Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dog House Project

 Replacing Dog Houses

 Every dog in the kennel has his or her own house to provide protection from inclement weather. They are simple structures, but important for the health and well being of the dogs. Over the years our dog houses have taken a beating, and it reached a point where we were performing so many repairs to the houses that it made more sense to just replace them.

 An 'extra' week at work netted enough money to replace nearly all the dog houses in the kennel. The design we use is popular among dog mushers. Most of our dogs spend more time on top of their houses rather than in them, so the flat roof gives them a surface where they lie in the sun or sit and look over their realm. They are large enough for the dog to fit, but small enough to retain body heat. The door is off set to one side to provide better protection from wind. A deep threshold makes it easier to contain a thick bed of straw in each house, and the frame around the door help prevents chewing and wear and tear from chains dragging in and out as the dog goes about his or her daily business.

It's a simple and straightforward design, basically a rectangular box on legs. Each house requires only a single sheet of plywood, a ten foot 2 X 4, two eight foot 2X2s and about half a pound of #8 inch and a half rock screws.

The first step of the project was acquiring materials, which of course necessitated a trip to town.

Enough material for 20 dog houses

The second step was to measure, mark, and cut out the panels needed to construct the houses and to build a prototype. In doing so I learned the legs called for in the plan I was using were two short, only 27 inches. By making the legs 32" the house sits higher reducing the amount of snow that can blow or be dragged into the door. Much of the rest of the day was spent cutting out the panels. I just stacked them in in rows, with the parts organized based on the order of assembly. It took me most of a day to cut the panels from all 20 sheets of plywood.

Plywood panels stacked in order of assembly

The third step was to cut out all the small parts needed. Each house needs 4 legs, 32 inches long. It needs furring strips cut for all 8 edges and all 4 edges of the roof. Even though I was using a chop saw I was surprised that it took me about 5 hours to cut and stack the small parts. Again, I stacked them in the order of assembly to keep things reasonably well organized.


Legs and nailing strips were chopped and then stacked in the order of assembly

The actual assembly of the houses was the most time consuming part of the job. It was a step by step process, with each dog house requiring about an hour to assemble.

1 - Cut out the hole for the door. I used a combination of a circular saw and a jig saw to do that.

2 - Screw the door frame into place.

3 - Flip over the front piece and screw two legs into place.

4 - Screw two furring strips onto the top and bottom edges of the front panel.

5 - Screw two legs into place on the back panel.


6 - Screw two furring strips onto the top and bottom edges of the back panel.

7 - Screw the two end panels onto the back panel.

8 - Screw the front panel onto the end panels.

9 - Screw furring strips onto the top and bottom of the end panels.

10 - Cut out the corners of the floor to clear the 2 X 4 legs, and drop the floor into the box. (Don't fasten it down, it needs to be removable for seasonal cleaning.)

11 - Screw furring strips onto all four edges of the roof.

12 - Screw the roof to the top edges of the house.


Assembled houses stacked under cover, awaiting paint.


The final step is to paint each house. I used non-toxic latex exterior house paint left over from earlier projects. We had just enough leftover paint to cover all 20 of the new houses. The cobalt blue was from the dog trailer project two years ago, and the lighter blue from repainting the trim of our house earlier this summer.

         
Painted houses lined up while the paint dried.



Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Winter Review

It was not the best winter for me, nor the worst. Mostly it seems like I was very busy all winter long, but accomplished much less than I had hoped.

Fall training was interrupted by the higher priorities of raising a healthy litter of puppies and ensuring those we didn't keep for ourselves made it safely to their wonderful new homes. That was our highest priority, and I believe we achieved it. When coupled with mandatory work-related training for me, however, it meant less time available to focus on teams and trails.

The early snow of October seemed to promise a great winter of dog mushing, but that didn't really pan out. It wasn't until December that I felt comfortable running the dogs with sleds and even then the trails were rough and difficult. Subsequent snowfalls were rare - though heavy enough to ensure trails were passable.

In any event, our mushing season consisted of short runs in which we focused on leader training. While they were effective from a behavior training standpoint, they weren't sufficient to build the strength and stamina necessary for cross-country travel. Though there were only a couple of serious cold snaps this past winter, it seems they hit at exactly the wrong times, further preventing additional training for the dogs.

Now, when I finally do have more time to focus on the dogs, the weather has thrown a different monkey wrench into the works, with record breaking high temperatures resulting in more poor trail conditions.

For practical (dog driving) purposes, winter is pretty much done. The snow is melting down, the temperatures too high to safely run the dogs, yet still too much snow to accomplish outdoor tasks around the house. Overall, the best term to describe our winter seems to be "frustrating."

