ll be back”, and I didn’t want my parents to hurt her feelings by using the wrong one. There was of course much more on this list which I don’t care to type now… it’s all I can do to do this much.
I left for Georgia, driving the big red van I had bought from my parents, only returning twice in 10 months… once for a good friend’s wedding and once for a family reunion. Then in October I pulled up the driveway with a Uhaul trailer on a small green pick-up, a Boston terrier in my lap, and a new boyfriend. We stayed for several days, packing away my life, and off we went again to Georgia. This time Tatika was in my lap when we pulled away and the tears were streaking my parents’ faces.
Georgia memories are happy ones. Camping, hiking, jogging, swimming. I think back on that time and know we lived every moment. I suppose that’s your 20’s… living… we hiked and explored almost every weekend. Weeknights we went to the beach or walked around the neighborhood and visited the other dogs (I have no idea what any of the owners’ names were). Tatika taught Snickers how to be a dog: how to get dirty, how to swim, how to play chase, and how to guard the car. She probably taught us much of the same… she helped us get our first Christmas tree together (an adventure in itself), catch fish (she loved to run into the water while we wrestled them to shore), and play ball until the sun gave up. And god did we ever hike. She laid in the tent one night while we lie awake listening to raccoons scream like a pack of hyenas in frustration at our dangling food supplies. She was with us in a windstorm that drove me to retreat to the car with snickers while she and Joseph tried to stick it out in a tent that was blown flat against their bodies. And there was the time we were certain a serial killer had happened upon us in the dark of night only to shine our headlamp on a skunk riffling through our cooking gear… she seemed to know not to bark that time. Like most “thru-hikers” she even had a trail name to go by: Powernap 5000, as she could stop, drop, and nap for 5 minutes, then be able to play like we had not just put in 15 or 20 miles that day. She was there when we surprised an entire platoon running drills on a remote section of trail one day… the commanding officer asked us to push on quickly and not interfere… she couldn’t help but steal some sniffs from the soldiers lying along the trail trying to blend in with the ground. And there was the time we ran out of food and all had to eat ramen noodles alongside a creek… to this day it may have been the only time I saw her eat a noodle.

She was there when Joseph got down on his knee… and she was there to walk the ring down the isle.
March 2002- This goodbye was particularly hard. This time we left Tatika, Snickers, and Kitty with my parents. Joseph gave them strict orders not to play them to death… it is of course out of love, but probably needed to be said all the same. My parents may be the closest people I know to understanding the love of our pets… Joseph’s parents too… maybe that is part of where we get it from. All this time we knew that if something were to happen to us, those 3 would go to my parents and continue to be loved… people always want to call it a bond because maybe they feel that love is not what you share with a pet… my bond is love.
We went to hike 2,200 miles. We carried pictures of them the whole way and glued them in the trail register at the end in Baxter State Park in Maine. We missed them so much.
October 2002 – another tough goodbye. Everything we owned was in the small green pick-up. Sitting in the front seat was Joseph behind the wheel, Snickers in his lap, Tatika in the middle and across me in the passenger seat, and Kitty perched on the top of the headrest. We drove like this (Joseph and I switching positions back and forth) for 5 days, barely stopping to sleep, to Alaska. My parents were laughing and crying as we pulled away… something about the Clampets… I was particularly worried about my Dad this time. He had bonded deeply with Tatika, and she was concerned with him. My mom has always been the type to make friends, very busy, active, outgoing, generous and lively. My dad is much more withdrawn, guarded, honest. There’s a sadness around him that takes more than a casual “hello” to break through. Tatika’s presence dissolved the melancholy. I knew it, and she knew it. Whenever carepackages arrived once we moved, Tatika would sniff the latest emotions from back home, tail wagging, head emerged in the box.
For years we lived in a 16×16 cabin. No plumbing, and no worries. Always dirty, always covered in dog hair. We explored our new home and lived our new adventures. Inseparable again. We resumed all our old activities, hiking, camping, canoeing, but with an Alaskan twist. I can remember a long 26-mile canoe trip we did with Joseph and I, Snickers and Tatika all piled into one canoe. We hit a section of unexpected rapids that was all we could do to navigate, while keeping all four of us in the boat and not flipping over. Adding to our dilemma, we rounded a bend and standing in the rapids was a full grown moose just yards away. We didn’t even come up to its belly. We drove the oars into the rocks below, doing our best to not move an inch further and not tipping. Tatika, ever the guard dog, stood up and went to the front, but as if she knew all our lives depended on it, she didn’t bark. She just watched it carefully until it strode out of the river, always protecting us.

