Sled Dogs:

Unchained sled dog enjoying his house of straw.
Cooper can come inside but prefers his natural inclinations.
Inside for a bit but its too hot and he will return to the outdoors and what he was made for.

There are lots of debates about sled dogs in general, and sooner or later it comes down to them being chained and confined to a dog house for hours on end.

I have more than an acre of fenced ground for my dogs to do whatever they want. They are never chained, but I find them in their straw lined houses more often than not. If their needs are being met with exercise, love, and the basic necessities they are quite content.

A lot of folks put their dogs inside indoor kennels while they are at work for hours on end, or chain them in the backyard.

Does that mean they are not being mistreated because they are not sled dogs? I would suggest that a dog locked up in an indoor kennel for more than 8 hours is being subjected to much worse than a working sled dog. Or an urban dog chained and forgotten is even worse.

Musher’s care for their dogs at a high level because they rely on those dogs. They may race but in that environment anything can happen…they need those dogs to get them back home, maybe even to live another day.

To say that they don’t is equivalent to you punching holes in your only spare tire with an icepick before you travel through the worst storm you’ve ever seen.

You would be an idiot to trust your life to dogs that are not well maintained and happy with you at the controls.

A Study in Dogs:

Mr. Cooper clings to the past when men were men, and dogs were dogs. He likes the cold and a straw lined house like his ancestors. Queen Nikki has discovered the warmth of a wood stove and prefers to rule from comfort over old world traditions. Which one is smarter depends on your point of view. I love them both for who they are, not what they are.

Beyond the Rainbow bridge:

Jake was born unto the world of man in Mankato Minnesota. The barn was full of strange sounds and smells. He didn’t really know what he was or how he’d come to be.

He just knew the warmth of his mother and his siblings. He suckled her warm milk after fighting with his siblings. It was his first lesson in the struggles of life. He couldn’t hear and he couldn’t see those first couple of weeks, but he fought for milk and his body began to grow stronger each day.

When his eyes opened he saw a bleary new world. A world that would quickly come into sharp focus. He found the huge humans to be kind and mean at the same time. He had no idea what they were and why they were so different. But his mother seemed to love the humans, and sometimes when they held him something stirred deep inside of him.

It was some whisper in his mind from long ago that he didn’t quite understand. He didn’t understand exactly why his mother seemed to care about these big creatures. But always there was something inside him that said you should try your best to please them.

At six weeks old he was eating well and mom had kicked him away when he tried to suckle. He missed her belly warmth and the feelings he was safe. She looked at him with big blue eyes and licked his furry coat.

“It’s time for you to move on. I love you my only son as no one else can know. It’s your time to move along. Do what huskies do.”

“What do huskies do?” he asked.
“What we’ve always done,” was her reply.

Jake was confused but did his best with the little knowledge he had. It was hard because life was all about play and learning about all the things his body could do. He found he was fast in the run, agile, and smarter that the other animals on the farm.

Then one day he was given to some people he didn’t know. He left with them, his family broken up. But he was brave from deep inside. He’d found the core of husky lore even if it was only a whisper in his mind.

The humans loved him, but they could not understand what he craved. His need to run and work and do his very best. He tried to tell them one day by eating up the couch. He spread it all around the room and watched them lose their minds.

They could not understand how someone so beautiful could have such an evil streak. His punishment was soon to show. Jake was tied in the back yard with nowhere else to go. His days were long and lonely, the solitude more than he could bear.

So, one day he chewed off his collar and climbed the privacy fence. Free at last he made a blast not knowing where to go. He ran so hard his muscles ached but it felt so good to run. He realized no matter what hurt this what he loved!

It all ended to soon when he crossed one more street.

That bumper chrome and hard, had hit him square, and threw him through the air. He crashed upon a cement wall and rolled into the street. His sight grew dim and with ragged breath he took his final breaths. Jake closed his eyes and felt regret. He’d never had the chance to understand this world. He died right there and no one cared upon that empty street.