However, that is the past. It's now time for me to look forward to summer projects, complete as much of my work related training as I can now, so I can reserve more time in the fall to focus on the dogs and our mushing goals. Perhaps with better planning I can do a better job next season.

My friend Mike Green often said that "Work is the curse of the leisure class." I appreciate his sentiment. Still and all, if I set my mind to it I can surely come up with better ways to adapt, improvise and overcome in order to do a better job for my dogs and kennel.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Looking Forward to the I'Rod

The Iditarod is coming. The restart is coming to Fairbanks, but I'm at work and will nonetheless have to follow the race like most folks, through media accounts, news releases and features offered on the Iditarod web site, and of course the expensive GPS tracker.

Lack of snow in the Southcentral Region of the State has made for difficult training conditions, and more particularly, virtually no snow at all on the trail north of the Alaska Range has forced the race committee to move the this year's restart from Willow to Fairbanks. This means the race will be run primarily over the Tanana and Yukon Rivers to Galena, then job North to Huslia and then back south to the village of Koyukuk. This will provide a total mileage of 968 as opposed to the normal "southern route" mileage of 987.


2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Map


That's plenty of miles, but this year's route doesn't include the steepest and roughest terrain for which the Iditarod is noted. I think that could have a serious impact on the final results of this year's race.

The last time the Iditarod started in Fairbanks, Norwegian musher Robert Sorlie became the first non-North American resident to win the race. Sorlie's style of dogs and style of running proved very effective over the relatively level terrain and warm temperatures. Like Sorlie, Martin Buser has very 'houndy' dogs that love to run fast between camps and checkpoints but don't seem to fare so well in rough terrain or colder weather. The route change may give Martin and/or his son Rohn an edge this year. Martin placed 4th in 2003.

Jeff King placed 3rd that year, so it's evident that his team back then had no problem traveling over the river route. Jeff was forced to scratch at Pelly Crossing in this year's Yukon Quest. He had traveled as far as Stepping Stone, but then returned to Pelly where he explained he was concerned with the amount of dog food needed to mush his team onward to Dawson City. While that might seem a good reason to suspect he may have issues in the Iditarod, let's remember that the temperatures during that part of the Quest were brutally cold. His dogs needed even more than their typically high caloric intake to deal with the temperatures while running. His dogs may be high maintenance, but on easier terrain in warmer temperatures I doubt his Quest scratch is particularly informative. As they say in TV commercials, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future performance. I think Jeff could be a contender this year.

Like Jeff King, Ray Redington Jr. also scratched in the Yukon Quest, pulling the plug at Dawson. With only 7 dogs on the line, and some of those looking stiff and sore, he felt it best for the welfare of his team. His dogs may also fare better on the river than over rough terrain.

Ken Anderson took 5th place in 2003. He's been below the radar thus far this year, I haven't seen nor read much about his training season. I can't really venture an educated prediction, but I wouldn't rule him out as a contender.


Mostly I want to consider the teams that have just finished the Yukon Quest. Brent Sass' 'Wild and Free' team came into the Quest finish strong. Strong enough to change a 2 minute deficit into an hour and 10 minute advantage over only 74 miles. I was honored to check the first two teams into the Two Rivers Checkpoint, and both Allen Moore (leading at the time) and Brent Sass had teams of dogs that were lively and running strong. I really couldn't have called the race at that point.

However, by the time the two teams passed in front of the Pleasant Valley Store it was evident that Brent's dogs were more focused and running faster than were Allen's. That's important because Allen's wife, Aliy Zirkle, will be running some of those same dogs in her Iditarod bid. She's been a strong contender the past few years, but unfortunately some have taken to referring their SPKennel as "Second Place Kennel".

Brent's teams always seem to perform best in rough conditions, be it tough terrain or tough weather. Their reputation was bolstered this year in the Quest. While the brutal cold encountered during the first half of the race took a toll on other teams, Brent and his dogs came through like gangbusters, earning Brent more than a 6 hour lead by Dawson City which he extended to 9 1/2 hours by Circle City. Unfortunately he lost most of that lead by oversleeping in a camp on Birch Creek just before the checkpoint at Central and he lost the rest of it while resting at Mile 101.

The fact is, Brent Sass proved he has a faster dog team than does the SPKennel during the Quest. Now the question is whether he can out-think Aliy in the Iditarod. While winning both races back-to-back in the same year is rare, Lance Mackey has proven it can be done and Brent Sass is every bit the dog man as Lance.

