Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Six years and two months ago, I decided I wanted to get back into dogs from my introduction to sled dogs in Wyoming in 1997. Not knowing which direction my kennel would go, I brought an AKC Siberian husky puppy home. I named him Jack - Yukon Jack.

Jack at 10 weeks

We drove almost to the Pennsylvania border to Williamsfield, Ohio to get him. I climbed into the large outdoor puppy pen/whelping area and was promptly attacked by his sharp little teeth, but felt the gaze of his bi-eyed stare even deeper. All of his whiskers on his muzzle had been chewed off by his litter mates, leaving only prickly stubs of chin hair. I knew he was the one.

The following fall, I purchased two Alaskan huskies. And that season, I began trekking up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to learn all I could about mushing from the mushers who lived there. Jack came right along. We learned the ropes together - both rookies.

As I learned, I started this blog. It was Jack's face I used as the cover photo. My kennel was initially named "The Lazy Husky Ranch" because of this picture.

His pedigree reverberated in his young mind, and years of pulling sleds surged up from his ancestors through his strong shoulders. Jack knew instinctively how to be a sled dog, and from the time I hooked him up to the tugline, at 10 months, he pulled as hard as he could.

Jack after a training run

Hours and hours, Jack and I spent on the trails in the eastern U.P. together, soaking it all in and clamoring for more.

He'd only have to see me grab my pile of harnesses to begin screaming and pawing at the dirt. Nothing fulfilled him like being in harness.

At the time, I was borrowing several older Alaskan huskies from other mushers to combine with my three dogs to make a full six dog team. Jack was in front of my sled the first - and last - time I ever lost my team. Instinct caused me to let go of the sled to catch my fall when I hit the puddle that had broken through the ice. I'm pretty sure I saw him look back at me laughing as he loped away with the rest of my team when I hit that big puddle and bit it on the trail.

Here is a video of that time:

Jack was on my team on my very first race: the Tahquamenon 28 mile six dog class. It was during that race that I learned Jack didn't care for our adventures when they were longer than 10 miles. He must have pulled out of his collar five times along the trail, veering away from the team to sniff some tree branch or pee on a log. I thought I would strangle him!

Coming over the finish line of my first race.
In 2009, I had some major medical issues, and was hospitalized for three weeks. Even after I was released, it took months before I was strong and fully healed. Jack kept me company in bed while I recovered. 

Sleepy bedfellow: Jack keeping me company after my three week hospitalization in 09

So many things we have grown through together.

Dogs are the best pals we could ever ask for. They're there for us, grow with us, laugh with us. I know I am anthropomorphising here, but in my opinion, dogs know us deeper than we know ourselves sometimes.

Especially dogs like Jack. 

At the time when I first bought sled dogs, Jack was a good match for my older Alaskan huskies. Foxy and Mandy were slower, and showed Jack the ropes.

As my kennel grew, however, I began buying faster and faster lines of Alaskan huskies, dogs that kept a steady and strong lope.

Two years ago, at the end of the season, I took an eight dog team out for a short recreational run on the sled. Jack was in the team. The trail was hard and fast, and very soon after releasing my snub line, I was hit with a force of speed from my team. Jack was hooked in wheel position, in the back next to the brushbow of the sled. Before I knew it, he began to pull backward in an effort to slow himself (and probably the rest of the team) from the lightning fast pace they were keeping. I stood on the drag mat with both feet, but the power was amazing. My brushbow narrowly missed clipping him, before he was pulled down from the strength of the neckline and tugline. He was starting to be dragged by the team. He couldn't keep up.

I stomped on my bar brake, set my snowhook, and quickly released Jack completely from both the neckline and tugline. Within seconds, my team was hammering in their harnesses, and the fresh, thin layer of snow and ice couldn't hold the snowhook for long. I hopped back on the runners, pulled the hook and we were off. Jack free-ran next to the sled for awhile...then sadly, slowed and fell behind.

Some are successful running mixed teams of Alaskans and Siberians. In my experience (and some may argue), Siberians keep a different pace and have a different gait than Alaskan huskies. Alaskans are bred for speed and endurance. Not only could Jack not keep up with the speed, he topped out at 10 mile runs. For his safety, I dropped him from training altogether the following season - last year - only putting a total of 56 miles on him for the entire fall and winter. By comparison, the rest of my dogs had well over 1,000 miles on them.

I have made a very difficult decision to rehome Jack. It broke my heart to leave him in the dog yard time and time again during training runs last season. It's not fair to him to watch as the other dogs get to go out on training runs, and Jack prefers to be outside, so bringing him inside as a house dog wasn't an option either.

This weekend, Jack and I will make the bittersweet trek up to the Upper Peninsula to meet his new family, to the home of my friends, Cheanne and Len. I am happy that Jack will become a permanent resident of Paradise, Michigan, just a stones throw away from the very trails where he learned how to be a sled dog six years ago. Jack will become a part of Cheanne's recreational team of Siberians and join in the howling with their few wolf rescues.

