Friday, January 30, 2009

Things are looking up

Foxy standing outside...standing, on all four legs!

Things are looking up for us, I think, and there's lots going on.
First of all, I managed to track down the officer -- Officer Nathan Stuyvesant -- an animal lover who rescued Foxy the night she escaped our kennel. From him, I was able to gather more details about what went on that night.
He said he found Foxy huddled over a sewer drain keeping warm, and he knew she'd been hit by a car on her right hip. He said he saw Mandy that night, circling and obviously worried about Foxy, but that Mandy wouldn't come within 35 feet of him. He wasn't able to capture Mandy.

A huge thank you goes out to officer Stuyvesant, who saved our beloved Foxy! She is doing wonderful, and after just two weeks, is able to actually put some weight on that back right leg. She came inside after I snapped this shot above and followed the rest of the house dogs into the kitchen for a cookie -- our typical ritual after a potty break. We are so proud of and grateful for Foxy!

And grateful for officers like Officer Stuyvesant, who works our neighborhood from 11 p.m. until 7 p.m. five nights a week. Only, be on your toes around him. The other night I awoke to a pounding on my front door. I glanced at the crimson neon of the clock as I grabbed my robe: 2:30 a.m.! Opening the front blinds, I saw Officer Stuyvesant standing on my porch!

"I just tracked Mandy running down your street toward your house," he said. "Get your boots on!"
I was elated, albeit groggy! I ran out in our newly-fallen foot of snow and found dog tracks. The police cruiser lit up the night, red and blue lights flashing. He showed me the video tape in the cruiser of the dog he thought was Mandy. It turned out to be a false alarm.

I receive about five phone calls and emails daily of people responding to my many ads and fliers about Mandy. Every lead has turned up a dead end. We miss her terribly and pray daily that she returns to us somehow. But if that isn't meant to be, I hope she's lounging on someone's sofa somewhere, warm and cozy with a full belly.
In other news, we had decided before these incidents to add a couple new dogs to our sled dog kennel this season. Running dogs for other kennels has been wonderful, and I am so grateful for the opportunity and the many things learned. But, in order to do this successfully and smoothly, we realized we'd have to acquire at least one or two good dogs from good bloodlines.

Enter Ruffian.
She appeared in an earlier post while I was staying at Joann and Larry Fortier's watching their kennel while they were away at the Beargrease. I brought her home from the Fortier's on Tuesday, and at first, she was very scared. She'd never been away from her litter mates or the safety of her circle around her house. At only eight months, she was naturally quite frightened of the change in environment.

Ruffian, trying to warm up to our kennel

We gave her plenty of fresh straw and lots of time to acclimate to our crazy pack. And slowly, she has emerged.

checking it out

... the coast is clear...

Karma, our crazy cattle dog, has become Ruffian's favorite playmate. And the boys were perfect gentlemen around her. Yep, she'll fit right in here at the ranch.

(from left) Karma, Yeti, and Ruffian play a game of Doggy Twister to get to know each other!
Stayed tuned as we head ice skating with the girls tonight. Mush on...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lost and Found

They seem to gravitate toward me - these northern breeds. We've rescued another one. In the desperate quest to find our beloved Mandy, who is still missing, I received a call two evenings ago while I was in Michigan from a guy who said he saw my Mandy.

Ecstatic, I called Chris from Michigan to throw the kids in the car at 10:20 at night and track this dog down.

He found her, er, uh...him. Yep, it wasn't Mandy. It was this guy. But he had tags, so, his owners must be looking desperately for him like I was for Mandy.

From Michigan, I phoned the Jefferson County dog warden - more than two hours south from where we live. Sadly, we discovered the owner who licensed him had given this guy to another family. A short call to them revealed they'd given him to yet another family. And that number turned up another dead end, with the person saying they never had a husky.

The reason the first two owners gave for getting rid of him? He ran away too often.

Herein lies the problem with these northern breeds. They're runners, and people often misunderstand their strong drive to run. Even loyal dogs like our Mandy and Foxy who I never thought would run away from us proved me wrong two weeks ago.

I'm guessing his age to be about five. He's taller than standard for a Siberian, with beautiful brown eyes except for one faint blaze of blue at the top of the right one. It looks like a shooting star flying across his eye.

He is extremely good natured and gentle, totally housebroken and good mannered. He doesn't get on furniture, is great with our kids and mostly good with our other dogs (considering we now have three, young intact male huskies roaming around each other. Yes, he is intact).

