I flew home from Kentucky Tuesday and picked up my dogs from the musher who boards them for me. As I was unloading my leader, the darling Daisy from the truck, I noticed she had a pretty fair sized avulsion to her jaw, just under her mouth. An avulsion is a wound in which some part of the body is separated from the rest of it. I cleaned it up as best I could, and phoned my vet who recommended I bring her in the next day. Actually, I pretty much insisted on bringing her in.
I kept the darling Daisy in the house Tuesday and Wednesday nights due to her injury. Tuesday night she was very cool about it and slept quietly in the airline crate I keep in my bedroom for just such occasions. No doubt she was simply sleeping off the effects of the anesthesia, because Wednesday night was an entirely different story.
Daisy IS my lead dog, and she seems to know somewhere in her psyche that her place is with her team, not in her mushers house. Perhaps she knows on some visceral level that many retired lead dogs spend their retirement years as house dogs, and she is nowhere close to being ready to hang up her harness. Maybe she just missed the company of others of her specie. In any event, she HATED being in the house.
She tried everything she could think of to convince me to let her outside and sleep with the rest of the dogs in the yard. (A musher’s “dog yard” is the area in which the dogs are housed and confined when not working, training or playing.). She whined, she cried, she howled and she even gave me the cold shoulder for a while. I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep. I’m glad she is doing well, because she WILL go out with the others tonight. We will all be much happier then.
4:00 a.m. is NOT a reasonable hour, but nonetheless Lynn Orbison and I were adamant about wanting to run some dogs on our Sacco cart, and that is the only time of day when the temperature is cool enough to work dogs without an unreasonably high risk of heat related problems, so... That is exactly what we did.
Next came the “megamutt”, Sheenjek. Ol’ Sheenjek has figured out that he can back out of the carting harness, and he does so very nicely, thank you. The first time he did it today he was completely free of the rig, and went trotting down the trail. He had to think about it, but then recalled when I called to him. I gave him a big hug and butt-rubs for being SO cool about the recall. Then Lynn and I put our collective primate brains together and perhaps we got wiser, We rigged a stout neckline from his collar to the cart shaft, so even if he backs out of the collar he is still contained. It was a good thing we did so, because at the turn around he balked and backed out of the harness, only to be corralled by the neck line. We reharnessed to finish the run and only 75 yards from Lynn’s place he did it a third time. Although it would have been easier to just walk him on in, we decided we really didn’t want to reward him for his behavior, so we reharnessed and asked him to finish the run, which he did very nicely.
When we finished working with my big guys, we decided to run a couple of dogs in Lynn’s yard. This resulted in the “Oh My doG” experience of the day. Lynn has a rescued sled dog in her yard, named Grace. Grace came from a pet home, and I believe she was relinquished into the rescue because her previous owners just couldn’t cope with her boundless energy.
In the yard Grace is a “trotter”. In fact, she is a compulsive trotter and we’ve even had to do some fairly intensive work on her after consultation with a professional certified canine behaviorist. Grace suffers from canine OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Prior to treatment she would go glassy eyed and just trot and trot and trot in the same pattern stopping only to eat or sleep. She was unable to break her pattern to interact with humans, with other dogs, or to engage in any other sort of species-typical behavior.
Today we frequently change her environment to break up running patterns, we keep her on a corn-free dient and we make sure that she has plenty of opportunities to interact with other high energy kennel mates. Today, even though she remains a trotter and is on the move far more than her kennel mates, she no longer goes glassy eyed and no longer runs a consistent, obsessive pattern. She can break lose at any time to watch people in the yard, watch other dogs, or any other normal canine behavior.
Lynn and I have both frequently watched this dog in motion in total fascination. We renamed her Grace because it is SO fitting. She just glides along, almost as though she is totally weightless. It is a totally mesmerizing sight to anyone who loves working dogs. We have both wanted to see this dog in harness for a long time, and today was the day.
We first put Grace with Puma, a very experienced sprint racing leader. Grace was rather rude, wanting to squabble, but once they got running – HOLY COW. I was trying to follow on a bicycle, and I do mean TRYING. There was no possible way I could even dream of keeping up with them. At the end of that run Puma had had her fill, but young Grace was still eager to run, so we put her with Lynn’s primary racing leader, Ice.
Ice is a no-nonsense sprint racing lead dog, and these two have had “issues” in the past. Lynn and I once had to break up a fight between Ice and Grace that was rapidly escalating into an honest to goodness blood-letting. Today they were both much less anxious to engage, but it was clear they were each none to fond of each other. We got them harnessed and in the shafts and while waiting for Lynn to start the run they each stared in opposite directions, turning their heads as far from each other as possible.
Lynn released the brake and gave them their cue, and they were off like a furry rocket. They did the “around the block” run, which is probably a mile or so, with a wheeled cart on soft ground, yet I could not possibly keep up on a bicycle. I honestly couldn’t tell you if the wheeled cart ever even touched the ground. When I finally got back to the yard Lynn was just glowing and dancing with joy.
There are good dogs, there are great dogs, and once in a great long while one encounters a truly gifted dog. We believe that Grace qualifies as one of those very rare, gifted dogs. If she lives up to the potential we saw today, Lynn believes this is the kind of dog that can easily fit in to any of the top-of-the-line champion teams.
Grace is a very special dog, with very special talents and, as is often the case, some rather interesting issues as well. She deserves to be owned and cared for by an equally special and talented musher. We have a mutual friend who is a very gifted trainer, a certified canine behaviorist with some very special talents. Though she hasn’t yet had much experience as a musher, she has many years of experience training very special dogs. She has expressed an interest in some day running the Yukon Quest. To do so she will need a large team of very carefully matched and trained exceptional dogs. These two, the gifted dog and gifted musher, belong to each other and Lynn and I have agreed to give our very special friend a very special gift.