Aliy and Allen may be the most famous couple in long-distance sled dog racing, but they aren't the only couple to share a passion for the sport. Third place Quest finisher Ed Hopkins is partner's with Michelle Phillips, who has signed up for the Last Great Race. Though she has yet to break into the Top-10 in the Iditarod she will be mushing a team of proven performers on a trail that is unfamiliar to nearly everyone in the race. It should be interesting to watch how she and her team perform.

Quest musher Damon Alexander Tedford won Rookie of the Year, finishing with a team of 12 dogs from the kennel of Mitch Seavey. Tedford described his team as Mitch's "B-team" in several interviews. If those are his "B-team" dogs we can expect a strong showing from the stars in his kennel. I haven't heard much about last year's champion, Dallas Seavey, this season. He's been busy playing TV reality star but his training and team have been flying under the radar. I suspect he and is dogs will be 100% prepared and he will definitely be a player in this year's race.

I think that if Hugh Neff can exercise some discipline he could also be a force to consider in the Iditarod. His performance in the Quest wasn't particularly impressive this year, but he already admitted it was his own fault, for pushing his team too hard early in the race. Hugh likes being up front, and it's not uncommon for him to push hard early - sometimes to his chagrin. The thing is, I doubt he will make the same mistake twice in the same year. Although he only had 7 dogs on his gangline between Circle City and Fairbanks, he was able to coax them over Eagle Summit and finish the race in a respectable 5th place.

Training conditions have been even tougher for coastal mushers than for those in the Southcentral region, and I really don't have much information on which to assess the teams of mushers such as John Baker, Richie Diehl or others living and training in the more remote regions of the State.

The fact is, there are just too many things I don't know to make predict who will thrive and who will dive during this year's Iditarod. By my estimate, any one of at least 25 experienced mushers could win, and we aren't going to know who it is until the nose of the first lead dog crosses the line beneath the burled arch in Nome.








Thursday, January 1, 2015

Memoirs of 2014

The past three months have been a real whirlwind, and I apologize for not keeping my blog up to date. There just isn't time for me to do everything I'd like to do, and sometimes updating the blog ends up toward the bottom of a never-ending "to do" list.

So, to catch up, I'm going to start and end and work my way back to the beginning. Since I last wrote my life at work has been focused on work, and my life at home has been focused on puppies and some more work.

Fall and early winter sled dog training has been a real 'bust' this year. The wet summer persisted into September and resulted in a lot of erosion and damage to the trails. Combined with my work related travel obligations, we just weren't able to run the dogs as often as we should. By the time my schedule settled down it was already late in the season. The result is that our dogs are very much under-trained for this time of year. I'm hopeful that we can remedy that situation between now and the end of the winter.

The puppies are, of course, the highlight of the fall and early winter. Chetan proved to be a wonderful mother, and all six of her babies have thrived. We got our first 'sticking' snowfall of the season just days after they were whelped, so these snow dogs have never yet seen ground that wasn't covered in snow. Today, at 12 1/2 weeks, they are HIGHLY mobile and all are responsive to humans as well as to other dogs. Trish and I are keeping 3 of them here at the Stardancer Kennel.

Because the puppies are the result of an artificial breeding using frozen semen, in other words are 'pupsickles', we decided to name them on an ice related theme. The three we are keeping will retain their puppy names probably for the rest of their lives.

Aufeis is our female from the litter. From the day they were born she was the largest female, and second in size only to "Jumble", who is now known as "Griffin" and growing up in a mushing kennel in Minnesota. Aufeis has always been the boldest of the puppies. She was first to explore the world outside her whelping house, first to explore the world outside her pen, and remains the boldest today. Just two days ago she figured out how to climb over the low fence that separates the puppy play area from the main dog yard, to go romping about with the big dogs. She's a bit of a handful but I think she has promise as a great leader if we can focus that curiosity and bold attitude toward the job of a sled dog.


Aufeis, learning how to "run the ramp" to load up in the truck.
Glacier was the 2nd largest puppy of the litter. His eyes sometimes appear blue and sometimes green and his reddish buff colored coat is striking. He is the puppy most attuned to humans, sometimes preferring the company of people to that of other dogs. He's almost as bold as his sister and every bit as cute.


Glacier has striking eyes, sometimes blue and sometimes green.

Hardpack was originally selected to go to a local touring kennel, but life changes for that operation resulted in a change of plan. Trish and I have decided to keep him with us rather than search for a different home. He was born with a classic Hedlund Husky gray coat, but today his undercoat hides that silverish gray underfur. He is less bold than his littermates, more of a thinker than hell raiser. Once he joins the party he's all about being in the middle of the fray. He's a quick study and may prove to be relatively easily trained.


