Saturday, November 26, 2011

A thirst for miles

Whether a musher runs mid-distance races or the Iditarod, mushers all train their teams with a few main hallmarks in mind. One of those hallmarks competitive mushers gauge their team's readiness and conditioning by is miles.

It's a lot like a person training for a marathon. Building up a dog team to run the 30, 40, 50+ miles needed to either finish a race or a checkpoint starts in early September with baby steps of two-mile runs, building over several months in the fall to end with longer runs. Throughout the fall, we add up those miles with an ultimate mileage goal in mind. The goal changes depending on the length of your first race. So, for example, I started training my core team with the goal of having 700 miles on them by January. 

It seems, however, every year by Thanksgiving, I feel the pressure of miles weighing on me. It really is very difficult for me to get more than twelve to fifteen mile training runs out of my driveway without looping back around to do the same route twice over, and my dogs are rapidly becoming so friggin bored.

Like kids, they look forward to the excitement of not knowing what's around an unfamiliar corner. After all, our training runs are like field trips to them. And, like kids, they act up when they become bored. 

Yeti, my main leader, stopped my entire team the other night after I looped around the trail for the second time just to look at me.

His wide brown eyes gazed down the line over all eight of his teammates and into mine, and if he could talk, he would have said in the popular vernacular phrase,

"W.T.F. mom!"

He has also been spontaneously dragging the entire team into ditches for long watering breaks where he will lay fully submerged (except for his head) and outstretched on his belly, like a hippo wading in the African heat, only to emerge, dripping and muddy with the cold water.

Copyright Zoological Society of London

Nevermind that I just washed all of the dogs' harnesses.

We are leaving on Tuesday for a much-needed U.P. training reprieve, and I am hoping to do lots of camping/checkpoint practice runs with the team. The dogs and I can't wait. I am officially on the Midnight Run web site, and though this is only a 90 mile race, it will be my first checkpoint race, so I'm excited and nervous.

Yeti will be happy to welcome new corners and miles and miles of new trail. The dogs are more than ready for 20+ mile runs.

Keep an eye out for us in the Akron Beacon Journal soon as our favorite roving reporter, Jim Carney, recently came out to the kennels to write a story on us! Thank you, Jim!

Until next time...and as always...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Birthdays and Thanks

This weekend was very special for some of our favorite doggie friends. Exactly one year ago, a litter of unexpected puppies were born who changed our kennel - and our lives - forever.

The Jazz Litter - Brubeck, Coltrane, Dinah, Ella, Etta, Miles, Parker and Thelonious - were born on November 18, 2010. Of those eight special puppies, only five are still around to celebrate their first birthdays. Sadly, they were a product of terrible inbreeding and irresponsibility, of someone who allowed his dogs to breed indiscriminately and then left the mess for someone else - me - to clean up.

But this is not a sad tale of bitterness. If you want to read that tale, click here.

This is a tale of joy that celebrates life, patience and perseverance. You see, we thought we would lose more than just Etta, Dinah and Thelonious. Brubeck hung by a thread for a time too.

Brubeck seemed normal and healthy as a newborn. 

Newborn Brubeck laying on his mommy's back

But, we soon realized he was born with a condition called megaesophogus like his sisters, Etta and Dinah and his brother, Theo, and had to eat in a Bailey chair - a sort of doggie high chair - for every meal until he was about five months old. This is quite labor intensive because the dog has to remain upright in the Bailey Chair for 15-20 minutes after consuming his food to ensure all of it reaches the stomach.

And Brubeck was no light weight when it came to eating.

Brubeck tolerating time in his Bailey Chair

Luckily, the dark dogs from the litter - Coltrane, Parker and Miles - didn't have this condition. Miles was one of my favorites right from the time his little eyes opened.

Miles at four weeks, already smiling his infamous little smile

Miles was a family favorite early on, too. Very affectionate, Miles longed for nothing more than to be with us.

Sophie and Miles
I am happy to say, Miles is part of my main team in training this fall, and has about 200 miles under his harness so far! Not only has he become a "real sled dog," he has also taken over for Foxy as our educational ambassador for my dog sledding presentations.

Elise and Miles at one of my recent dog sledding presentations in Columbiana, Ohio

I am also happy to say, Brubeck is about 70 pounds now and is a happy, healthy (huge) Alaskan husky house dog.
Brubeck in his crate, hiding from my camera. He is camera shy.

Coltrane, Parker and Ella are all living out their lives with their new families as sled dogs as well, and are happy and healthy, thank goodness!

Happy Birthday to the Jazz Litter! You certainly changed our lives, taught us about sacrifice, love and heartbreak, but also about the happiness and satisfaction that comes from seeing things through.

As always...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's a family affair

Tonight, as the temperatures dropped outside, it warmed my heart to see my seven year old, Elise, outside scooping while I was cutting up deer meat. As I walked outside with two buckets of food for the dogs, she ran toward the kennels excitedly.

"You guys get meat tonight!" she exclaimed, waving her arms in the air, strawberry blond hair flying.

It takes a lot to keep even a small kennel like mine running efficiently and to make sure all our creatures have everything they need to keep them happy and healthy. We all chip in around the Ranch, and I am happy for that. Growing up with animals teaches the kids responsibility and compassion.

Elise brushing Kerouac
Elise is my super helper. She brushes the dogs, scoops the poop, feeds and loves the chickens, and helps feed the huskies. And the best part is, I usually don't even have to ask her. She enjoys her time with all of the animals and being outside.