And he is now looking for a home - only to a person or family who understands this breed. If you are reading this and are interested, please contact me. I've been calling him Sampson, because he is so big and strong, but quiet and regal.

Sampson has become quite comfortable at the ranch

In other news, we were hammered with snow today! I don't need to go to Michigan to train anymore with snow like this!

Monday, January 26, 2009


Cervantes said "Diligence is the mother of good fortune." This post is for Joann and Larry Fortier, who have proven the truth in this quote.

Joann is matter-of-fact, a straight-forward, midwestern girl born and raised in Gaylord, Mich. She has been running dogs for nine years and has paid her dues. She's worked diligently, studied, trained, practiced, and through her efforts along with careful breeding and meticulous dog care, she has finally come across some good fortune.

She placed 3rd in the Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Classic a few weeks ago and her husband, Larry, placed 7th. Today, the Fortier's placed 4th in the mid-distance 150 mile John Beargrease Sled Dog Race in Duluth, Minn. and Larry earned Rookie of the Year status! See the results here


To do something and do it well takes patience, dedication, sacrifice and fortitude. The Fortiers are also the parents of a small, four-year old Ana. They juggle a lot and have a small troupe of people behind them who pitch in to help them meet their goals.

In my opinion, it's not enough to complete an act; I want to go above and beyond and do it well. The Fortier's are exemplary in demonstrating what I think is a wonderful picture of success.

Keep an eye out for Joann in the upcoming Midnight Run.


It is said in mushing circles that your team is only as good as the dogs left behind. Since I don't have access to the dogs who went to the Beargrease, I wanted to showcase some of the dogs left behind in my care in the Fortier kennel

Ruffian, 8 mo





Sunday, January 25, 2009

Updates on Foxy

This photo, taken during fall training two years ago, encapsulates Foxy's spirit: gentle, loyal. It is one of my favorite photos that I've ever taken.

Though I am in Michigan, reports from home are that Foxy is doing very well. She's getting outside unassisted now for bathroom breaks, in good spirits, resting and wagging her tail.

In other news, I'm loving my stay with Joann and Larry Fortier's dogs. They howl outside in the night while I type...

A photoshopped "watercolor" rendition of Star howling
There always seems to be a visitor here: today, Merlin and Anne Coy stopped by to have a look at some of the dogs. We had a nice chat for awhile - always welcome up here!
So far, my biggest challenge has been keeping the giant wood boiler outside fed! I overslept this morning and spent the better part of today trying to get the wood boiler fed enough to raise the thermostat inside the house! Yikes!
Here is a video of Joann's smokin' hot team taking off at the Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race a few weeks ago. She ran the 8 dog pro and came in 3rd! To see where she's at currently in the mid-distance Beargrease race, click here

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Give a Howl!

Tak gives a howl

I am at the home of Joann and Larry Fortier, Coyote Run Racing Sled Dog Kennels, while they are in Minnesota awaiting the start of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. Joann will compete in the mid-distance category, which is still 150 miles with eight dogs. Give a howl out to Joann! She likes her sleep and her biggest concern was the lack of sleep she's going to get in the next couple days! She was also fighting some respiratory flu bug - not the kind of thing you want to go into a checkpoint race with!

The Fortier's dogs are smaller in stature and high energy! They have been in dogs for nine years, building their kennel through selective breeding and exceptional dog care. They live in Gaylord, Mich. Check out some of their dogs along with their racing stats, here. A couple are pictured below. I have never had a difficult time shooting portraits of sled dogs -- it's kinda what I do. But these dogs never seem to stand still! it's been challenging getting any good portraits of them!

"Smarty" from Coyote Run Racing Sled Dog Kennel

Fuzzy tree

But the landscape here always stands still and is always breathtaking in winter.

Mancelona Road

Ice fishing

Pumpkin looks cute for the camera

Finally, yesterday while I was doing kennel chores, Mike and Cathy Murphy stopped by with their little pup, Pumpkin. It was nice to have a puppy fix! Thanks for bringing her, guys!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Compassion is the guiding star"

Once, maybe twice in a lifetime, we are blessed with having a special dog in our lives; an extremely rare dog who seems like an old soul; a dog who seems to transcend the normal scope of doggy understanding, who isn’t solely motivated by the scent of bacon or a pat on the head.

I have been blessed with having two such dogs in my life so far. Foxy is one of those dogs.