And so she did and so we were for the next 10 years. Yes, I’ve gone on journeys without her, the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, and several other races and training runs, but I always had her in my thoughts and looked forward to being with her at home.
Even as she slowed down these last few years, we still walked on the beach or through the woods. She looked forward to my niece and nephew sleeping over. She continued to love playing basketball until the day she died… literally.
I could go on forever thinking, writing, and loving Tatika, but like everything else, I don’t have the time or stamina, maybe someday…
Even in her final moments she put me first, as she did for 14 years. I struggle with the idea of euthanasia. It’s not to say that it shouldn’t be considered when pain can’t be alleviated, or our companion mentally has already gone. But it feels to me like I would be betraying one who trusted me and gave me everything. I had called the vet Friday morning because I knew the end was near and I didn’t want her to suffer, but tearfully tried explaining to Joseph that I didn’t want to have to do that to her. She knew… I knew. She was in my lap all morning. Within an hour of calling the vet she started letting go… her last gift to me… leaving me without having to make that decision… in my arms… in my love… our love. In her final minute the entire dogyard sang out and the house dogs joined in howling… she was not alone… she was loved by all.
I did not give her an amazing life… she gave it to me.

R.I.P Tatika 1998-2012

May 5th, 2012

After 14 years, two of which we thought she could go any day, on Friday morning (May 4th at 10 a.m.) we finally said good-bye to Tatika, our German shepherd and the only dog Cole and I have know as long as each other (and in Cole’s case, she knew her even longer).
All the dogs are unique in their own way, but Tatika, Tika for short, seemed to stand out from the rest due to her selflessness. A true shepherd, she took watching over all of us very seriously. She always positioned herself in a corner so she could look out over the whole room, if Cole was home she would stay by the door to ensure Cole couldn’t leave without her knowing, and each evening she would periodically wander through the house touching her nose to every human and dog, performing some form of shepherd “counting” to ensure all the members of her flock were accounted for. It should go without saying that she also was a guard dog extraordinaire and wouldn’t let anyone in the house she didn’t know.
Unlike the other dogs, she rarely caused mischief of any kind. When she was younger and we worked away from home 8-10 hours a day, she would get bored and take anything with a screw top, but usually shampoo bottles, to our bed and open the lids. She had no interest for what was in them, I think she was just such an abnormally smart dog, the long hours alone left her under-stimulated, so she problem-solved to occupy her mind and her time.
One of the only times we can remember when Tatika was actually naughty was when we got a free-range turkey one Thanksgiving. Tika had always been the type of dog you could leave a steak on your plate on the floor and go into the next room and she wouldn’t touch it, so we were surprised when we came home from work the day after Thanksgiving and found that Tika had gotten the cooked bird down from the stove top, took it to our bed and ate as much as she could fit. I guess the gamey smell of a wild bird, must have been too much for her (upon coming to Alaska, moose meat seemed to have the same effect on her). There was grease and bone and turkey bits all over our sheets, and of course stuffing herself so thoroughly, she had pooped in several other locations around the house, which again was something Tika NEVER did, no matter how sick she was. It was perhaps one of the biggest messes we have ever had, possibly only rivaled by a time when we were gone on a dog run and Tika again unscrewed a cap out of boredom and spilled a five-gallon jug of corn oil in our living room.
Despite these rare exceptions, Tatika was the best behaved and best listener of any of the dogs in our lives. Even as she went deaf the last two years, she still listened better than the rest. Extremely smart, as she started going deaf, we began using hand signals to communicate to her and after losing her hearing, if she saw us make any gesture she knew, she would immediately respond.
In her youth she accompanied us on thousands of evening jogs, hundreds of weekend hikes and she loved to play fetch, particularly at the beach or a pond, when she could run and swim out to retrieve whatever toy we had brought that day. While mushing across Alaska has brought many adventures with the dogs, I still think some of the happiest days of my life were when it was just Cole, Tatika, Snickers and I living in Georgia. We could give them both our full attention, rather than trying to share equal amounts with so many like now (which there never seems like enough time for when you have so many). There were few chores, financial burdens, and no racking our brain to find someone responsible to hold down the fort when we wanted to take off for a weekend. We would just load Tika and Snickers up, throw the tent in the car and take off for a carefree weekend in nature. We all were at our happiest. We were a family and we were together with the ones we all loved the most.
Tika’s absolute favorite toy in the world was her basketball, which she moved with her mouth and forelegs like a soccer player. We would kick it as far as we could and she would “dribble” it back to us, ready to do it all over again. Even in her final days she would try to play with the basketball and we would put a sling under her to support her weight and hips so she could play for a few minutes until tired.
In her youth she was a powerhouse, who jumped through numerous glass windows to try and find Cole. One time in Georgia she even went out a second story window, and ran around on the roof for who knows how long until we got home and could get out the window ourselves and get her back in.
In her old age, she was no less rewarding to be around. Bonded to Cole like no other breed or dog I have ever seen bond to anyone, she grew first to tolerate me, and then accept me, and eventually to like me. Working from home the last two years, I was able to provide companionship and hospice for her as her body began to wither with time. I’ll miss building morning fires in the woodstove so she could lie on her bed in front of it and stay warm and comfy.

