Sunday, February 28, 2010

An homage to dogs: in fierce defense of a lifestyle

The team trekking along a frozen lake on the Jack Pine 30 trail last weekend

"Come, see my dogs.

They carry me
into all things, all things I will be;
all things that will come to me
will come to my dogs.

Come, see my dogs.

My dogs are what lead me,
they are what move me.
See my dogs in the steam,
in the steam of my life.

They are me."

Gary Paulsen - Dogsong

Occasionally, people question or test my loyalty to my dogs. This weekend, I have been tested.

I currently have eleven dogs. This is small compared to other kennels.

The person who comes closest to expressing in words my relationship to my dogs is musher and writer, Gary Paulsen. The passage above is at the end of Dogsong.

Love me, love my dogs

The dogs are not something I have part-time; they are not a fad, a hobby, or a passing phase. Keeping dogs is a lifestyle, and numerous sacrifices go into that lifestyle. There is never a "day off" from caring for my dogs. There are no vacations without the dogs, and Christmas morning finds me doing kennel chores same as any other day.

We are a team, always. I will spend money on my dogs before I will spend money on things for myself. My dogs eat better than I do, with fresh meat and high-octane kibble at every meal.

I am the dogs and the dogs are me. Our connection to each other is deeply rooted. They are an extension of my family. My dogs are not "pets," although they live a wonderful life. They are part of a team, and each has a role to play. I, too, have a role to play. I work for them, and they work for me.

The dogs connect me to the earth through the many trails we have ventured on together; they connect me to history, through the many people who have hunted, lived and moved via dogsled. Like Paulsen says, the dogs carry me to what is important, and conversely, away from what is not important in life.

I am grateful for my dogs.

I have learned from them as much about life and about myself as from anything. Sometimes we communicate best in an ancient language of quick short grunts, glares or tail wags; sometimes we have extended conversations.

My connection to my dogs is as intrinsic and important to me as the air I breathe. There will not come a time when I will not have dogs, work with dogs, laugh with dogs, live with dogs.

For a well-written editorial about Why Sled Dogs Run featured in the NY Times, click the link.

1 comment:

  1. YES! Wonderful, Shannon! I really appreciate how you've articulated your relationship with your dogs and the quality of being an inter-species team. I can relate so much to how the dogs connect you to the earth and to history. Such a relationship is ancient and sacred. I'll bet that scientists someday will discover that some people have a gene related to the love of and ability to bond with dogs. It's a wonderful thing that you know this about yourself and that you yourself and follow your dream. I haven't found anyone besides Gary Paulsen who has captured the essence of that relationship so well. Then again, you're doing a mighty fine job of it yourself!


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