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April 1, 2017

Mitzi and Tempest's Last Sled Run

I keep my dogs for life.  When I put together my team for the 2009 Iditarod, I understood that the time would come when I'd be losing several dogs per year.  Of the 23 I had in 2009, I have now only Daisy, Mitzi, and Tempest.  Daisy turned eleven mid-March, Mitzi turned fourteen late November, and Tempest turned fourteen last June. 

I actually started this past season with six dogs from the team.  The other three were Tok, Lolo, and Thor.  I hooked Lolo up for only three runs.  It was clear he was having a hard time and not enjoying himself.  Thor and Tok did fine on the B-Team, though there were clearly kinks in their steps.  Temp and Mitzi easily led the B-Team and Daisy had a good time running with the A-Team until I started skijoring and dropped it down to six dogs. 

There were enough "long term" issues with Lolo that I did have his blood tested.  Nothing showed up there.  Tok has had clear issues with his spine since 2013.  I ran him carefully, making sure he had the stamina to compensate for this---not that hard as the runs were all less than three miles.  Tok wasn't pulling---not a problem for a dog who turned 14 two days before his last run---but he was clearly enjoying running with the team.   And Thor ran fine. 

Mitzi and Temp have been remarkably healthy.   As a 14 year old, only Vixen showed as few issues with her health as Tempest has.   And while, three and a half years ago it was Mitzi's x-ray that my vet pointed to when he described the spondylosis that was afflicting her brothers, Sima and Tok, she still shows little of her affliction.   

My plan for the season was nothing more than get out a lot with the dogs.  I thought about heading into the Bob Marshall Wilderness and seeing the Chinese Wall by myself, but never got serious.  As much as anything, I thought there was too much chance that I'd be nursing a sick dog or be in the wilderness when one started his or her last few days.  It turned out that I did spend about three of sixteen weeks of sledding season nursing Lolo, Thor, and Tok.   

Once we had runnable snow, I focused on skijoring and sledding with the A-Team.   I got Omaha, Lamia, and Motor Man in 2015, Gus and Liam in 2016.  What has been exciting is adding new dogs to the kennel.  Prudhoe, Omaha, Gus, Lamia, Liam and Motor Man made for a stronger sextet than I've seen in years.  I planned to run the B-team as well, though not as often and mostly in February and March. 

After a great December and January, I dropped off on running the dogs.  Some of this was weather, but most of it was me.  Looking back, I probably did have a bit of latent depression from losing as many dogs as I had---the three during the season were among the eight I lost in sixteen months including my favorite dog, Shoshone. 

By mid March, I realized I had to make sure I got at least a couple more runs in with the B-Team.  By then, Weather was actually making a difference.  Particularly for the old dogs, I wanted the temperature to be cooler and we were getting lots of warm days. 

Weather aligned finally on the 24th of March.  I ran two teams of six dogs.  The A-Team did just short of two miles with the ATV and fifteen and a half of sledding.  The B-Team did the same mileage with the ATV---I gave them plenty of gas---and then 3.7 miles of sledding. 

I did my last sled run of the year yesterday, March 28th.   Snow has lingered nicely, but there were lots of thin spots that will melt through in a day or two.   The reason running the B-Team a couple of times before the season ended was so important was that I knew it would be Mitzi and Tempest's last time pulling a sled.  The run was already a bit of a push for Mitzi, and there's only an outside chance that Tempest will be strong enough for ATV training in the fall.  Sledding would be a miracle.   Still, it delighted me that I could put these two fourteen year olds on a team with their buddies, even if the realization that this was there last sled run made it a bit more melancholy.  In the end, seeing their smiles had me smiling too.       

Video: Mitzi and Tempest's Last Sled Run

 

   
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