Of course I never did get a St. Bernard. Instead I was given a cocker spaniel that couldn't pull anything except his food dish, but he was friendly and very lovable. My love for dogs grew at this time.
That cocker spaniel stayed with us for about three years then one day he disappeared off the face of the earth. To this day, we figure someone stole him and took him out of town as he was never seen again.
We had another little dog, a terrier type mutt that we had for about thirteen years. I had moved out of home for a few years before the dog succumbed to old age. Mom never wanted another dog again as this one was her best friend and she said he could not be replaced. She ended up getting a parakeet for company.
Kings of the Snow
A couple of my friends raised Siberian Huskies. They were beautiful dogs and very playful and friendly. They had two teams of their own that they ran in competitions around the province. Their dogs became well known as they won quite a few of these races. Mushers were always on the lookout for good dogs and were always calling to see when they would have pups ready to buy. It was a lucrative business.
At one time they had hoped to enter the Iditarod. This is a race in Alaska of around 1200 miles in which mushers come from all over the world to race their dogs. The terrain is wild and frozen. This was not meant to be however, as they had family obligations and they could not be away from home long enough to get involved with it.
Although they didn't run in the Iditarod, they knew some of their dogs did. They were often sent pictures of their dogs out on the trail. It was nice to see. They did enter shorter trail races in our home province and won many a race.
One such race they entered was in our north country. They didn't win, but they caught a glimpse of the beautful night sky. This sky boasts a dazzling display of twinkling stars against an inky black sky. Clear moonless nights, are decorated by the cosmos and many constellations, each with its own lore. It's not until the aurora borealis makes an appearance does the show really begin. The entire night sky dances and shimmers in reds, greens and whites, seemingly dancing just for you. It is a sight to behold.
My friends used to go away on the long weekends and I would go and look after the dogs for them. There were usually about twelve to fifteen adults and eight to ten pups. It was fun trying to feed the adults. Taking in a bucket of feed at a time for each dog was quite a feat. Each dog had their own food dish and would not eat out of just anyones dish. Try as I may, I usually gave the wrong dish to someone and I would get looked at as if I committed a crime.
These dogs all had their own names and were named these names for a reason. One I particularly remember was a pure white dog with piercing blue eyes. His name was Eagle. He was named this as he could be sitting completely still then make a bounding leap over the top of the eight foot fence. He was quite the dog. When he got out, he would run and run returning only when he was ready to come back.
Siberian Huskies were runners. They were working dogs who enjoyed their work. Training of the pups started when the pups were about seven weeks old. I was also lucky to be involved with this and learned a lot about sledding.
My first set of puppies that I had to hook up had me so twisted up in the tethers, harnesses and such, I thought I would have to call Houdini to untie me. I was so tied up that the puppies were having a ball jumping all over me and licking my face. My friend finally unwound me from it all after laughing for about a half hour. He then showed me the easy way to get the harness on.
Each dog had a harness, puppies had smaller ones of course. They would be hooked up to a small 2x4 in a gangline hitch. They would be lead around the yard until they got used to this equipment. Even at this young age these dogs wanted to run. It was natural for them as this is what they were bred for.
Other equipment that is important and needed are of course the sled, sled bags, snow hooks and booties. Training in the summer a small cart is used to run on the grass and ground. This is good even for trained dogs to keep up the exercise and running.
Various commands are used for sled dogs. Whoa = stop; easy = slow down; gee = right turn; haw = left turn; hike = get moving (mush is not often used); on by = pass another team or other distraction; kissing sound = faster, speed up. These terms are burned into the dogs memories.
Puppies are Smart
As I was taking the pups for their first run, the weather had turned on me. I had told my friends that I could do it and decided to take them to my house and run them home. It was a distance of about five miles.
The wind started to howl and the snow started to blow. It seemed a blizzard was imminent. "Damn," I thought to myself, "I wish this weather would have held off for another half hour." My gloved hands already felt like ice while holding onto the cold steel of the sled and I was sure my face was already frozen. I knew I should have been better prepared for this run. I really hadn't planned on being going out this far. It was the pup's inaugural run and they were doing so well that time was not closely monitored. Right now all I wanted was to be in the warmth of my house.
I thought if I could get them to stop, I could crawl in the sled bag and at least keep out of the wind. That was not to be. The dogs kept running and running, paying no attention to my commands. I was freezing and getting colder. My breath seemed to stop in mid air and fall to the ground like an icicle.
I decided to let them run. Maybe they would just run home. And run home is just what they did. My friends came running out the door when they saw us. They took the dogs to the kennels and me into the house. It was toasty and warm at last.
Once I warmed up I told them how the dogs performed on their run. They did real well and obeyed all the commands up until the last one where I wanted them to stop. We talked about that and decided the dogs knew we shouldn't stop as I would have surely frozen to death. I was very glad that the pups made that decision.
Following this experience, I did take more dogs out on runs but kept close watch on the weather, time and how far I was from home. I did not want this to happen again.
My Best Friend
About fourteen years ago, there was a litter born. It was to be the last litter my friends would be having as they were getting out of the business and selling all the dogs. It broke my heart to see all my "dog friends" slowly being sold off. I decided I would get a puppy of my own and picked the runt. He had a skin disease when born and was shaved completely bald. I was willing to pay as that is what they did, sell the pups. I was told I could just have him as they were unsure if he would live very long at all.
This dog had one brown eye and the other eye was half brown and half blue. His fur was coming in now and he was a piebald, being white with black markings. He was the clown of the litter and liked to play. I took him home when he was six weeks old.
I also inherited a small sled with harness and booties. Now I could train my dog to run on his own. I started him off pulling the 2x4 and he loved it. Oh and I called him Bob. I didn't know what to call him and at the time the movie "What About BoB" was on television and I just knew it would fit him.
Bob continued his running each winter. I would take him out to the fields and away we would go. These dogs heated up in the heat of the day, so it was better for them if it was cold out.
Bob frequently got loose from his fenced in yard and went on his own runs. I found him once racing a truck down the highway. He was in his glory. Another time he was chasing deer in the hills.
The last couple of years of his life he had slowed down a lot. No longer running to be free. He had developed arthritis and his running days were now over. He was still the same clown he always was. He seemed to smile though out his pain and he always made sure everything was okay with me. He was my best friend and is now free to run the big back yard of the universe.