Jake awoke upon clouds of mist as he rose his tired bones. Then he saw a line of ragged dogs headed for a bridge. He struggled up to follow them his pain was very great. But something deep inside said he must make it to that gate. Some in line looked really fine, they pranced and hoped about.

But most were just like him, in pain and full of sorrow. But all of them formed a line and crossed the gilded bridge. Their they waited patiently to tell their stories of life. To plead their case of why they should be admitted to the lands of glory.

As Jake approached he heard the stories of each and every dog. The tales were sad except a few who had lived a perfect life. Jake had no story, only pain and wanted it to end.

At last Jake stood before the giant gate his head and tail hung low. A voice boomed soft and sweet inside his head, “Welcome young Jake” it said, “Tell me your life story.”

Jake raised his snout and looked upon the voice. He was a huge Saint Bernard with brown floppy ears, his soft brown eyes filled with tears from all the fears and stories of this line.

“It’s okay little one, and you can call me Peter. I have to hear your story of life before I can let you enter.”

Jake looked at the great big gate with a husky on each side. He looked at Peter and told his tale from deep inside his heart. “I’ve done my time with mankind, and I think that I’ve had enough.”

Peter’s eyes laughed back at him and with a big smile, the voice boomed inside his head, “It’s your first time little one, and you’ve done nothing wrong.”

Jake was sad and his body hurt and he’d almost lost all hope. But somewhere deep inside a whispered voice called out. “We never quit and its been that way for all time.” It was followed by the howling of a pack inside his head.

The knowledge of a million souls who’d come before his time.

Jake looked up into Peter’s big brown eyes and asked, “What’s to become of me?”

“If you like you’ll live a life, a million times over. And if you don’t you are welcome to stay here forever.”

Jake followed Peter past the gates and entered into winter. The wind was fierce with blowing snow, and no signs of cover. The pines were swaying with the wind and the mountains went on forever. His body healed and he felt no pain as he transformed into the adult he’d never been. Beautiful and strong, as he’d never had a chance to discover.

Jake raced around the blowing drifts and others came and joined. They welcomed young Jake to the place where huskies go. Frolicking and biting legs amid the blowing snow.

Peter waited patiently beside the big gate. He knew young Jake was new, and for some… the time it takes to learn what they are.

When at last the games were over young Jake sauntered over, “He’d healed all up and found his home amid those frozen waste.

“Peter, can I stay here forever?”
“Of course, you can but is that what you truly want?”

Jake looked around and sniffed the wind, this place was all so perfect.

But deep inside a voice awoke inside his head and told him of the pact. “Man, and dogs it’s always been, they need us to learn. The hope of man lives inside your furry coat young Jake. The trail is hard and you must do your very best, for that’s what Huskies do.”

Jake’s heart felt like it would explode out through his chest. His job was to help all those below the icy clouds. To give his love unconditionally, come rain, or snow, or thunder. He might suffer but then again, he might get that life he’d heard about. Man, and dogs fighting through the storms of life, one heart with another.

Jake looked over at St. Peter and told him with full conviction, “I’ll go back and try again, I think I can do better.”

St. Peter smiled and walked away, looking back over his shoulder.

“I knew you would my little friend, of this I had no doubt. I’ll call you soon because the time is very short. They need your heart and knowledge too… maybe even you can save a few. For that’s what you huskies do.”

Jake looked around and then raced around as fast as his feet could fly. He would enjoy his time before he left these frozen skies. He’d go below and spread his love the best that he could muster.

“Maybe next time I’ll get a musher!” he thought, as played with all the others.

A native girl he was bonded to under the northern lights. Peter smiled down at the beauty of two young hearts as they grew up together. For 15 years they never were apart before he did return… beyond that rainbow bridge. But he’d left the world a better place. A young woman would never forget their last race.

Voices speak upon the winds, howling in the night, stories of love and sacrifice heard by just a few.

The Huskies hear it loud and clear…because that’s what huskies do.