Sometimes, the best decisions in life are the most difficult to make. Sometimes hanging on is selfish, and letting go is the loving thing to do. I am thankful for the time I've had with Jack, and I know he will be in the land he loves - in snow country - doing what he does best in his new life.

Jack and I spent a lot of time together this week
Take good care of him, Cheanne. He's a good boy with a lot of love to give.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Big Brown's story: this week's featured dog

This week's featured dog doesn't live up to her name at all. See her there, in the picture above, yelling out orders to go? That's Big Brown - BB for short -  and she is neither big or brown. But I didn't name her.

She was named after a race horse, along with her sister, Ruffian (next to her in the above photo) by my good friend, mentor, and horse racing fan, Joann Fortier.

Big Brown at four weeks in 2008
I bought Big Brown and Ruffian from Joann in March of 2009 when they were only 10 months old. She had barely been harness broken with only four runs under her, but from the very minute I met her, I knew she was special. She was clearly very smart, and I loved her outgoing and silly personality. Joann says she gets her silliness from her mom, Odessa.

BB looks at me upside down in her house
Over the last two seasons, I faithfully ran BB in point position, behind the leaders, without thinking much of trying her in lead until this past season. Ruffian was a natural leader, but a little too intense for Yeti, my main leader. Ruffian would bark in his face if he didn't take a turn immediately, and things got to the point where Yeti cowered from Ruffian's intensity.

So, on a whim, I put BB up front with Yeti one training run early last fall. BB looked so small in her 40 pound frame next to a hulking Yeti, who is about 65 pounds. But, suddenly, BB had found her birthright.

I blinked my eyes in wonder as I shot this photo last fall in Michigan, BB holding the line taut and strong in lead. How could I have not seen this before? Without hesitation, right from the first time in lead, she shouldered big Yeti into turns the second I called them out. What's more, she kept a naturally fast pace - far faster than Yeti. Suddenly, I had found my natural "crack" leader. Right in my kennel. (For a detailed description of a "crack" leader - as well as other types of lead dogs, click here.)

Navigating a twisty part of the Tahquamenon trail last winter. Big Brown and Ruffian in lead. Photo by Dino Mandoli

Big Brown blossomed in lead last season. At just three years of age, she led every race I competed in.

Munching on a Cliff bar on the second leg of the Midnight Run last season. BB in lead with Yeti. Photo by Dino Mandoli

Big Brown models her new dog jacket at a race in upstate New York

Big Brown is, paws down, one of the most valuable dogs in my kennel. She is a super leader, super sweet, super smart, and doesn't take up much space :)

On the trail in Michigan with Ruffian and Big Brown in lead
I am looking for a sponsor for Big Brown for the 2012/2013 season. Won't you consider sponsoring a dog?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The story of Miles: part deux

Miles quickly grew from that adorable little puppy into a big, leggy young man. He was still a ham and a big baby though. 

Miles sitting in Sophie's lap like a baby

I began harness breaking Miles when he was about nine months old, and he did the usual puppy shenanigans when he was first in harness: trying to turn around, playing with his neighbor while running, being easily distracted, etc.  Before long, though, he was running like a champ. He's never been the most focused dog in the world on the line. And he barks at anything unusual - Oncoming mushers, other dogs, something in the woods - a strange, high-pitched bark that can be startling. But even if he barks, he does not skip a beat.

He had nearly 1,000 miles on him when we hit our first race in January last year, and he did phenomenal. He is a strong, flawless puller who is always happy to please.

Miles at the checkpoint early on the second day of the Midnight Run

Miles has become a cornerstone of my kennel with his amazing personality, his tenacity, great attitude and willingness to please. What's more, he has become the sole education dog for my dog sledding presentations. This is why I named him one of the kennels "MVPs" last season. He also became a semi-famous local celebrity when he was pictured with me in Akron Life and Leisure magazine last January. Smiles might never be a leader, but he is a huge asset to the kennel and my race team.

Photo by Shane Wynn

We are looking for a sponsor for Miles for the 2012/2013 season. Won't you consider sponsoring a dog?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The story of Miles: Part 1

I am a bit late in posting this week's featured Diamond Dog because, frankly, I didn't know where to begin with telling the story of Miles. So I took some advice from one of my favorites, Lewis Carroll, who said "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop." Here goes.

Miles is not only the Diamond Dogs education dog, he was the kennel's MVP last season, pulling his little heart out in his first 90 mile race at just 14 months of age. But the story of how Miles came to be here at the Ranch is one filled with heartbreak.

Miles' mother was what I consider a rescue. She was a sled dog with good bloodlines, who had fallen into the wrong hands of a musher who was over his head, allowing multiple breedings to happen rampantly. When things got to be too much, he wanted out - and fast. I bought a dog from him, and he threw Miles' mother in "for free." She ended up being pregnant at only 10 months of age. You can read more about that journey and the heartbreak that followed here.

Miles had seven brothers and sisters, and out of those, five were born with health problems or physical anomalies. Three have since died.

But Miles was hearty and thirsty for life right from the beginning.

Miles after his first meal.

One of the only all black puppies, Miles was difficult to get a picture of. Right from the beginning, I knew this little guy was special.

