Rob's Blog Archive

May 4, 2014

The Art of Communication: 

The Great Chickenhead Dufe-Brain Debate










Anne accosted me as I was deboarding the plane that she had captained.  My Siberian Husky tee shirt caught her attention.  A cute airline pilot will always catch mine.  We exchanged information at jet speed, I think we even mentioned who our mentors were, and I gave her my card.  Three days later, after I figured she had blown me off, I got an e-mail and her phone number.  We were off and crawling. 

What was clear, even from that first conversation, was any relationship would have a lot of geographic undesirability.  I own a kennel and live in Seeley Lake, Montana.  She owns a kennel (mine is bigger than hers) and lives in Loveland, Colorado.  As an airline pilot, she can fly free to almost anywhere, certainly from Denver to any of the three airports within an hour and a half of Seeley Lake, but that means leaving her dogs behind.  Even if I don’t start with an invite to stay at her place, I can stay at my sister’s for free.  That still leaves me with air-fair, car rental, and dog care.  And in that case, I’m away from my pack. 

With this, most of our communication to date has been by phone.  Though sparse by virtue of her being on the road a lot, the phone calls have generally gone well.  One of our early conversations lasted eight hours.  Even for me, that was a record.  What’s been clear from the outset----the speed and ease on the jetbridge should have been a hint---is we have an easy time communicating.

In addition to the phone calls we have had a few dates.  So far, these haven’t resulted in anything---that would be a male perspective---but we’ve talked about “it.”

Anne: “I’m not just going to pull my pants down when you show up.”
Rob: “I was thinking of starting with a kiss.”
NOTE:  Thank God for Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” from which I stole the line almost verbatim :-).  

So, it’s not clear where all of this is headed, but it does seem to be moving forward.  I have posted on Facebook that I’m in a complicated relationship.

One reality of moving the relationship forward is that with both of us having kennels, we are going to have to learn how each of us takes care of their dogs.  Differences here, even small ones, have often been the demise of mushers’ relationships. Actually, like everything else, more substantial issues were the real problems and an inability to communicate about those led folks to point at issues that were easier to talk about.  I’d add that I understand that, but I’m feigning naivety on that account as an effort to satisfy those folks who, in response to my “it’s complicated” post on Facebook, told me all relationships are complicated with the notion that I didn’t know that.  In that spirit, boy, it’s really important to make sure we understand the nuances of how the other takes care of his or her dogs.     

At this time, Anne has five dogs:  Kona, Demon, Fanny, LB, and Pearl.  I recently spent a few days at her place and got to meet her clan and see how they fit into her life and her into theirs. 

Along with everything else I know about each of my dogs, I know who likes hugs and who doesn’t.  The fact is that most of my dogs do like hugs.  One of the many good things that happened when I ran in the 2009 Iditarod was that, while we were shuttling my dogs in and out of a clinic pulling blood and running EKG’s, the vet tech’s commented that they could always tell whose dogs had been handled a lot, and that mine had.

What was clear from my time at Anne’s was that her dogs are also used to being handled a lot.  Demon, Phanny, and Pearl really like hugs.  Kona is a little more aloof---unless there’s food involved.  LB is shy, but I’m guessing that after two or three more times there, she’ll decide I’m okay.  I’m told that once that happens, she’s also very affectionate.  That would be just like my Shoshone.  A digression:  Shone was aloof until I ran him for the first time.  With that, I became a good guy and found out that he enjoys a hug as much as anybody in the kennel.  I may have to run LB in order to get her approval.  Darn.  Anyway, on the counts of hugs and kisses to our dogs, Anne and I seem to be quite similar.

Another practice I believe in is that all dogs should have a one syllable name, a two or three syllable name, and a generic name.  The first two are unique to the dog.  Jake and Jacob, Temp, Tempest, and Foggy (her howl sounds like a foghorn), and so forth.  The generic names are used interchangeably for all of the dogs.  For me, these are all variants on Dufus.  The most notable among these is Dufe-Brain. 

This is where Anne and I may have a significant conflict.  She does seem to have single syllable, multi-syllable, and a generic name for each of her dogs.  She even seems to use the generic name with the same timing and tone that I use “Dufe-Brain.” However, she uses an entirely different generic name.  She uses Chickenhead. 

While probably not quite a make or break issue for the relationship, it’s clear that this is our first challenge.  Superficially, one might think that I could learn to use Chickenhead for her dogs and she could learn to use Dufe-Brain for mine, but that destroys the necessary spontaneity that underlies using a generic name. I suppose we could maintain that spontaneity and see if her dogs would tolerate my calling them Dufe-Brain and my dogs would tolerate her calling them Chickenhead, but the resultant confusion by the dogs might totally destroy their standard Siberian Husky discipline.  The only saving grace, the one that might get us through this is we really do use the terms with identical tone.  I just don’t know. 

And that’s where we are.  To date, while we’ve talked about logistics and where the relationship is or could go, we have yet to broach this clearly sensitive topic.  For now, it’s a little on hold as Phanny is having puppies, but I will bring it up soon enough.  In the mean time, my dogs will only be called Dufe-Brain and hers will only be called Chickenhead. 




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