After knowing her to the end, I feel bad for people who are quick to euthanize a dog that begins having accidents. We decided to leave Tika as long as she was happy, mentally alert and not suffering in anyway. Tika’s rear-end began going out about a year and a half ago, but her mind was sharp until the day she died. As stated, she tried to play basketball until days before she passed away, and the day before, she still wandered around back to one of the few grass patches we have to sit in the sun while I fed and cleaned all the other dogs.
The nerves in her hips and legs had degenerated, so she needed help getting to her feet the last few months, but then could shuffle around for brief periods. I would carry her up and down our stairs, which no matter how old she got she still hated the indignity of and would try and resist. She couldn’t feel much in her back half, so she occasionally pooped when relaxed in her sleep, but we would clean it before she awoke (to not embarrass her or make her feel bad) since she didn’t do it consciously. After 14 years of companionship, it was a small task to endure.
Her teeth long ago wore out too from years of tennis balls, but she ate wet food, boiled turkey or chicken, and ground moose with gusto. No teeth meant there was nothing to hold back her silly tongue when she slept, so it would stick out of her mouth further the deeper into sleep she got. And even when she could no longer run, we could see her brittle legs kick in her sleep as she dreamed of days passed when she was still fleet of foot.
Her death was peaceful. She died in the living room, in Cole’s arms with her looking into her eyes telling Tika she was loved. I hugged her body and listened to her heart, still beating strong to the end, slow down and stop like a winding down watch. With so many others coming into our life after her, but passing away before her dying from illnesses or accidental injuries, it was so fulfilling to see Tika live a long life and die a natural cause, but now going forward and living without her seems so hard.
Forty dogs barking in your yard at the first sign of anything out of the ordinary makes you feel secure. There’s no sneaking up on a musher. But, somehow without Tatika – our shepherd, our protector, our defender, our friend – the world seems less safe today and a lot more lonely. Tatika ( a.k.a. Tika, T, Bigs and Mrs. Biggelsworth) we’ll love, miss and remember you always.

P.S. Cole is emotionally destroyed right now, but will write her goodbye when she feels up to it.