Hardpack showing his "happy face"
Of the other 3, Frazil (now Tonrar) is now enjoying the life of a very active pet near Minneapolis, looking forward to a long career as a skijoring pet, and 2 are home with Phoenix's owner at the Points Unkown kennel near Hovland, Minnesota.

Trish and I personally delivered Terra (Nilas) and Griffin (Jumble) to Linda Newman, the owner of Points Unknown, in November. It was our first opportunity to travel together, and we had a wonderful time not only getting to know Linda, her handler, and the dogs that have played such a huge role in the development of our kennel, but also exploring the surrounding area.

Linda lives only a few miles from Grand Portage National Park, which played a huge role in the historical Northwestern fur-trade. We had an opportunity to meet up with Karl Koster, who works at Grand Portage as an historical interpreter. Essentially we got the up-close personally guided tour of a historical site that I've long wanted to visit.

A big portion of my October R&R was spent in annual paramedic training. This year's version included the alphabet soup of courses I've described in the past on this blog. ACLS (advanced cardiac life support), BLS (basic life support) - pretty much the full meal deal.

Now that we've gotten caught up on the news, we can consider the rest of the year. Simply put, summer just wasn't summer. It was one of the wettest and coldest summers on record up here, which put a damper on a lot of plans and projects. The only major project I accomplished was the new chicken house, which seems to be working out well for us.

Dog yard maintenance was a nightmare this year. During the rare moments when the yard wasn't a sea of mud and muck, I was unable to acquire fill dirt to fill in the holes that sled dogs can't resist digging. Our local quarry operator essentially went out of business and created some legal problems that will likely result in long-term incarceration. The tractor got good use recovering as much of the packed earth as we could and repositioning it as best we could, but I was never really happy with the result.

Spring was a lot of fun, especially during Veryl Goodnight's visit and of course the races were very exciting to follow.

Probably the most important event of 2014 was work related. In January I transferred from site I had worked at for nearly 20 years to a new workplace, north of the Brooks Range. Learning a new job that is more active than the old one has been challenging, and generally a lot of fun. While my old position had me sequestered in a guard shack 12 hours each day, the new one sees me out on patrol keeping an eye on about 60 miles of pipeline and the infamous Haul Road, the Dalton Highway of television fame.

Like most years, 2014 was a mixed bag of the good with the less good. I can't use the word "bad" in that sentence at all. We've faced some challenges but so far we've been able to overcome them. I won't even venture a guess as to what 2015 might hold in store. All I can say with certainty is that I am looking forward to seeing whatever may come our way next.

This brings us back to the present moment. As I alluded to earlier, lack of sufficient snow has made it difficult to train sled dogs, not only our own team, but racing mushers in the area as well. As often occurs, many mushers have been trucking their teams to distant trails in order to prepare for races.

Some races, such as our own Two Rivers Solstice 100 / 50 have been postponed in hopes of more snow and better trail conditions. In our local case, the result was better trails for the race that is scheduled for this coming week-ened. Also coming up this weekend is the Gin-Gin 200. This will be our first opportunities to see which teams are most likely to be competitive in the more famous long-distance races later in the winter.

Arguably the most important of the early season mid distance races is the Copper Basin 300, scheduled to start on January 10th. All 50 places in the maximum field are filled, with 12 other teams on a waiting list, hoping someone else will withdraw to give them a chance to compete. Notable teams signed up for the CB-300 include Paige Drobny and Cody Strathe (Squid Acres Kennel), Matt Hall (Smokin' Ace Kennels here in Two Rivers), Ray Redington Jr (Redington kennels), Sebastian Schnuelle (who apparently hasn't retired after all), Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore (SP Kennels).

Perhaps the most exciting news I've heard the past few weeks is that Lance Mackey has signed up to run the 2015 Yukon Quest, which will start February 7th in Whitehorse, YT.  This marks another comeback for Lance's Come Back Kennel, which has not fared well the past few seasons. There are currently 28 mushers signed up for the Quest, including previous champions Allen Moore, Hugh Neff and Jeff King. Brent Sass, who was literally knocked out of the running in last year's race due to a head injury, is also signed up for the race.

So, exciting times are certainly coming on the long-distance race circuit and I'm sure they will offer plenty of stories worth hearing for years to come.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Puppy breath

While I was down in Kentucky remembering how to be a paramedic (after 38 years one does sometimes forget ;) ) Chetan decided it was time to whelp her litter. That was sometime during the early morning hours on September 29th. She gave us a litter of 6 healthy puppies. One puppy was stillborn.

