Rob's Blog Archive

September 9, 2012

Me and My Dogs










Several weeks ago, I had friends from California over to visit the kennel.   They had about an hour, long enough for a session of yard time.  For most people, being with 22 dogs as they roam around in their dogyard is a new experience and it was for these friends too. 

As they watched the dogs interact, one asked me one of the standard questions mushers field, which dog was the alpha?  My pat answer is, “Me, I hope.”  Happily, based on a recent poll, my numbers within the rest of the Silly Lake Pack are still good. 

I found my first Siberian, or more correctly she found me, just over 25 years ago.  I was wandering the streets of San Marino consoling myself over losing my first girlfriend.  Sapura, a black and white Siberian Husky, had gotten herself caught behind a fence at Lacey Park.  I showed her the way out.  She followed me home.  By the time we got to the house in which I was living, affectionately known as Bozo House, she led me to the door.

For the next thirteen and a half years, Sapura and I were best friends.  She couldn’t do turns in powder or climb anything technical, but we did everything else together.  I summitted my first fourteen thousand foot peak, Mt. Elbert, with her.    

Nine years after Sup passed away, I got Dawn and Tenaya.  One of the things I realized toward the end of Sapura’s life was how much happier she would have been if she had had somebody around when I went off to the lab.  So when I got back into dogs, I got a pair. That way, neither would be alone, particularly during long work days I had as a Silicon Valley scientist. 

Prior to getting the girls, I guessed that taking care of two dogs really wouldn’t be a lot harder than taking care of one.  That ended up being correct.  What I hadn’t anticipated was that splitting my love two ways would be different.   Adapting to this, not to mention dealing with the fact that the two dogs were getting into fights for dominance with some frequency, took time.  I had three relationships I had to deal with, not just one.  With Dawn and Tenaya I took the first, albeit very small, step from being a pet owner to being the alpha of my pack. 

When I moved to Montana in July of 2003, I took with me two vestiges of my life as a Silicon Valley Scientist: I continued to work as a scientist by telecommuting to Silicon Valley and I had the girls.  Watching a bear forage across the street while attending a taskleader meeting by phone epitomized the two worlds I had my feet in.

That fall, I started to build my pack in earnest.  Jake and Jag joined Dawn, Tenaya, and me.  With only four dogs, just one male, and Tenaya distinctly on top of the pecking order, everybody was allowed to run free unsupervised.  Jake and Jag initially found an untethered life a bit stressful as they had always been tethered, but they did get used to it and eventually learned to like it.

I bought Silly Lake in June, 2004.  With my own house on 20 acres, I didn’t have to worry about logistics of dogs anymore.  The number of dogs I owned increased each year until fall of 2007.  At that time, I owned 22.  Since then, the Silly Lake Pack has varied between 20 and 23 plus me. 

It may well be possible to have 20+ dogs and have all of them be pets, but I know that’s not what most people do.  It has been a journey from pet owner to pack alpha, but that is how I feel about my dogs.  In my mind, there is no conflict between giving those dogs who enjoy them hugs, kisses, butt scratches etc. and, when fights do break out, make it clear to both combatants that if they fight they’re going to fight me and they are going to lose. 

I don’t feel less strongly about my dogs than I would pets, but my feelings are different.  There’s much less emotional dependency and much more practical dependency between my dogs and me.  Moreover the trust my pack and I have has its foundation built on what happens on the trail or in the dogyard rather than sharing junk food in front of the television. 

We’ve clearly bred dogs to be dependent on us.  Siberian Huskies, as near as I can tell, are one of the least dependent breeds.  I’m not sure it’s a true dependency, but my dogs do seem to be quite happy with me in charge and only feeling obligated to make gestures like they’re on top of the pecking order rather than actually fighting over it.  Like I said, even during this election year, my numbers are good.   

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