Works Done, Back To Fun

April 22nd, 2012

Hi all. Sorry for the long absence, but with break-up in full swing, there hasn’t been a lot to report. We’ve just been doing our best to keep the dogs high and dry while all the snow melts and subsequently floods the yard. However, this past weekend we finally got out with the dogs for some much needed fun.
Cole’s birthday is this week, so we decided to celebrate it this weekend since it’ll fall during the work week. Being more the type of girl that likes doing things, over getting things, we got with some friends and a couple of the sled dogs and we headed out to the mountains for a fun spring hike.
The trails at the higher elevations are still pretty snow-covered, but under the warm spring sun, they softened up quickly making it impossible to travel without snowshoes, although the dogs could still run across the mushy stuff without too much trouble.
At this time of year, things can be four feet deep of soft mush, or they can be a slick of mud and melting goo, so not knowing what to expect, we only brought Metoo and Dunkel since they’re two of our best off-leash listeners. They were more than ecstatic to go.
We hiked to a giant waterfall about four miles into the wilderness of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. We saw one brown bear and the dogs got to flush a half-dozen grouse over the course of the day, but other than Metoo finding it a bit warm in the 43 degree sun after weeks of leading teams in minus 30 temperatures, they did great and we’re bushed afterwards. With all of their running back and forth, they probably did about 16 miles to our 8 miles of snowshoeing.
Anyhoo, onto the pictures. Enjoy. All for this week.

Above, Dunkel checks to make sure we’re seeing the view.

This was the brown bear we saw. Still with the long winter coat, but very lean from a winter burning off fat reserves while hibernating.

Just like in winter, Metoo insisted on being the lead dog.

As the sun came out the temperature got above 40, Metoo took lots of breaks to roll in the snow and cool off.

And finally, the view of Juneau Falls, still largely encassed in ice. We took lunch at an overlook facing the falls. It was very serene.

Thanks For the Help

April 5th, 2012

Hi all. Things are slowing down, blog posts not excluded, now that we are back home. Wnt to start by saying thanks to everyone who came forward or helped find a home for the two Siberians in need. Thy did get a home here in Alaska. I’m told by the owner they went to a recreational musher who maintain free run pens for her dogs, so hopefully they will have a great life.
Thanks also to everyone who has supported us over the season, either through kind words on the blog or by sending finanical or in-kind donations. We’ve been busy making up something to send out to everyone, so please email your adresses to our roguesgallerykennel@gmail account if we don’t already have your address. I have the adresses of people who donated through paypal, but am worried we may have missed some folks who sent snailmail. During the peak of season we were so busy, I’m not sure where we stored the latters with people’s adresses and we don’t want to miss anyone.
Life at the kennel has slowed a bit. We’ve been able to continue putting in small, just a few mile long, fun runs with the dogs due to the winter just not wanting to give in to spring. We still have several feet of crusty, icy snow in the yard and on the trails, but it’s pretty crunchy stuff and a lot of the marshes and ponds are starting to weep overflow, so travelling too far just isn’t an option. I think everyone, humans and dogs, are happy to be putting in some short runs though after all the work a long runs we did together this season.
We also got our Iditarod drop bags back, so this weekend we can look forward to going through dozens of bags filled with soggy booties, dog coats, blankets and other gear, and then washing, drying and putting it all away until next year. The Iditarod is over, yet somehow it keeps making chores for us.
While the race is all still fresh in our minds and the winter chores are wanning and the summer chores of fishing and gardening haven’t yet started to wax, we’ve decided to try and put pen to paper to start writing down some of the amazing adventures we’ve had with the dogs. We’d like to try to get a book out in the next year with some stories about individal dogs, some about dog-related adventures, some photos, and also some of Cole’s poetry, which while few and far between on the blog, is always fantastic.
This may sound odd, since those who read this blog regularly can attest that I write it like a Neanderthal pounding away at the keys. I can assure you I can write well. I tend to not proof read this thing, due to just trying to crank out enough to include everyone before getting out to the dogs, so I hope you won’t judge my writing based on this blog.
This started as a way to keep our families in the lower 48 included in our lives, and it has grown to include kennel friends, school children and many others. I’m often too busy to slopily say more than just the cliff notes of some of our adventures, but they are really worth telling the whole tales in details, so we’re going to try and do that with this book. In the future I may post one or two stories from the book, but I don’t want to give way too much since we aree still hoping to find a publisher.
Anyway, that’s what we’re working on right now. Hope all of you are well, and thanks again for all your support.