Foxy is stately and strong. She is intuitive; sometimes it seems like she knows exactly what I'm thinking. She is assertive, but gentle: even when reprimanding her pack mates, a quick show of teeth and curl of the nose commands the respect of her underlings.

And she is loyal. In the summer, when I'm working out front in my flower beds, Foxy would hang out with me, free range. She'd find a nice shady spot and watch as I dug holes for petunias, sniffing the air at their pungent fragrance.

Though a bit more wild, Mandy was very similar in loyalty. She comes when called, and always stayed right by me.

So, what prompted two dogs like these to push through the fence last week? Despite that they were sled dogs, we have never tethered them. We never had to.

Perhaps they saw a cat or rabbit that night. It must have been something pretty cool to entice them out of their beloved yard that night.

I just spent an hour and a half posting more florescent posters on more telephone poles all over town with Mandy's picture and my phone number. This whole thing has me exhausted. I have practically done nothing else but care for Foxy, cry, and search for Mandy, driving to different shelters, posting ads, emailing leads. I even had some lady call me today to say a prayer for me and Mandy over the phone. And amazingly, people have donated $280 to Foxy's cause so far - $100 of which has come from anonymous donors through this blog site.

I am wowed by the kindness of strangers, by the genuine compassion and brotherly spirit of so many, especially given our economy as a nation.

I have struggled during the last couple days about what is right, ethically, to do for Foxy. In fact, I went back to my vet yesterday for a consult appt and another look at the x rays. People have cautioned that Foxy is too old for a major surgery such as the one she needs. People have gently encouraged me to end her suffering.

And I’ve wondered myself if I should end her suffering.

I wonder if I'm holding on because of my own guilt at allowing something like this to happen. I wonder if I'm holding on because of my own lack of courage at facing that pain I felt when I had to euthanize my Kahlua two years ago, that other special dog I’ve known.

But I believe all creatures deserve appropriate chances and medical attention, regardless of their age or economics.

And though I struggle, somehow I am still hanging onto hope.

Hope that I can find Mandy and she will live out the rest of her days with us here at home where she belongs.

Hope that Foxy can pull through.

Hope that, through the kindness of family, friends and, miraculously, strangers, we can raise the money to provide surgery for Foxy soon.

I leave for Michigan again tomorrow to watch my friends Larry and Joann Fortier’s kennel while she competes in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. Foxy will stay on the comfy couch in the capable hands of Chris and my mom. And somehow, we will try to stay hopeful.

Mush on.

Monday, January 12, 2009

So much to catch up on: hopefully these pictures will tell some of the story

Downtown Newberry at night during the holidays is so pretty

Coming home is overwhelming. Fifteen days away playing with dogs in the snow is hard to beat. Not having my laptop to record all the festivities during that time made me nutty. So I will try my best to record all the beauty of the U.P. in a recap.

Looking back over the more than 500 pictures I shot from the last fifteen days, I am amazed at the stories behind the pictures. Like, for instance, this one:

One day Whitney and I took Reed, Ross and Ryland site seeing. They were up north from Vanderbilt and, if that weren't southern enough, they were originally from Dallas, Baton Rouge and St. Petersberg respectively. This great north was a new world for them. They wanted especially to see some wildlife. When wildlife appeared, in the form of a partridge, Ross accidentally hit it with his truck. We stopped to find feathers scattered everywhere and the poor dumb bird lying in the road. So, as I am wont to do, I snapped a picture.
Or this one:

A fire pit at the check point melts the edge of the snow
Or these...

Sophie visits one of Rodney Whaley's dogs

Brutus, a favored Jeff King dog at Sled Dog Lodge, enjoys the sun one afternoon

The Sled Dog Lodge checkpoint of the Seney 300

Dr. Tim Hunt (the bigger of the blue blobs) rests with his team at the Sled Dog Lodge checkpoint of the Seney 300

Whitney Warren getting love from Duncan

Sleeping sweetie at the Sled Dog Lodge check point

Dr. Gustafson checks a resting dog at the Sled Dog Lodge check point
Another resting dog at the Sled Dog Lodge check point
Jim Wellert booties his dogs, preparing for departure from the Sled Dog Lodge check point
An enormous amount of work goes on behind the scenes of qualifiers like the Seney 300, and the dogs are cared for like top athletes. Mushing requires the ultimate team work between the dogs and the drivers, as well as volunteers, organizers, vets, judges, and....of course, photographers :-)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Back of the pack is fine with me

This sign looks ominous in a U.P. winter

A lot has happened and the postings have taken a backseat to dogs, races and good conversation with people I am proud to call my second family. I've taken over 500 pictures which I will post soon as I get my laptop fixed. It died shortly after my arrival at Sleddog Lodge - something I am hugely distraught by.

