The races are over. The season has ended. The snow occasionally falls sticking to the ground for a few short hours before the sun breaks. We are ready for spring and are busy working on preparing for future seasons of competitively racing sled dogs.
We are proud of having an 11th place Iditarod team but we are already setting our sights higher for Iditarod 2016. This year’s goal was to place in the Top 20 of Iditarod and get the Most Improved award. Travis took that goal and he ran with it, all season long, until finally, he made it a reality.
Growing Upon Our Success
So now, after the race, our biggest question becomes: How do we improve off of this year’s success? The only way to continue to be successful is to analyze your strengths and weaknesses and figure out where you can improve. Racing sled dogs requires constant assessment of yourself, your dogs, your training schedule and your racing schedule.
Part of improving our kennel began years ago when we took the best dogs off of Travis’ Iditarod 2013 and bred them. We decided that we liked the sheer enthusiasm, speed, and gait of Copper and bred him to several of our best females. One of the pups from that breeding, Mongoose, excelled so much he made the 2015 Iditarod team. We expect to see his siblings join him on the race squad next year. Now, almost two years old, we know what breeding with Copper produced the best results and we are repeating it.
We are also planning to breed our superstar leading lady Fidget, again. All 3 of her puppies ran Iditarod this year and all 3 finished in either 10th or 11th place. That is beyond impressive. She had 100% success at producing Top 20 Iditarod finishers.
We have also decided to split a litter with Paul Gebhardt. Paul has a very distinct line of dogs and some of the hardest working dogs in our kennel trace into his lines. This year, Travis made sure to watch Paul’s team cross under the burled arch in Nome. “We are buying dogs from him,” Travis said as we watched Paul’s team come in a few hours after Travis finish. I agreed whole-heartedly so in early April, we purchased three dogs from Paul and made arrangements to split a litter. Travis was excited about the dogs but I am really looking forward to raising this litter after having seen their older siblings.
Facing Tough Choices
With all these new young dogs being bred and others now reaching maturity, some difficult decisions need to be made. How many dogs do we really want to own? How many dogs do we really need to be successful?
So we’ve started answering those questions.
This past fall we started making preparations by starting to find potential home for dogs who would be retiring. Most of our dogs are young, but we have a few older dogs who, at some point, will certainly retire. We started an email list for those who were interested in adopting a retired sled dog and we welcome anyone who is interested in doing so to Fill Out Our Adopt A Dog Questionnaire. It is by no means a commitment but if we have an older dog come available for adoption it would allow you to learn more about the dog.
But that wasn’t hard, that was an easy thing for us to do. We want our dogs to find good homes!
The hardest part of competitively racing sled dogs is having to ask ourselves which teammates in our kennel could be performing better elsewhere? What dogs in our kennel would benefit from being in another kennel and would be an asset to another musher?
We had to answer these difficult questions so that we can continue to focus on our goal: Be Iditarod Champions. It’s been long and hard and its involved some late nights trying to figure out how to proceed.
We made a very difficult decision: we decided to sell some of our dogs.
On Monday, we said goodbye to some of our favorite teammates – teammates who for a long time were the foundation of our kennel — and we wish them well in their new life and know that they will bring their new owner as much joy as they brought us.
We are thankful they all went together to a musher in Canada. We don’t think they could have gone to a better home. Their new home has 140 acres and will focus on 200 and 300 mile races, where these dogs will be superstars. Their new musher is excited to have them and we are excited that we found our dogs such a good home.
We’d like to honor these dogs for all the hard work and love they gave us.
Ayla joined our kennel last summer and spent the season training with us. She was an incredibly fun dog to work with and was very happy and hard-driving. We are certain she will do big things in the years to come.
Pinky was born the summer of 2012 when we first started doing dog sled tours. I was in the hospital at the time and remember Travis bringing pictures. I was so excited when I got home to finally meet them.
Pinky has always been an incredible dog. She is an impressive force up front and started racing with us this year. She never quite fit in with our team because she was such a hound dog. Big, white, floppy eared and nothing but lean muscle. She is a happy force to be reckoned with and we know she will become the new backbone of the team.
Travis will be the first to admit that Freddie is a great dog but for whatever reason, Freddie has never quite fit in here. He is a hard working dog and has excelled in 200 & 300 mile events, finishing every mid-distance race he’s entered. He was a part of Travis’ 2013 Iditarod team and was left out of the 2014 team at the last minute, which Travis later regretted.
Freddie is fathered by famous dog named Solomon who was owned by Jon Little and later by Jake Berkowitz. Everyone in the mushing world is currently breeding Solomon dogs. Just like how Lance’s Zorro became a popular stud when he was winning, Solomon became known for his hardworking attitude and his insatiable appetite.
But we’ve never been the type of folk who went with the crowd. Freddie is beautifully gaited, extremely hardworking, and is a terrific eater. We know he will make his new owners happy and help propel them to success.
If you had told me this fall that we would sell Mary, I would have told you that you were crazy. Mary has been with us since the beginning. She helped Travis finish his first Iditarod in 2013 and has been a stable presence in our kennel. She is incredibly reliable, unbearably sweet, and saying goodbye to her was gut wrenching. She runs lead flawlessly and is truly a great dog.
We will miss you so very much, Mary. We wish you happiness and success in your new home!
Saying goodbye to Weiser was so hard for me that when I walked him to the truck I stopped, put him back on a house, and sat with him. Were we really saying goodbye? Weiser was the dog that took me out of the starting chute of my very first 200 mile race, the 2012 Tustumena 200. He solidified my love of racing sled dogs by his performance, his love, and the love he gave me.
He has always been a force in the team and in the kennel. During our summer tours when we had large groups of people it went without saying that Weiser would be hooked up: he was so strong. When he leapt in the air, it didn’t matter how heavy the load was Weiser would undoubtedly budge it. Big, broad-chested and incredibly strong he was an incredible force. On top of that, he became a good leader and had a great gait. He was the complete package!
When we had our first logo made, Weiser was put front and center on it. He was, and still is, the face of our kennel.
Goodbye Weiser! We know you will have incredible adventure and great success in your new home.
So Now What?
So now we spend a few days looking at the empty houses in our dog lot. At night we talk about how much we loved these dogs and how even though they are gone they are still with us. They hold a piece of our hearts just as we hold a piece of theirs.
They are gone but will never be forgotten. They are not with us, but we carry them with us knowing all the love and hard work they gave us got us to this point.
We are sad. We are heartbroken. But we know we did right by our dogs, our kennel, and ourselves. We are happy in knowing that our dogs went to an incredible home.
And we take comfort in knowing that Canada really isn’t all that far away.
Already, I want to visit.