Back to Work

March 22nd, 2012

Hi all. We’ll we just got back from the race and its right back to trying to do our best for dogs, including other people’s. We need your help. A close friend of ours lost her job and must move. She has four dogs, but can only take one to the new home. We have agreed to take one, but there are two Siberian huskies that need homes NOW. They are spayed females, six year old, and they don’t have to go together. They lived as indoor dogs for the first few years of their life, but have lived in outdoor pens for the last couple. They are sweet dogs, please help us find them a home. She only has a week until she will be bringing them to a shelter. Contact us if you are interested and we can put you in touch with the owner to work out shipping details. Above and below are the pics.


March 20th, 2012

Hi all, Cole just made it home yesterday afternoon. All the dogs made it back safe and sound too and have been enjoying fattening up and sharing time on the couch after all the hard work they did. Above is a finaly pic of Cole and Penny, both looking soooo tired, after crossing the finish line. Cole had to stick around Nome for a few days waiting for the banquet, and took a trip out to see some wild musk ox. I’ll try to post pics soon.
She had fun at the banquet. She found out her and another musher, Rohn, had moved up the same number of places (16) from their last Iditarods, but since he was one place in front of her this year, he recieved the “Most Improved Musher Award,” and the $2,000 that came with it. Drats! We’re always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to that stuff, but really the race turned out so much better than we hoped overall, we can complain. I mean he had his father, a past Idit-champ, helping him most of the way, whereas Cole did everything she did on her own, so we are still very, very proud of her, even if she didn’t get the big recognition. It seems to be too often the case with her, which sucks to see her work so hard and get so little credit. I thought it odd that the race photographer Jeff Schultz, as well as many of the race reporters, covered the teams that came in immediately before and after Cole, but not Cole herself. SAdly, Cole is used to it at this point, but it still hurts to see it happen to her.
Cole is starting to share some of her trail stories now that she has caught up on some sleep and is back home. I’ll try to get her to jump on here soon and share some if I can. In the meantime, here is a column I wrote about her and Wolf for the local newspaper I work at. I know some of you have stumbled on this, but not everyone has, so I thought I’d share it. Enjoy!

“Great” race in eye of the beholder
The Iditarod is also known as the Last Great Race, and indeed there are few things that can compare to driving a team of huskies across some of the most remote northern stretches of nature on this planet, though the “great” part is sometimes debatable. The chance of being stomped by moose not wanting to yield the trail, being knocked unconscious by trees on the Happy River Steps, having something dislocated while bumping through the Farewell Burn, and the ever-present danger of frostbite or freezing to death are all very real concerns for those who sign up for this race.

And why would anyone want to? That’s a question I’ve asked myself for years, even though I am a dog musher myself and love stepping on the runners for a jaunt with my canine companions. Running 1,000 miles in below-zero temperatures has always seemed like an exercise in masochism to me. I love eating ice cream, but I wouldn’t want to eat ice cream all day long for 10 days.

My wife, Colleen Robertia, apparently feels differently on this matter, because she is currently out there running the Iditarod. As I’m writing this she is along the Bering Sea coast between Unalakleet and Shaktoolik. This has me concerned, both for her well-being and for her sanity for wanting to be out running in conditions that the vast majority of people would run indoors to get away from.

Colleen is amazing, don’t get me wrong. She has an exceptional savvy for being in tune with our dogs, coping with the cold and managing sleep deprivation — all traits a good distance musher needs to succeed. It is because of this that my wife, despite this only being her second Iditarod and third 1,000-mile race, is running neckline to neckline with four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey, 2012 Yukon Quest champion Hugh Neff, and several others who have 10 to 20 years more racing experience than she does.

She doesn’t rely on other people to train her team all season long and then just step on the runners for the race. Every training — and there have been thousands this season alone — Cole put on those dogs on weekends or after a long day at work at her 40-hour-a-week job.

Though most media outlets covering this race focus just on the front runners, Colleen’s story is also one of substance. Unlike many mushers who breed year after year to skim the proverbial cream of the crop from each of these litters for their team, my wife has always prided herself on doing the best with the dogs she’s always had, which have often come from other mushers as runts, rogues or rejects.

One of the dogs in her team, which has even pinch-led a few runs in this Iditarod, is a dog that some of the best veterinarians in the state said would never be a sled dog again. Wolf, a feisty, black-and-white dog with glacier blue eyes, was hit by a car as a 2-year-old, along with five other dogs. Four died, one amazingly had no injuries, and Wolf had a completely shattered hind leg.

