This is my attempt at describing what it’s like for me in Alaska. I’ll take a typical day and break it into separate posts, so you aren’t overwhelmed by text. This is the fifth post, covering the sled dogs. Don’t miss the other posts: Mornings, Afternoons, Evenings, and Nights!
We have a lot of dogs here. Thirty-nine, to be exact. Out of those thirty-nine, nine are retired and don’t run the sled, four are puppies and don’t run the sled yet, two have congenital defects that affect their breathing so they can’t run the sled, leaving twenty-four to run, with a range in age from 2 to 13 years old. They are all Alaskan Huskies, which really have no overarching visual characteristics, so they all tend to look different. Alaskan Huskies are bred more for physical traits (non-webbed toes, brains, strength, speed, etc), and sometimes other breeds are mixed in to add some variation or boost specific traits. We do have a neighbor that runs full-blooded, gigantic malamutes, which basically looks like a pack of bears pulling a sled.
As any pet owner knows, every animal has its own personality. Sled dogs are no different. Each individual dog has a distinct personality, with all the features that go along with that. Some dogs are easy-going and get along with any other dog, some are aggressive with only certain other dogs (usually other dogs of the same gender), some take commands better than others (we call those “lead” dogs), some are kind of dumb but are extremely strong (we call those “wheel” dogs), some just love to run but aren’t so beefy (we call those “team” dogs) and some are lazy and don’t pull the sled as much as the others (we call those “get your lazy butt up there!” dogs).
Having worked almost daily with these dogs for over 6 months now, I can easily rattle off any number of habits or hang-ups for each dog. Meadow is a little nervous, and barks at anything she doesn’t agree with, like me moving faster than a walk. Ace is dumb and happy, and tends to follow around any other dog placed in his pen, much to the other dog’s annoyance. Whistler does a happy dance every time I start to put food in his can. Ghost will stand up and wrap his forelegs around you, staring intently into your eyes, hoping you either have more food or time enough to scratch his ears. Lu ran the Iditarod for another musher, but had to be dropped from the race because she wouldn’t eat. Now, she eats anything she can find, and has to be on a perpetual diet so she won’t resemble a hairy sausage with legs. Yes, I could probably go on forever, or at least a lot longer than most of you are willing to read.
Many of the dogs are related, and a good number can trace their ancestry back to Iditarod racers. The sibling sets here are: Boogles, Ghost, and Gusty; Motley, Goblin, Monster, and Beauty; Hunky, Icky, Ringo, Alex, and Rocket; Iceworm, Whistler, Moose, Chopper, and Stinky; Skyler, Indigo, Redoubt, Underdog, and Cindy; Noodle, Ace, and Picard; Mouse and Tiger; Can Can and Pumpkin; Rosie and Meadow; Feather, Shaman, Diggity, and Farmer. Match them to the pictures below for fun and genealogy!
As I mentioned, there are nine retired dogs who don’t pull the sled now. They are Skyler’s sibling group, Noodle’s sibling group, and Hunky. Skyler’s group is the oldest in the yard, turning 16 this year. Noodle’s group is next, turning 15. Hunky is 13 this year, and just wasn’t into running much anymore. Since we’ve been here, age and its related sicknesses have claimed three dogs: two from Noodle’s group, Buffy and Xerox, and a dog we think was 17 or older, Sister (who, despite her name, wasn’t related to any of the other dogs in the yard). Alaskan huskies live anywhere from 14 to 17 years, like most dogs their size.
Our boss takes great care to socialize the dogs, which some kennels neglect to do. These dogs are all very friendly, though they get excited to see new people and tend to all bark at once at first, which I’m sure can be intimidating to anyone who is nervous around dogs. But they are all very well behaved, and only bark on a few occasions: 1. Feeding time, 2. Hookup time, 3. Neighbors taking their dog teams out, or 4. Something unusual is happening (moose near the yard! strange car coming up the drive! loose dog!).
Okay, time to meet them. I’ve posted some pictures before, but consider this the high school yearbook of the sled dogs. All the dogs are pictured here,
except Beauty, who was absent for picture day. I’ll add her in as soon as I get a make-up picture taken. Beauty has been photographed and added!