Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Don't ever quit: lessons from a sled dog puppy

When things go wrong as they sometimes will;
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill;
When the funds are low, and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but have to sigh;
When care is pressing you down a bit-
Rest if you must, but do not quit.

Success is failure turned inside out;
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt;
And you can never tell how close you are
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit-
It's when things go wrong that you must not quit

-- Author Unknown

Etta is a fighter.

Etta this evening curled up on my bed with her litter mate, Parker, behind her ready for a long winter's nap

A week ago, I was driving to the emergency vet clinic and didn't think she'd make it for the 40 minute drive to get there. Now, she's giving her siblings a run for their money, eating well and enjoying puppy life. It took some diligence on both our parts, and there were lots of feedings with goat's milk Esbilac from a medicine dropper every two hours for the first few days. And there was a $500 vet bill at the end of it. Right before Christmas.

But she was determined and stuck to it, despite the odds.

Sometimes it just takes a clear focus and a strong determination. Etta teaches something about not only mushing, but living.

It's a dog-eat-dog world out there.

No husky puppies were harmed in the making of this photo. It's actually just Lucy, our bottle-fed runt from last season (right) and Etta (left) "mouth sparring" or playing

Work hard. Play harder. And when things get tough, don't quit.

Oh...and sleep hard :)

For it's in sleep that dreams are made.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blessings and herding cats...er...puppies

"Herding Cats: A saying that refers to a task that is extremely difficult or impossible to do, due to one or more variables being in flux and uncontrollable."

Ahem. Operative phrase is "in flux."

So...for the holidays, we thought it would be cute to arrange all of the puppies around this little toy sled that I have in my living room. Except, there's just one thing we forgot.

Five week old puppies are always moving when awake. Or always watching something else that is moving.

Puppy photo shoot, Take 1

Yea...let's try that again...

Puppy photo shoot, Take 2

In the end, I had an entire small album of photos entitled Puppy Photo Shoot Out Takes. If you'd like to see them all, click here

Ultimately, we are blessed. Little Etta is pulling through. And though she is far from better, I think she will be okay.

Little Etta

From all of us here at the Ranch, Merry Christmas. May you sleep in Heavenly peace.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Life's cruel pageantry

We've had a bit of unfortunate news happen in the last 24 hours. Etta, one of Aspen's beautiful little puppies has become sick with pneumonia.

Beautiful Etta, named after Etta James, on her four week birthday

I came home from a very busy weekend doing dog sledding presentations at Lock 3's Winter Solstice Celebration and was trying to catch up on all that was neglected at my home all weekend. In doing chores, I prepared the puppies' meal and dished it out to the ravenous beasts!

Within minutes, Elise yelled out to me from the puppy room, "Mom, something is wrong with Etta! Come quick!"

What I found was a puppy who I thought at first was choking. I picked her up and began patting her on her little back trying to help her cough up whatever she was choking on.

But, from working in respiratory medicine at a children's hospital for seven years, I recognized right away that she was in respiratory distress. Her ribs were retracting just like an asthma patient who is in acute distress.

It didn't take long for me to head back out the door to the 24/7 emergency veterinary hospital. Her little paws clawed at my jacket the whole way while she struggled to breathe. As I handed her over to the vet tech, I broke down in quiet tears.

At only four and a half weeks of age, little Etta was intubated, poked, and x-rayed. I transported her to my vet today, who cautioned me that the prognosis was not good.

"Her lungs look pretty bad, and from what I can tell from the x-ray, it looks like she has a slightly enlarged heart," Dr Williams warned.

She is there tonight, alone, away from her mother and litter mates. She received oxygen, Lasix to remove some of the fluid built up around her lungs, and IV antibiotics.

"She sure is a little fighter," my vet remarked. At only 3.5 pounds, Etta is fighting for her life the only way she knows how: through pure instinct and a voracious will to live.

I kept myself busy today, trying to keep my mind off of Etta. But worry over her prognosis loomed in the back of my mind like a pesky mouse that would not go away. It gnawed at my psyche, filling me with anxiety, prayer and hope.

What is to be is not up to me, however.

So tonight, I dealt with the worry and the sadness in the best way I know how. I hitched up a team and hupped the dogs into the darkness for a fifteen mile run.

It was quite chilly under the nearly full moon. I watched the dogs lope along effortlessly, triumphantly, and marveled at their cheery steps and strength.

I thought of Etta and the amazing spirit of all sled dogs: how bravely, how tenaciously and instinctively they cling to life.

They fight. They run because it is their life.

My run tonight was for Etta. May she fight valiantly.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010



Snow, snow and more snow (on top of snow)!