Elise with our favorite chicken, our Speckled Sussex hen, Peep

Sophie, my 12 year old, is a little more difficult to motivate as far as scooping! But she's happy to go on training runs on the four wheeler or the sled!
Sophie on a training run with me

A few people have commented to me over the years about how I manage everything: being a mom, working, caring for our animals, etcetera. I don't manage everything; it's a family affair here. Some people have even criticized my raising two girls and trying to be a competitive musher on a farm with 20 dogs. If they saw how happy my kids are with our lifestyle, they would not be so quick to judge or to criticize.

Shooting Star

Recently, my father, who will be 72 in a week and has significant emphysema among a host of other health problems, collapsed while heading to the shower. He was unresponsive when my mother reached him in the bathroom, and when paramedics arrived, they found his oxygen saturations at 48% and were unable to revive him.

Luckily by the time my father arrived at the hospital ER, he was awake and his oxygen level was back up to 95%. He has been in the hospital for three days as I type this entry and has a lengthy history of health scares. He is the reason I started this blog so many years ago.

Today, when I talked to my mom, she said my dad had been telling his hospital roommate about me and the dogs. It made me smile. I know my dad is proud of me for what I do, although it's difficult to see it sometimes.

Tonight, I took 10 dogs out on a cold training run. The sky was clear and stars shone bright and all around - a zillion of them. It was a gorgeous night.

As we ran back into the woods on what my kids have nicknamed "the creepy trail," I looked up and saw a shooting star. I said a quick prayer - but then I thought, "I need to see about five shooting stars."

There's been so much going on here lately, I need that many stars to wish on.

Here is a picture of the dogs on our run tonight. I love seeing their breath in the headlights of the four wheeler on a cold night.

As I finish this entry, the dogs are all howling out in the kennels. It's nice and cold here, and they're very happy tonight, with deer meat in their bellies, a nice 12 mile run and fresh straw.

I am thankful for all I have. 


May you see plenty of shooting stars, too.

UPDATE: Here is a photo from a training run this weekend. Of course, it's Elise. Tell me she isn't a natural with my dogs?!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Music Saves (aka "Music for Running Dogs" part II")

Outside the Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Shannon Miller. All Rights Reserved.

Most who know me know that music is extremely important to me.

I usually have songs that randomly pop into my mind that are apropos for any given moment, and I've been known to make compilation CDs for special people in my life.

Growing up, I adopted a plethora of musical influences thanks to the wide variety of music I heard from my family. Yes, I was born in 1972 and was greatly influenced by the musical tastes of not only six older siblings, but also parents who frequently spun Janis and Rod "the bod" Stewart on the turn table. Alice Cooper, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Tom Petty, Berlin, Duran Duran: it was all in my early musical repertoire. To this day, I still know every single word to "Maggie May" and my kids caught me dancing and singing "Disco Duck" in the dining room this evening. 

I remember when MTV first aired, waiting up with my older sister, Colleen. We waited anxiously for the crackling glow of that dude landing on the moon to fill the inky darkness of my parents' living room at 11-something at night. That image will forever reverberate in my head as the beginning of musical history. At least for me. It was 1981, and the radio was still playing Nick Gilder's "Hot Child In the City," and REO Speedwagon's "Roll With the Changes."

But MTV haunted me with eerie progressive new-sounds, like Blondie's "Rapture." Who could forget Rapture? Not only was it haunting, it introduced white kids like me to this thing called rap as the first rap video aired on MTV. Wow. We watched in awe as pale, skinny Debbie Harry danced scantily-clad through a graffiti-covered urban area at night with a ballerina and a black man in a white tux, complete with top hat.

I could go on and on about musical influences of my childhood.

One thing I will forever be grateful for in my childhood is having a family who instilled in me early on an great affinity for all types of music and an appreciation for how therapeutic it can be. They fostered my own natural musical abilities from a young age, and were patient as I picked up and learned to play several noisy instruments, including the piano and my five-piece drum kit which still sits in my basement currently.

My love of music goes on today, and I am rarely without my ipod. On my ipod are several playlists entitled "Songs for Running Dogs." I thought I would share with those of you who love music as much as I do what I've been running dogs and generally rocking out to lately. You can look any of these tracks up on youtube, or by downloading a great software called Spotify free on the Internet. Enjoy!

Willie Nelson: "The Harder They Come"
The Allman Brothers: "Midnight Rider"
Wilco: "Heavy Metal Drummer"
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: "Home"
Givers: "Saw You First"
The Be Good Tanyas: "Light Enough To Travel"
The Black Keys: pretty much anything by this Akron-based band rocks my socks 
Brandi Carlile: "Dreams"
The Budos Band: "T.I.B.W.F."
Ben Harper: "Blessed to be a Witness"
Neko Case: pretty much anything by Neko is good with me
Damien Rice: "Dogs"
Tom Waits: "I Don't Wanna Grow Up"
Jane Siberry: "Hockey"
David Bowie/Queen: "Pressure"

I'll probably add another chapter to this. I could go on and on....

For now, as always...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Promo Video for Diamond Dogs

I recorded some of our training run this morning to use for a promotional video for the kennel. I am actively seeking out sponsorships for the 2011/2012 season. If you want to be a part of Diamond Dogs, please contact me, or make a donation directly through paypal at!