Rob's Blog Archive

May 22, 2016

Twilight Years










My first season at Silly Lake, I trained a six dog team.  Sima and Tok were at wheel, Jag generally ran swing, and I rotated Jake, Fondue, and Vixen between swing and lead. 

That year, Vixen was clearly my best leader.  Coming back from runs, she liked to be a bit histrionic about how tired she was.  Fortunately, dogs aren't very good actors.  A five year old, she had the most stamina of anybody on the team. 

I had had Jake and Jag for nearly a year when training started that fall, but I had gotten Vixen, Fondue, Sima, and Tok the beginning of the previous summer.  A year and a half old when he arrived, Sima was far more comfortable with life, in general, than his littermate, Tok.  Tok's not being sure about what to do continued through training.  His pulling was inconsistent for about half of the season.  Then, after a moderate 15 mile run, he looked around and said, "Wait a second, I'm not tired."  He easily made the team for the next six years, mostly at wheel, but did do a bunch of runs in lead, too. 

Of the six dogs that were my first real racing team, only Tok is still with me.  He's thirteen and a half.  He's had some back issues for two and a half years but, while it's affected his movement, he doesn't seem to be in pain.  Last winter, something was hurting him and I thought it was arthritis.  Fortunately, that seems to have gone away.  He was on Rimadyl then, but he's now happily moving around drug free.  He still delights in being chased to his "home free" space underneath the deck.     Of the dogs I've owned, only Jake had more miles with me. 

Along with Tok, my geriatric set includes two of the "Three Wise Bitches," Tempest and Mitzi.  These two continue to do their best to be belligerent.  Assuming they remain as healthy as they are, I'll start them as leaders of my B-Team.  Tempest will turn 14 in less than two weeks.  Mitzi is Tok's littermate. 

The other dog who will help lead the B-Team is Sybil. She did great last season, keeping up with a much younger A-Team until I dropped it down to six dogs and she didn't make that cut.  Sybil had me somewhat concerned a couple of weeks ago when she had balance issues.  Most of these do resolve themselves, but she will turn twelve in August and I have learned to be very attentive to my old dogs.  I did make several entries about Sybil into a log I keep on dogs when they're ill.   Fortunately, as my notes showed, she did get better quickly. 

Lolo and Thor will also turn twelve soon, Thor in a few days and Lolo in a couple of weeks.  The Blue Banana sports a gray muzzle and Lolo tries to mount everything much more rarely than he used to, but neither think twice about jumping onto their houses to sleep.  Thor's tel when he's excited remains using a back leg to scratch the back of the front leg on the same side.

And then there's the old man of the kennel, Quid.  I've had Quid since the fall of 2005.  At that time, like Quinn, Quid really wanted to be the alpha.  Great sleddogs and lousy fighters, both worked their way down the pecking order rather than up it.  Quid's house is the one I pass just as I enter the yard.  With his age, I like to get a quick glimpse to see how he's doing.  More than that, however, it's a chance to give him a few extra scratches.  I do know there are fewer of those ahead of me than there have been behind me.

Since May of 2013, I've lost Ghost, Zappa, Otter, Sima, Vixen, Jake, Tanner, Fondue, Shoshone, and Murphy.  It's inconceivable that, one year from now, I won't have added several names to that list.  The good news and bad news about understanding statistics is I understood that, having built up a single team for Iditarod and keeping my dogs for life, there would come a time when I'd be losing a lot of dogs in a short period of time.  I am not being caught off guard by this.  The moral, however, is what I learned when I lost Tenaya, Sonny, Mink, and Dawn over just six months.  Cherish the living.  I think I'll go out and give Quid another scratching.


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