Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Tri-pawed Trot

First, I must apologize for the lack of video or images.  I had my handy-dandy spy camera on, and I thought it was recording, but while hooking up dogs I must have jostled a button, because the only video I got was about 5 seconds of, well, not much.

I'm truly disappointed by that, because the footage would have been more than remarkable.  This afternoon I took a team over to Randy Dunbar's place, where James Langston brought Abner out to play.

For those new to the blog, Abner is a yearling Alaskan husky who lost his left rear leg to a horrendous accident while boarding with another musher last October.  When my kennel partner and I ran out of money to pay for his desperately needed amputation, he was removed from our kennel and given to James Langston, who very generously took him in, paid for his surgery, and has been rehabilitating him all winter.  At that time no one involved could have predicted whether or not he could survive.

Not only did he survive, but he has done astonishingly well through his rehabilitation and for the past couple of months has been running quite happily in harness.  Abner has been running with Edie Forrest's older dogs the past couple of months, and has even run in her AARP race team.  I had seen some video of him starting and finishing the AARP race, running in lead, and today I enjoyed the "musher's eye view" of this busy little boy in action.

For our run today I borrowed Randy's four-wheeler so I could safely run a larger team and focus my attention on Abner rather than controlling the sled.  We had a total of 8 dogs on the team.

Just and Grace (Lead)
Orion and Rose (Swing)
Regime and Abner (Team - Regime is Abner's housemate and a very fast running sprint dog)
Sheenjek and Nels (Wheel)

Ours was a six and 1/2 mile run from Randy's place, out the Baseline Trail to the bottom of Pheasant Farm Road and back.  It is mostly flat terrain, which I chose so I could watch Abner's new "normal" gait.  That way when I'm running him in the future I can more readily recognize if he's having a problem and take appropriate steps to properly care for him.

When Abner lived here at the Stardancer Kennel, he and Amazing Grace were very best buddies - like peas and carrots.  None of that has changed a lick.  The moment they saw each other it was instant "helicopter tails" and playtime.  The moment we pulled out the harnesses playtime was over and Abner was lending full voice to his enthusiastic approval.  We had lots of help hooking up (Thank you Randy and Edie for all your extra help) and got off down the trail in good fashion.

As has been my recent policy, I controlled the speed of the launch and soon everyone settled in to a nice, steady 10 mph trot.  Abner has clearly learned how to place his remaining rear foot nearly directly under his body to maintain his balance and though his trot requires full suspension for one beat (a trot is usually a four-beat gait), he was as smooth as silk on glass.  There was no undue spinal twisting, no overuse of his front legs, or anything at all untoward that I could observe.

As we continued I slowed the pace to about 8 mph to accommodate my village dogs, and we just went trotting down the trail pretty as you please.  I'm pretty sure than onlooker wouldn't even have noticed Abners 'difference' unless s/he was actually counting feet.  On the return trip Abner's buddy Regime was showing signs of tiring, yet Abner seemed just as energetic as he had at the beginning of the run.  After the run he was one of the first dogs to recover, as evidenced by him initiating another rough and tumble play session with Grace.  Grace isn't holding anything back, but I have yet to see her knock Abner over.  If anything he (a somewhat larger dog) has sent her tumbling a time or two.

James asked if I'd like to board Abner until I have to return to work, and I was delighted to accept the gracious offer.  Grace has really missed her buddy, and he's obviously missed her as well.  They are having a wonderful time together and it's a heart-lifting thing to see.

There has been some controversy regarding Abner in sprint racing circles.  Lynn Orbison proposed running Abner in Alaska Dog Musher's Association sprint races, and was prohibited from doing so.  Abner has both some very strong supporters, and some strong opponents.  Some of the opposition is due to concern for his well-being.  While there are indeed other working tri-pawed sled dogs in the world, they are pretty rare and not often seen on race courses.

That's not my fight.  I'm not an ADMA member and not a racer, but I think I'm a pretty good judge of canine mobility, behavior and psychology.  Jame's reports that Abner's behavior is much improved when he is allowed to run regularly, and of that I have NO doubt.  Every strand of DNA in that boy's body SCREAMS at him to run and pull, and thwarting that drive is bound to have detrimental behavioral and psychological effects.  Physicially, I didn't see anything that would lead me to believe that running, even racing at the fastest possible speed, would be any more likely to cause Abner harm than any other sled dog. 

Ultimately, I think the decision to allow Abner to race should be left up to his owner, James.  Of course racing is just a human thing.  All Abner worries about is that he'll get to run with his buddies and I really don't think that will be an issue.  Abner has LOTS of buddies willing to let him play. 

I only wish I could have given you a video clip so you can see for yourself.  I promise, I'll get some video of Abner in action and his silky tri-pawed trot just as soon as I can.

1 comment:

  1. G'day Swanny - enjoyed your commentary on the run. You sounded like you enjoyed it as much as the dogs did :-)