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October 26, 2014

The Three Wise Bitches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year, when I split the dogs into fast and slow teams, most of my leaders ended up on the fast team.  Mitzi and Tempest were the only active leaders who ended up on the slow team.  In the distant past, Vixen had led a lot for me, but last year, just keeping up was a challenge for her.  That left Fondue as the only other B-Team dog who had led for me.  It took a few runs, but I did decide to try Fondue out.  Run five was the first time Fondue had led in seven years. She did fine and ran well.  With Fondue joining Mitzi and Tempest, I had a three dog lead rotation for my B-Team.    

We are brought up with the ideal that we should love our children equally, and we can probably get pretty close.  It took a number of years for me to realize that, particularly with upward of fifteen dogs, they are not actually children and there’s nothing wrong with having favorites.  Fondue, Mitzi, and Tempest have always charmed me.  You’ve heard of The Three Tenors?  These are the Three Wise Bitches.

I bought Fondue as an unfinished leader.  Relatively quickly, however, I realized Vixen and Jake liked leading more than she did.  My second season at Silly Lake, Fondue hardly led at all.  My third season here, the year I ran Race to the Sky, Fondue actually missed making the team entirely.  She’d stop working during long runs, and that’s all we ran.  Except for dropping her from the team---her last run was mid-January---I never did anything but leave her behind.  Evidently, she got the message because she easily made my main team the next two years, the years I was training the team for the Iditarod.  In fact, she never again eased up when things got tough. 

Mitzi was both the slowest and had the hardest head of the three---a good thing for a distance leader.  She never had near as much of a rebellious streak as Temp or Fondue, but that didn’t mean she had any problem asserting her independence.  As a pup, she learned how to back out of a harness.  The first time she showed me this skill was when I was trying to take her and her sister, Teslin, out skijoring.  Even with a neckline strung across her belly from one side of the harness to the other, theoretically making it impossible for her to throw the harness, I still spent most of the run worried about her doing just that and getting away. 

Aside from a hard head, Mitzi has a great natural ability to find the best footing in snow.  In my kennel, only Jake did or does a better job of this.  Tempest didn’t have as much of a natural instinct for finding good footing, but while heading over Rainy Pass in a light snowstorm, she started realizing that I was calling out the trail to find the tracks that would give the best footing up ahead, not just where we were, and that she would actually benefit from these.  It was the one time she actually considered listening to me. 

Tempest’s greatest joys have always included testing me to see what she can get away with.  This started my first season with her and the first or second time she led for me.  On that run, Tempest  decided to try and take the entire team into the bushes to chase a squirrel.  One of the first lessons every sled dog learns is not to chase the wildlife, so I was pretty sure she knew I wouldn’t be pleased. 

On subsequent runs, she’d often try taking teams to the left when I called gee.  There were occasions when the rest of the team was leaning right and she continued to insist on going left.  We always went right, but I have to admit that I found Tempest’s belligerence more charming than problematic. 

All three share a joie de vie during play time.  Mitzi is no longer at the bottom of a scrum she started, but she seems to be pushing other dogs in and out of them.  Fondue used to show off that she was the fastest in the kennel.  At thirteen and a half, that’s a couple of years in the past, but she still finds a male or two to mount.  And Tempest seems to like to vary the game she’s playing by the minute.  One moment, she’s writhing back and forth with her back on the ground to scratch it---very flattering, I should add.  Next, she’s challenging Jake to chase and play fight.  Next, she’s guarding a hole she dug.  And, of course, she’s already done a quick check of the yard to make sure nobody left any food in his or her bowl. 

Once again, as the only leaders on my B-team, the Three Wise Bitches will get a lot of lead time.  Or, at least I hope so.  They are old enough—Mitzi, the baby of the three, will turn 12 in November---where I take no next day for granted.  The moral remains to cherish the living.  I figure having the Wise Bitches doing leads for the slow team is a pretty good start. 

   
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