The Gift:

The Kiss

There was a time when the animals ruled this earth. The Divine had created them long before man. The Divine had given them strength and cunning, tooth and claw, fang and talon, poison and stealth so that they could survive the new world he had made for all his creations.

All his creations were part of the balance of this world. Each animal had a part to play, and limited intelligence that would not disrupt the harmony, but allow for survival of the hardiest. This would ensure that only the best of the best would endure. That over generation upon generation they would flourish and become better than those before.

Over the eons They Great Divine tired of them and began to test them with natural disasters to see how they would adapt. Some perished, but others found a way to live. He was inspired by this, that his creations wanted to live in his world so badly that they would mutate and overcome his obstacles.

In time this too became mundane to him so The Divine thought to create a new animal…man.

He’d used up all the great ideas of his perfect beast. All that was left was a creature that was weak at birth and took years to learn and become strong. This new creation needed an edge to survive the beast so he gave them more intelligence. Much more than he had intended, but what was done was done.

They still retained a bit of animal in them but they learned from their mistakes, they endured tooth and claw, poison and stealth. But still they died daily and were about to expire so he gave them fire. Fire to keep the nocturnal hunters at bay. It worked and in time their intelligence grew and they were able to craft weapons, simple things of stone blade that could give them parity against fangs, and claws.

Slowly over time they became equals and later to master all of his beast. But all was not right with his new creations. They could not seem to stop themselves and be happy being the masters of the world. They wanted more, and more. They wanted to rule as he did on high. They not only wanted to master the beast but each other.

Great conflicts were fought by weapons created from the intelligence he gave them. Some lost, and some won, but still they wanted more. They had forgotten the days of old when they had almost been extinguished for all time.

Many times, The Divine purged the planet with the forces at his disposal. He tried to cleanse them of their defects but it never worked completely. Time and again they would rebuild but still a few of the inferiors prevailed to rotten the batches of new humans.

Eventually he recognized that he had failed. So, he left them to their own fates and went on to other blank worlds to start over again. His creations would either make it or die out for all time. But before he left he gave them one last hope.

He left them his name sake spelled backwards…Dog. The one creation of his that had remained pure of heart in spite of their simple minds. He had instilled in them the qualities of forgiveness, and love everlasting. Courage and sacrifice, with the love of family and friends.

The Divine left them with this last gift, and then turned his back on the first world he’d created. They would either learn the lessons his dogs taught, or the world would turn to ash. The humans would learn to live in harmony with all living things or perish forever.

Some day he would return to view the results.

What Musher’s know:

 
There are a few things in life that cannot be duplicated by computers or anything else. One of those is to have a relationship with one or more sled dogs.
 
Yes, they are dogs, but they are also like no other dog you have ever seen. I could type all day the words that come to mind, but not even that would not do justice to them.
 
Furry and full of old world knowledge, they are ambassadors of a better life for you and them. They do not speak our language, but they speak volumes of information if you learn how to see it. It is subtle and requires work on your part. It takes time to understand what they are trying to tell you. But believe me, they have much to say to you.
 
Those of you who run with dogs already know this. You’ve developed that relationship with these special dogs. Not yard yappers, but working dogs of the North.
 
You have to know them as you would your spouse. You have to live with them to have this intimate knowledge of how they run, and how they’d act in any given situation. I watch the gait and I can tell if it is normal, or if pain is involved. I can predict what will happen when something unexpected shows up.
 
It matters not whether by sled or bike or any other means. The dogs will run and follow commands because you are the Captain of this ship.
 
I know my dogs so well that I can tell if they are having a bad day or if it is something physical. Or something I’m doing wrong, because to be honest humans do a lot of things wrong in the dog world. To accept you are not perfect is the first thing you should be aware of. The secret is to learn from your mistakes, for it only makes your team better.
 
Dogs may not speak words, but they speak in body language and attitude. They give signs of their current status and health. They talk with facial expressions and their eyes. But you cannot know this unless you are in tune with them. You have to immerse yourself into the dogs. That’s when you begin to understand them being more than just a dog.
 
