Friday, February 10, 2012

Chukchi Dogs

Some of Michael Telpin's Chukchi dogs

While the Yukon Quest front runners are resting their teams in Dawson, there is little news to share of their progress, but Chokotka musher Michael Telpin and his wonderful Chukchi dogs are creating a bit of a stir, at least among those of us who admire historical and traditional types of sled dogs.

Michael left the starting line with 9 traditional Chukchi dogs in harness, and he's still trucking along with all 9 dogs in his team.   My friend Kyle Belleque pointed out that Michael is racing his dogs on the same schedule that he works them in his day to day life as a marine mammal hunter.  They run all day and camp at night.  Obviously these traditional freighting dogs aren't as fast as the modern racing dogs, yet they are also obviously tougher and very well suited to their job.  While others have scratched from the race for a variety of issues, Michael left the Eagle checkpoint, with all 9 of his dogs on the gangline, at 3:45 this morning.

These dogs are the direct ancestors of dogs the Russian fur traders brought to Alaska in the early 19th century to expand their operations into the Interior.  Kris Farmen described the early dog driving history of the Russian traders in part 2 of his series on the history of mushing in Alaska in Mushing magazine.

To my eye, Michael's Chukchi dogs are similar to Canadian Eskimo dogs in build, with stocky, narrow hind quarters to provide plenty of power when hauling a heavy load.  In fact, their conformation is very similar to that of our Canadian Eskimo dog mix, Innoko.  They are smaller than the Canadian Eskimo dogs, but not by a great deal.

Michael's dogs seem to be exceptionally well trained and well behaved, something that would be crucial for a man who's very life depends upon the reliability of his animals.

A Bit of Excitement:

Speaking of Russian mushers, we had a bit of excitement here at the Stardancer Kennel last night.  I was inside tending to a dog that just came home from the vet's office when my entire yard "went off" in a cacophony of  frantic barking.  I went out on the deck to see what was up, and saw a team of dogs standing at the gate to my yard, confined by my narrow feeder trail. 

I went down to see what was up, and met Russian musher Nikolay Ettyne.  As you'll recall, Nikolay scratched from the Quest at Circle City, but that hasn't kept him off the runners.  He had taken his team (provided by Russ Bybee) out to stretch and had gotten a bit lost.  In spite of the language difference and the fact that he was viewing his map upside down, I was apparently able to provide him adequate directions to get back to the place where he was staying, as I got a FaceBook message an hour later telling me he was 'home' and already had his dogs fed.

Much to do today, and I'm sure I'll have more news to share later.

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