“When it snows, you have two choices: shovel or make snow angels”

Or, hitch up a team and go for a ride!

Lucy, Snow Detective, is on the job

Nearly two feet of snow has dumped my little corner of rural northeast Ohio in the last 36 hours. It just keeps snowing...

the view from my front deck

...and snowing...

The boat ramp at the lake by my house

...and snowing!

Ruffian helped me give all the sled dogs an extra flake of straw for this chilly, three-dog night

So we did what we do best: we hitched up the dogs and went for a ride!

I forgot my goggles, so I had frozen eye lashes at the end of our run

I shot this of the sumac by our barn in the five minutes it stopped snowing today

All the snow proved a blustery background for some winter portraits of the girls.

Christmas card worthy?

And, in the quiet silence of all this snow, our hens decided to lay their first egg. Unfortunately it was broken when we found it, but still!

Our hens' first egg!

Here is a video of our run breaking trail. The snow was deep, so I allowed Sophie to drive a four-dog team instead of her usual two. Enjoy and

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.

Our lives can be summed up from our hands. The quality of our lives. How well we lived. How much we lived.

"Slave Hands" by Jack Delano, 1941

Hands give us self-reliance. They express love..

Or hate...

We use them to reach out...

To express devotion

Our hands are a symbol of our souls. Are we open?

Hands heal, nurture and provide.

Our hands tell our stories.

All of my life, I have been fascinated by hands. I remember as a child, watching my grandmother prepare tea in her old, drafty house, the skin of her quick hands looked like thin, weathered paper. Wrapping her hands around me as I sat on her lap, the gauzy skin of her hands felt so fragile.

You can usually spot a musher from their hands. My own hands make me look much older than I am because they're weathered, scarred, usually cut up somewhere and worn.

My hands are a sight for sore eyes! Manicure!

A mushers hands tell a story all their own. Hours spent scooping, preparing food, chopping meat, rubbing shoulders, massaging paws, and, most importantly, hanging on!

This is a blog post for my friend, TC Wait in Alaska and her poem "An Ode to a Mushers Hands."

My poor hands are cracked and torn
With calluses, ripped nails, and scars
Dry and scaly, tough and worn
They seem older than the stars

The winter’s cold has done its best
Leaving them tired, aching and sore
Even though they’d rather rest
They continue to do the dog chores

They scoop and clip and comfort
Giving each dog tender care
And when at the end of the day they hurt
Only after dogs do they get their share

I love my hands and wish them well
Ugly as they are to some
It pains me they have to go through hell
To allow my adventures to come

And here's a picture of what the snow belt of NE Ohio looks like from my front deck! I am sandwiched between three lakes and south of the great one, Lake Erie. And we definitely are feeling the effects of lake effect snow!

Until next time...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Backyard Iditarod at the Portage Lakes Library: a photo album

Foxy loves babies!

After running 960 miles of the Yukon Quest in single lead for Wayne Hall in 2002, Foxy becomes a bit reluctant for me use her to demonstrate how to harness a sled dog!

Foxy loves all the attention she gets at our talks. She goes up and down the rows of chairs visiting the patrons for pets and hugs

Next stop for dogs at the library: December 14th at Firestone Park Library, 7 p.m.!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside, but the dogs are on FIRE!

I went on a long, two hour run tonight with the fur kids on our first really cold run of the season. Two hours straddling a four-wheeler at 19 degrees is a bit numbing, even in the best of gear, but the dogs did phenomenal! They're naturally picking up their average speed by leaps and bounds now that the temps have really dropped. Our first race is about five weeks away, and we really have to make the most of that time with long, frequent runs throughout December. And with so many other activities going on - several presentations at local libraries as well as talks in downtown Akron, not to mention the holi-daze - my head is spinning just thinking about the next month.

But tonight, out with the dogs under a clear, winter sky and a gazillion stars staring down at us, my head was a blank slate.

Out there, it smelled of hardwood burning and the crisp, winter air. I snuggled down in my parka and neck gaiter, cold, but marveling at the fabulous night sky.

And my fabulous dogs.

They look amazing right now, all lean and muscled up from training all fall!

Racing gives me a solid goal to train for, but just being outside with the dogs is what it's all about. As I sat studying their gait tonight, I realized with pride that I have trained every one of my dogs from puppies, with the exception of Gwennie. I envisioned next season, with this current batch of pups grown as yearlings and running miles on training runs. I can't wait to see how they turn out!

By the way, I don't think it was "officially" announced: they are the "Jazz" litter. Their names are: Coltrane, Miles, Parker, Thelonious and Brubeck (boys) and Ella, Etta and Dinah (girls).

Their little eyes opened this weekend, and they are growing like crazy.