Of course, it wasn't quite THAT simple. A pre-whelping X-ray showed 8 puppies on board, and we could only account for 7. Fortunately, our friend Anita Fowler of Sirius Sled Dog Tours and a member of our Hedlund Husky Preservation Project, was willing and able to provide some assistance. Trish was at work, so Anita drove down, picked up Chetan and the puppies, and trundled them off to the after hours veterinary clinic to ensure that Chetan hadn't retained a puppy or other products of conception (very dangerous for a bitch), and to get the little ones all checked out. They all received a clean bill of health.

Chetan X Phoenix litter, October 5th, 2014 (6 days of age)

The puppies are all thriving under the very watchful eye of Mama Chetan, while all the other dogs in the kennel maintain an intense interest in the new little Stardancer Historical Sled Dogs.

The puppies were born just in time to welcome the first significant snowfall of the winter season. In my mind, that bodes well for their future as sled dogs.

Trish and I are sorting through a list of suggested names and will announce those at a later time.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Travail to the Lower-48

Our modern English word 'travel' is rooted in the old French word 'travail', and for good reason. My trip to the Lower-48 for a week of clinical training has certainly highlighted that part of the definition that reads " to torment, labor, strive, journey."

My flights from Fairbanks to Anchorage and from Anchorage to Chicago went smoothly enough. We even landed at Chicago's O'Hare a bit earlier than scheduled, thanks to favorable winds aloft. Between the time we arrived and time it took me to hike from the far end of one terminal to the far end of an adjacent terminal, to catch the final flight of the trip, things pretty much went to hell in a hand basket.

About the time I was looking for some breakfast, a 36 year old idiot decided to commit suicide and "take out" the air traffic control center in Aurora, Illinois. The same ATC responsible for traffic bound for O'Hare, Midway and many other midwestern airports. At about 5:40 my trip went from being just another routine flight to the Lower-48 to it's own very special brand of hell.

When my flight to Kentucky, scheduled to depart shortly after 8:00 AM was cancelled I was rebooked for a later flight. When that flight was cancelled, I was rebooked for a third. When it was obvious that that flight would also be cancelled I was rebooked to a different destination (CVG in Cincinnati) and when THAT flight was cancelled I was finally able to catch a flight into Cinci which arrived about 6:10 PM. The flight arrived, I arrived on it, but my luggage was nowhere to be found. In fact, even as I write now (11:45 AM), my luggage is STILL nowhere to be found.

At one point I considered renting a car in Chicago, but quickly learned that no more one-way rentals were to be had, at least not through the rental company used by my employer. One traveler was going up and down the line asking if anyone headed near his destination had a CDL (commercial driver's license) in order to rent a large truck. He wasn't having much luck with that idea, either.

All in all, over 1500 flights, including four of my own, were cancelled as a result of this miscreants malevolent behavior. News reports indicate that he intended to "take down" the flight control center and take his own life. His suicide was thwarted by paramedics who found him sawing at his own neck with a knife.

As I was standing in one of innumerable lines of people to rebook yet another cancelled flight, I couldn't help but be impressed by the behavior of the vast majority of people surrounding me. After all, there was plenty of frustration to go around, yet most folks took the inevitable travails in stride, maintaining their patience and senses of humor throughout. As I made the long hike across the airport toward my final flight, I passed by a line of people waiting their turn at the United Airlines Customer Service Desk that was easily a quarter mile long, if not longer.

According to an ABC News report, the man responsible for the shutdown gained access to the facility by swiping his valid key-card. Apparently there was little or no other form of security at the facility. Perhaps because of my own job (dual role security officer & paramedic), I find that appalling, especially considering the gauntlet one must run to enter a Federal courthouse or any other Federal office building - most of which are not particularly vital to national commerce. A human security officer may, or may not, have elected to search the huge roll-on suitcase the perpetrator used to conceal the gasoline and other items used to damage the facility, but odds are it is not something workers commonly take to the job, so probably would have been scrutinized pretty carefully.

In any event, I have safely reached my destination, but I'm not able to do what I need to do, because the uniforms I need are somewhere between here and Chicago - at least I hope they are. Otherwise this entire trip will be a serious waste of my time and my employer's money.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Puppy pictures.

Yesterday I arrived home from the job, grabbed a quick bite of lunch, and then Trish and I took Chetan to the vet clinic for X-rays. The goal is to count puppies, and ensure there are no exceptionally large puppies that could complicate whelping (she's due on October 3rd).

First Puppy Pictures
Ms. Chetan is FULL of puppies. The vet counted 8 little ones squirming around in there. He says they all appear to be developing normally. There are no dangerously large ones, nor any exceptionally tiny ones.

Meanwhile, I home for only a few hours before I fly off to Kentucky for a weekend of work related training. I should be home just a couple of days before Chetan is ready to whelp.