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.

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