The musher who owned him at the time paid for him to have his leg fused back into place with metal and pins. He was given rehabilitation to be able to walk around again, and slowly began to run in the team. But when this musher sold his kennel, the buyer wasn’t interested in a question mark like Wolf.

We stepped in to give Wolf a good home and decided to allow him to do as much exercise as was comfortable for him. We figured he could handle a few training runs, then could sit out when he showed signs of soreness, but to our surprise the more runs he did, and the longer they got, the stronger he got.

Cole tried him out in short races, then a 200-miler. Again, the more Wolf did, the stronger he got, so when the time came to pick her 16 dogs for Iditarod, Wolf’s name made the list. As I’m writing this, he has made more than 700 miles of the race in good fashion, and I’m hoping to see him under the Burled Arch in Nome.

That’s how Colleen is, too. Like Wolf, she defies convention, and has often found success — even if only on a personal level — from prevailing where so many others wouldn’t have dared go. Her goal is not to win, but to succeed on her own terms. In the end, maybe that is the greatest calling of the Iditarod for her.

Post Race

March 16th, 2012

Hi all. Well we are still in nome recovering from all the stress, excitment, lack of sleep, etc. etc. Cole has gotten a hot showever and a few big meals into her, and she’s only fallen asleep midmeal or mid-conversion about a halfdozen times, so that’s poretty good. She got some really good sleep last night, ironically 8 hours, the same amount that she cumulatively got over the last 10 days. I don’t know how she does that.
Funny story though. After she got in from the trail, she went to take a hot shower at the hotel we were staying at. They are more people in Nome right now then places to stay, so we had to take what we could get. We got a room in one of the more questionable establishments. We checked in and one of two communal toilets for the hotel was being snaked out from backing up. We shared a shower and toilet with about 60 people as a result. The room is over the bar, which started hoping at night when the wet T-shirt contest started, so between the bass of the music and the cheers of the crowd, the floors and walls were vibrating till about 4 a.m.
Anyway, Cole came in and started to taking shower, but didn’t know the bathroom light was on a motion sensor, so as she was in the shower cubicle, the lights went out. In her sleep deprived state she wasn’t sure what happened or what to do since she was all soaped up, so we just heard her start pounding on the walls shouting, “Hello! Hello!” We came and shouted instructions thorugh the door to get the light back on, but it definetly wierded her out.
Luckily, while having breakfast with some mushing friends of our and their friends, Cole met a woman who had a room for the next few nights in one of the nicest places in town WITH a shower in her own room, and she couldn’t stay any longer, so she gave it to Cole and at least tonight Cole will finally get to rest in comfort. I’ll miss out as I’m flying home with the dogs to get them back on their home turf where they can truly be comfortable and start putting all their weight back on.
Everyone actually doesn’t look too much worse for the wear, especially Buliwyf and Seeker. They both look and are energetically acting like they hadn’t just run 1,000 miles. Zoom is the only one who looks pretty trail worn. She got a virus toward the end of the race which caused her to lose her appetite, but gave her really bad diarhea. The combination has caused her to drop a ton of weight since finishing since her metabolism is still processing like a marathon runner’s, but luckily the veterinary team worked closely with Cole to get her a spot indoors in the heat, so she could rest without burning any more calories. They also gave her some antibotics and vitamins to help get her on her feet quickly and as of today she has started ot eat like a wolf again. We went to the grocery store and bought her some really fatty pork chops, which she has really been enjoying.
Well all for now. I’m sad I won’t get to see Cole claim her trohpy and give her finishers speech at the banquet on Sunday, especially since she worked so hard and I’m so proud of her, but it sounds like Tatika is really no doing well back home with us gone, so Cole said she would rather have me be there for Tika than her.
All for now, but more when I hear more from the banquet. There are always numerous awards gvien out besides the placement awards, so maybe Cole will have earned somehitng else. We’ll find out soon. Thanks again to everyone for their support, and I hope you enjoyed this new picture at the top that I found on the web of the cermonial start, which seems like a lifetime ago after how crazy the past 10 days were. Still can’t believe its all over.