For all this trouble what do you get? You get a partnership that equals no other. You get undying trust and affection if you bother to do your part. You begin to see they are not objects that you own, they are working dogs… and that encompasses so much more than a paper that shows you own them.
 
They are family, workers, lovers of life, and lovers of their masters or should I say partners. They are unique in the dog world. A long history of surviving what should not have been survived. They did it because they had to, and found ways to overcome hardships. That is the “indomitable Spirit” of the Northern Breeds.
 
This is the essence of a sled dog, this is what they are, but few ever spend the time to find that out.
 
That beautiful exterior hides many secrets to be unlocked. And you must find the key however you can.
 
A true team or partnership between man and dog is the run. To run with the sled dogs is something that cannot be put into words. It is the culmination of work, struggle, money, and determination. When it all comes together it is beautiful. It is the payoff for keeping the faith. It is another world that few ever get to experience.
 
There is freedom from life’s pressures, there is nature, there is power, and poetry in motion. All these emotions blended into perfect harmony of a team at work.
 
It’s real, not some virtual reality. They let us into their world if we are worthy. Once you find that… you will forever be changed. And then you will never want to be without it again. You will do everything to make it last. You will learn how to live in the moment and enjoy each and everyone one of them. You will sacrifice much as they have often done for us.
 
You will develop such a fierce loyalty to your dogs that you will go to war over any bad comment made about them. And the dogs feel that way about you as well. And that’s as it should be, its family, and it’s your team.
 
Yes, you mushers’ are a different breed, you give the dogs what they need. And for that you are hero’s in my mind.
 
TJ

Ghost Train

The Ghost Train:

There are a million stories of the trail with dogs, this is one of them. This is a story about one of my night runs with the huskies. You see in the urban lands trails and roads are full of speeding cars and unloose dogs that want to eat yours. There are many dangers besides frozen trails of Alaska, and no medical help within hundreds of miles.

To live with the sled dogs is to do just that…you live and maybe die with them, as it should be and was written long ago. Your job as the Musher is to guide them safely into the night, so that you live to run another day. Danger abounds on the urban highway; each mile is subject to the unknown as you run down the asphalt highways of modern man.

The dogs understand that, and they will tell you when you don’t get it. They are born with a sixth sense of danger. They have the nose and DNA to know the perils of life on the trail. It was handed down generation after generation. The price of these lessons was paid for in the blood of their ancestors.

One fine night after a nice cold Coors Light I decided to forgo the normal problems of urban incursion and try a night run. It seemed the best way to exclude the multitudes of unleashed dogs and neighbors that have no clues about how dogs will behave when unleashed.

I suited up with helmet, coat, gloves, and made sure the tail light and headlight were charged. I also wore my tactile helmet lamp. A rechargeable 3 lamp set up that would bubble the paint on a car when the beam hits it.

I was fixed for battle in the urban environment. The dogs were ready, they fed off my energy and confidence. When harness was secure I hooked them up to my trike. 40 pounds of steel with disc brakes and ready to run.

They pawed the pavement, wanting to go forth into the night. I wasn’t so sure in spite of a beer, but someone needs to lead this pack. You see the leader has to lead, and it’s the job of those under them to tell them when the are wrong. In this case the dogs were good with me and we released the brakes. We fled into the great unknown like their ancestors had done for years.

The night was overcast, a heavy rain had prevailed all day. Now that evening had set the fog rolled off the asphalt. Moisture condensed off the warm tarmac making fog…thick fog that made me want a fog horn on my bike.

Dogs being what they are used their noses and ears, and night vision to lead me at breakneck speeds. I trusted them more that I trusted myself. This is when you trust what you have taught them since birth, this is when the moments of truth become real. This is when you realize that your well-being has been turned over to the dogs.

My dogs did not fail me, they ran through that fog like it was a sunny day. I was just a passenger on this husky train. I didn’t have to tell them the way because they knew it from miles of training. It was time for me to trust them.