Windswept snow forms small funnel clouds drifting over Lake Michigan as I head south over the Mackinaw bridge toward home today. Small mountains of ice caps stack along the frigid coastline; a lone barge sits about a mile out from shore encased in ice. I am always taken by the beauty of this wintry landscape and the hearty people and animals I know as friends here.
At the starting chute

My placement in the six dog class at the Tahquamenon race was in the back of the pack at 23rd out of 26. But we had a clean 28 mile run and finished strong with all six huskies on the line, tired but happy. And that's the most important thing. Considering I had four yearlings in my team, including a yealing leader named Toast who was on the tail end (no pun intended) of being in heat, I'm happy!
My crazy team getting ready for the start: (from back) Yeti, Fudge, Jack, Coco (nose visible only), Riley, and Toast

Many thanks to Jim, Jennifer and Whitney Warren for allowing me the use of Fudge, Coco, Toast and Riley, all of whom are excellent Alaskan huskies with a ton of drive and heart. I will miss you all and think of you with gratitude. Congrats to Joann and Larry Fortier for placing third and seventh in the eight dog pro class and to Laura Bontrager for winning the six dog! Awesome job!
Crossing the finish line!
More to come!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Start of the Seney 300

Today was the start of the Seney 300 - a distance sleddog qualifier for the Iditarod.

Tom Roig prepares to depart in the predawn of a crisp U.P. morning

Whitney Warren (right) demonstrates how to booty a dog with a willing Heartly to vacationing Reed Staub (left) and Ross Reilly (center)

It's -10 degrees at 6:30 a.m when a small convoy of dog trailers and trucks arrives at Al Hardman's kennel for the start of the Seney 300 training run. Everyone is keyed up - dogs, mushers and handlers - despite the early hour and frosty temperatures. Dogs bark wildly as they're bootied and harnassed, their breath crystallizing into frosty beards on their muzzles.

Tom Knoll embarking on a journey with his malamutes and their Alaskan leaders. Through the Seney and Tahquamenon races, Tom was able to acheive the mileage necessary for his malamutes to receive a distinguished certificate for pulling

Everything is more extreme in extreme cold. Sunrises seem to crackle; sunsets brighter. I think of all the sunrises like this I've missed - all of the brilliant pink sky behind pristine white tundra-covered conifers and birches.

My boots squeak loudly it's so cold. But the sky is lit up with the most gorgeous pastel hues; it makes the cold tolerable, warms me from the inside.

It warms the teams, too. About twelve teams leave the starting chute at 9 a.m. for a 300 mile ride with 12 dogs in the Michigan snow. It was a beautiful day for the start.

Today I also took Jack and Yeti into town for a much-needed break, with some burgers and one-on-one attention.
More to come from the checkpoints...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Talkin' Dog

When visiting and training at the Sled Dog Lodge, one activity inevitably takes place between bouts of dog-running, scooping, feeding, etc. And that's "Talkin' Dog."

When mushers talk dog, the topics usually center around stories of our best and worst experiences out on the trails. We talk about losing teams on the trail, packing safety equipment for the long treks through the woods, along with amazing stories of dogs driving teams back to a driver afer a musher has lost a team.

Other popular talkin' dog topics: great (dog) leaders, the happy river, running the “steps” and surviving some of the most grueling arctic conditions.

Whitney, Jim Warren’s daughter, took out an eight-dog team this morning when a partridge flew into her dogs after only six miles. The dogs were still hot, and the partridge stupidly ran right into the team. The leader Eric chased the unwitting bird, causing a pretty significant tangle, and subsequently, a tussle.

Later, we convened at the cabins. Joining us at this mushing roundtable after a long day of training was Ross Rielly, from Baton Rouge, La.; Ryland Rogers, from St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Reed Staub, from Dallas, Texas.

These mushers made a stop into the Sled Dog Lodge for a taste of life up north. Richard McCauly, also pictured, is running the Seney 300.

The evening ended with good red wine and Richard “talking dog” with us around the woodburner. Seney 300 starts tomorrow. Stay tuned and mush on.

Note to readers: All of the photos over the past few days have been taken with my Blackberry phone. My computer took a nosedive this week, so I will post more photos when I return home.