My big boy, Thelonious, named after Thelonious Monk

Puppies are certainly a nice way to start dogs.

Ella all curled up

Stay warm, and as always....

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The dogs "pull" Santa into Akron during the Welcome Santa parade

The team just before take off with the keg. Photo by Amanda Stanoszek

After the keg pull, the dogs and I did a "meet and greet" with spectators. There was an estimated 1,000+ people at the ceremony and 10 minutes of fireworks after our run, so the dogs were really put to the test. My friend Amanda Stanoszek took this photo below; you can tell Jack was really frazzled...NOT!

Jack gives a hug to an adoring spectator at the tree lighting festival last night

The next morning, Amanda, the dogs and I had the opportunity to "pull" Santa into town for the Welcome Santa parade. We used my sled and made it look as if Santa was arriving to town via dogsled.

Amanda and I looked like Eskimos on the float in our parkas!

And so begins, officially, the holiday season - what I like to call the "holi-daze." Enjoy your family this holiday season. Consider a "buy nothing" Christmas. Remember the real meaning behind Christmas ...and love the one you're with, including your fur kids.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The dogs pull a keg of beer into Lock 3 - downtown Akron

What a rush!

As I said in a previous post, the dogs and I were very busy this weekend! We were honored to be invited to partake in an unusual sort of tree lighting ceremony in downtown Akron last night.

A few months ago, my high school friend Suzie, who works for the City of Akron, invited me to lunch to discuss the possibility of involving the dogs in this season's holiday ceremonies downtown. I was excited, but a bit skeptical. So many unknown variables come into play when involving animals in any event; mix in the other unknown variable of the public, and things could get disastrous quickly.

But over the course of the last few months, it became clear to me that Deputy Mayor, Dave Lieberth was intent on making grand things happen with the dogs.

His plan was to not only offer dogsled presentations and rides (weather permitting) downtown, but to also have the dogs deliver the keg of beer from the Thirsty Dog Brewing Company into downtown's historic Lock 3 park for the annual keg tapping and tree lighting ceremony!

I knew I needed the help of an experienced dog handler by my side. And who better than my wonderful friend and fellow musher, Amanda Stanoszek! She also loaned me the use of her great lead dog, Hoover, to run lead alongside my Yeti.

Things were quite crazy last evening as we drove into downtown Akron. I didn't yet know the route the dogs were to "mush" on, nor did we know how to get the truck to the staging area. Thanks to several police officers, we found our way, and at the last minute, everything went off without a hitch!

Chris managed to film during all the mayhem, and below is a three and a half minute synopsis of the events.

I am SO proud of my amazing fur kids, and so thankful to have such a small but mighty cast of friends to go along with me on this wild ride! It has been a wonderful Thanksgiving - one I won't soon forget - and I have many things to be thankful for!

Enjoy the ride!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lazy huskies will NOT be lazy this turkey day!

Some of the dogs on one of the beautiful trails near the Ranch

Fall training has been going well here at the Ranch, although I have not run the dogs during daylight hours in weeks. I'm learning how to function as a nocturnal animal. This will be good preparation for the Midnight Run, and gives me a chance to really put my vast collection of headlamps to the test. :)

Some of the dogs on what we call "The Creepy Trail."

We are stepping up the mileage now in preparation for our first race which will happen on January 8. This race, The Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Classic, contains an extensive ribbon of pristine trails winding throughout the beautiful Two Hearted River country of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan along Lake Superior. It is prime winter country, and the kick off of racing season for many mushers in the Midwest.

My racing plans, which were originally to compete in the 8-dog classes, were mildly set back with the birth of Aspen's puppies. But the dogs are running like a well-oiled machine at this point in the season, and I don't think it will take much to get Aspen back in the team after she weans her pups.

Besides, we are going to be extremely busy at the Ranch starting in just a couple of days.

We are honored to have been invited to partake in several big events in the city of Akron starting this coming weekend on Friday, November 26 with the annual tree lighting ceremony at Lock 3 park in downtown Akron.

I have been asked to "mush" a keg of beer from Akron's own Thirsty Dog Brewing Company, makers of Siberian Night beer, into Lock 3 for the keg tapping which kicks off the Holiday season in downtown Akron.

Sled dogs and beer. How cool is that?

And the next morning, we will help usher in Saint Nick himself as he rides my sled with part of my team during the Welcome Santa parade downtown starting at 11 a.m.

Jack waiting for Santa beneath the Christmas tree

I've told the dogs they have to be on their best behavior because Santa will be not only watching, but riding with them! ;-)

Please join us if you are able. We will be available both days after the festivities for questions and belly rubs.

Happy Thanksgiving and, as always....