This whole run was more or less just me enjoying the fruits of my labor. Raising the pups and letting them do what they do. I did the work and they learned what I wanted.

I let them be what they were meant to be…Sled Dogs, or in this case Urban mushing Huskies!

The best part of this adventure I will never forget is this. We were coming down a hill, pitch black and totally silent. My head lights lit they way but the dogs didn’t need it. The fog was in rolls, rolling in and out on our trail.

In only seconds, we came out of the fog at about 18 Mph. Silent as the special forces we ate up ground at an alarming rate. I happened to look to the left at a man in the ditch with his yapper dog. He cowered in fear as the Flying Dutchman Husky Train came out of the fog like a demon from hell!

Silent dogs, headlights blazing we disappeared into the next fog bank like ghost. I’ll always remember him cowering in the ditch, clutching his yapper that had for the first time in its life lost its voice!

The husky train, led me home in the dark, and I laughed all the way.

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No Truer Words Ever Spoken.

Heart of Gold

We live in a complicated world these days. I think many have lost their way and search for answers to life’s problems. Many have forgotten the lessons learned before by our ancestors. To me the answers to many questions are in the past. As history often repeats itself, you only have to look back in time.
A smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

There are great teachers at your feet or in your dog yard. They have seen it all before, they retain this knowledge not in books but in their DNA. They have ridden on the dark trails of humanity before. They remember the abuses we have levied upon them. But in spite of that, they remain hopeful for us, as we should.

I only have to look at them to understand the love they unquestionably offer me, and ask little in return.

So, when I’m feeling melancholy, I choose to create something instead of destroying. I choose to look at life with all its hardships and pain in a positive light. For without some pain we never learn anything. The sled dogs have told me many stories of their struggles, victories, and hope. And they’ve done it without one word. They’ve done it with their actions and love.

The Klondike Gold rush was as hard on men as it was on the animals. I made this little slide show for you to see life back during those times. This is a glimpse into the history of our sled dogs.

The Bonds

Mr. Cooper at 13 months old. Born to pull and loving it.

There are many facets to dog ownership. I’ve grown up with dogs of all types. I’ve bred and raised German Shepherds and had everything from labs to Scotties as pets. I thought I knew what it meant to love a dog…that is until I met the Siberian Husky.

At first I didn’t understand him. I thought he should behave as all the other dogs I’ve known. That was the start of my enlightenment and my training. You see the huskies have their own way about things. They have a fierce determination to do what their DNA tells them. They don’t resist what they are, they answer the call inside of them.

This is not to say they are un-trainable because they are very trainable, but it takes a different mindset. It takes understanding where they came from. How they lived and what is hardwired into their minds before you have a chance to mold them into your family.

Trust is not given freely, it is earned slowly over time. You cannot build a bond with a husky in a few hours…or days. It takes a long time, but it never stops growing if you remain true and treat them as you would a partner instead of just a “Dog.”

They will meet you halfway, but they will never become servants that support a task master with no heart. I learned a very important thing on my journey with the huskies. And that is for true success you build your life around them. You rearrange your life and thinking to truly know this gift. The husky will accept many things and they will rearrange their own desires for you to a point. But it will not all be for you. There must be some give and take on your part.

The fastest way to a bond is to work with them in what they love the most. And that is running together with sled, bike, or other means. The important part is the bond that forms from doing what they have love and been bred to do. It is what they love for many reasons. One is adventure…the need to see and experience new things…sights and smells.

They want to bring you into that world that many people don’t even know exists. I must admit even mushing on the streets with a bike will open up your mind and heart. The thrill of being pulled along and working with these amazing athletes is almost a spiritual experience. It’s teamwork at its finest, even if it’s a bit dangerous at times.

From a puppy to a groan adult, you’ve been their whole world since they were 8-weeks old. You walk the miles, and you teach the commands that will serve you later. Day by day you work towards that point that you are free to tackle the elements and adventure. That magical day when it all comes together as you blast down a trail or road. That is when it hit me, that was when I knew I’d discovered something special I’d been missing in my life.

