Puppies are cute. Young dogs are speedy. They eat good. They generally have no health problems. They're hearty and have a voracious stamina. They run hundreds and hundreds of miles for us - sometimes thousands; take Foxie, our sixteen year old retired Yukon Quest leader.
|Foxie's favorite place now is right here, on a blanket in my house. After sixteen years and thousands of miles, she's earned her right to rest peacefully on my blanket.|
In Foxie's lifetime, she has literally run thousands of miles, first as a trap line leader for a trapper named Wayne Hall, in Eagle, Alaska, then in the Yukon Quest, the 1,000 mile sled dog marathon between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska, for Hall.
Foxie came to live in Ohio first with fellow Ohio musher, Tom Roig. I purchased Foxie from Roig in 2006. Already nearly 10 years old at that time, Foxie was shortly done with running.
But she quickly found an alternate job in my kennel as the educational ambassador for my dog sledding education program, Backyard Iditarod. She loved her job and excelled at it, eating up all the attention from the people who attended.
|Foxie getting some love from an participant at the Ellet library in Akron, Ohio|
Elderly dogs still have a place in our lives. Just because they might be done with running doesn't mean they're done working. I get sad when I see older dogs cast aside or not seen as worthwhile in society.
Given the amazing service and dedication sled dogs - and dogs in general - give to us throughout their lives, we have an obligation to care for them in their later days, when they are no longer speedy, hearty or voracious. An obligation.
Older dogs need special advocates. Sadly, at animal shelters, older dogs are often the last to be adopted. Taking on or adopting an older dog is a lot of responsibility, but it also has its perks. Older dogs are perfect for people who want an easy-going, mellow pet. Older dogs usually don't come with the obnoxious or destructive habits of puppies, like chewing. There are tough decisions that have to be made, however; end of life decisions are particularly important.
I will never be so driven to competition that I turn over perfectly good dogs when they're past their prime. There are always jobs working dogs can do.
The Yukon Quest starts tomorrow, February 4, 2012 in Fairbanks, Alaska.