Originally this photo was posted to my kennel Facebook page with the caption, "Quickly becoming my favorite puppy!"
While he was growing up, my original education dog, Foxy, was growing older.

Me with my original educational ambassador, Foxy, at the Mogadore Library

I knew I needed to begin training a new education dog to take her place. I took Miles to his first educational dog sledding presentation when he was only four months old. He hammed it up for the audience and was a natural.

During his first dog sledding presentation, Miles preferred to sit in the sled basket with his big ears

Miles developed a quirky habit of literally "smiling" whenever we called his name or talked to him. He soon developed the nickname "Smiles" because of this. His personality is always beaming and happy, and he is full of energy that never seems to stop. He has truly made my dog sledding presentations what they are, and has fans from all around. Naturally affectionate, he blossomed as an education dog and ate up the attention from kids and crowds.

Miles gets a pat from a presentation participant at Lock 3 in Downtown Akron

But would he excel as a race dog?  That was yet to be proven....

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence for people...but not so much for pets

Holidays - especially ones with "bombs bursting in air" can be stressful for pets. Admittedly, I am not a fan of the Fourth of July myself. Unpredictable, loud fireworks as well as the smells they emit afterward are not really my idea of a good time. Fear of fireworks is a very common phobia for Fido. Given that a dog has super hearing (a dog can locate the source of a sound in 1/600 of a second and can hear sounds four times farther away than a human can) just  imagine how loud our Fourth of July fireworks can sound to our furry friends!

Conversely, dogs can react strangely to fireworks in ways that we might not have originally predicted. Instead of anxiety-provoking, fireworks can seem like something they have to hunt or chase. I once saw a friend's beagle literally chase a bottle rocket as if it were an animal and bite the fiery tip!

It's important to keep pets safe and comfortable during this super loud holiday. Here are some tips for helping your doggie beat the Fourth of July jitters.

  • Never take pets to firework celebrations. What might look like fun festivals to you with hundreds of people and M-80s probably looks very different to your dog!
  • Keeping your dog or cat inside during the height of firework celebrations can help ease her tension. Even if they're used to being outside during the evening, have the safety of a familiar place can do wonders to help her anxiety. 
  • Some pets - especially dogs - view their crate or dog bed as a safe "den" similar to their wild cousins, the wolf and coyote. Having a safe place for your dog to hide, such as her crate, will likely help ease the jitters.
  • Run a fan, air conditioner, or other white noise to block some of the noise from fireworks. Dishwashers and dryers also provide soothing white noise. 
  • If your dog must be outside during festivities, make sure he has proper identification tags on his collar. This will ensure that if he does get freaked during the firework mayhem and make a run for it, he will be returned safely to his home. 
  • Exercise your dog during the day before fireworks begin.
  • Distract your dog with something fun. A treat-filled toy or frozen treat will help distract her mind from the booming celebration outside. 
Some dogs require medication to help them manage the stress of the Fourth, and there are some "behavior modification" techniques to help dogs learn to cope with fireworks better. For more tips, talk to your vet or obedience trainer.

Happy Independence Day America!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

This week's featured dog: Tosh

We're kicking off a special sponsorship drive for the 2012/2013 season with Sponsor-a-Dog. Each week, I will feature a dog who is part of the racing team in search of a sponsor for that dog for the 2012/2013 season. Eleven-month-old, Tosh, is currently looking for a sponsor for the season. 

Tosh and his littermates - The "Reggae Litter" - were born on July 10, 2011. Despite popular belief, Tosh is not named after Tosh.O; he is named after Peter Tosh, the great reggae singer and musician. 

We knew from the beginning that Tosh was different. At just a day or two of life, while the other puppies were busy nursing from their mama, Tosh was already on the move.

Tosh crawling over the obstacle course that was his mama during the first few days of his life

Very shortly after he was born, my daughter, Elise, claimed him for her own. 

Tosh with his "human mama" Elise
Despite the constant handling, Tosh always regarded us with guarded skepticism during the first few months of his life.

A shy four-month-old Tosh hiding in the weeds at the Ranch
He was naturally shy, and earned his shyness honestly: both of his parents, my leader, Yeti, and his mom, Tak, are super shy.

His favorite thing was to play in his daddy's circle with his siblings while he was a pup. 

Tosh (center) hanging in the dirt with his siblings Toots (left) and Rasta (right)

Before long, he started to come out of his shell. I began taking him to my dog sledding presentations.

Elise sits with four-month-old Tosh at the Columbiana County Public Library
And he won hearts. 

He sprouted long legs around six months of age, and suddenly blossomed into a large, beautiful, wolfy-looking, white sled dog. 

Tosh, doing his best impression of a wolf

Tosh and his person, Elise. Elise says I can race him this season, even though he is her sled dog
Tosh is a super sweet, extremely quiet boy who loves cuddling with both dogs and people. His favorite thing is running full-throttle along the puppy paths at the Ranch. 

Tosh running around the puppy paths with his papa, Yeti

His other favorite activities are eating and dumping his water bucket repeatedly. 

Tosh will be a yearling on next season's race team. Sponsor Tosh for $75.