My dogs didn’t come from working lines at that point. They’d been bred in houses and treated as dogs of the pet variety. They found something that they had been missing as well. They found the missing connection to what they were made for. And from that day on our bonds grew. I saw as much change in them as I did myself. Dogs and man had achieved together something not historically important but life changing for all of us.

Now almost 4 years later we have learned to work together. That maturity includes the dogs. They don’t fuss when we can’t run on some days. They seem to understand that sometimes I have other things more important to attend to. They settle down and wait patiently for that to pass, because they know I will meet their needs as soon as I can. We work together because we are a family that has learned to understand the way each of our lives are interconnected.

This is the bond between us that only other mushers can understand. People pay to go on a sled dog ride to catch a glimpse into this other world. Some actually go on to find their own pack of dogs to run. But it takes commitment and work to achieve it. Nothing worthwhile is free, there is pain and sacrifices to be made along the way. And there is loss when they pass away, just like any family deals with.

That is true of all life endeavors, but the rewards are huge if you are willing to give it your all. That is the bonds that separate these dogs from the pet variety. There is so much more to that beautiful husky than meets the eye. You just have to understand them and join the team.

The Seppala Siberians

The dogs of winter, the direct lines of blood and DNA to Leonhard Seppala dogs that ran that race to save Nome, Alaska in 1925. They are not your run of the mill Siberian husky, though they share the same gene pool. These dogs, even though few in numbers still exist in this world. They are fierce in work ethic, and the love of the family they live with. They are the top-tier of what every Siberian came from. They are legend, and they are for real. To spend a few minutes with them you will know it. The love and work come out quickly to those who know dogs.

I’ve worked hard to own a few, and I will work harder to preserve them, for to let them fade into the night is not acceptable to me. They should shine on for many years to come, for to lose them is to lose a part of ourselves.

 

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Mars of Snowbound.
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Mars running Lead.
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Like her daddy above, Bonk is carrying on the Seppala line.

 

Working Dogs are a beautiful thing

This video from Husky Norway Adventures has everything! Beautiful scenery, hard-working huskies, and a glimpse into the life of Mushers. If this doesn’t explain why they choose this lifestyle…then nothing ever will.

The Time Draws Near

Almost complete at last.

I haven’t posted a lot lately, and this is mainly due to my work on this book. It’s a labor of love, and about the dogs I’ve grown so close to. I’ve written a dozen poems to include in the manuscript. They were passed on to me from these magnificent dogs of the snow.

Immersed into their history, and pulled in by them into new adventures that I had no clue about. I’ve joined the pack, and forever my life has been changed. They teach me about their past with not words but action. They speak to me with some kind of old soul wisdom.

It’s been passed on from one dog to another, and shared with those of us who will open our hearts and minds to another plane of existence that is unknown to most. A history of hardship and sacrifice, of love of life, and the joy of living each day to its fullest with no regrets. Fate is something they understand and accept, but it does not stop them from getting the most out of life no matter what fate brings them.

They are happy with a meal, they are happy to work hard, and at night they sing the songs of their people. Celebrating another day of life and looking forward to the dawn of a new day as they curl up and go to sleep. They don’t worry because fate will determine if they see the dawn or not. They control what they can, and leave the rest to that great Husky God in the sky.

I believe that divine entity is family and history. They are connected to the past as they blaze new trails in the limited time they are given. They blaze trails into the future of their kind, just as they have done for thousands of years. And they are happy to teach us if we are willing to listen to their songs of life.

And if you’re lucky enough, you can ride along with them. You can become part of a world most don’t even know exists. Those of us that can throw caution to the wind gravitate to the husky. We share a common bond, and that is why these dogs run for us.

Work hard, love even harder, for that is the trail to a life you won’t regret. That is the legacy of the husky, that is a life well lived.

We are one, and maybe you can be one as well?

 

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