When the nose of Aliy Zirkle’s lead dog Bullet crossed the finish line at this year’s K300, it was only inches ahead of the nose of Paul Gebhardt’s lead dog, Governor. Fortunately for Aliy, Bullet has a particularly long nose; it meant the difference between finishing in the top 10 and not.
This photo of Aliy was taken the morning before the race started, with her three leaders of the K300 team, Girlfriend, Donya (my computer doesn’t have an n with a tilde over it), and Bullet. Bullet is the reddish-brown dog on the far right. When you see her head in profile, you can see how looong her nose is.
Bullet has canine malocclusion. Her front teeth don’t come together because her lower jaw is too much shorter than her upper dental ridge. She has a terrific overbite. Orthodontic appliances work well to correct the situation in people, but it is a bit more difficult in dogs.
The problem with dogs is that their upper and lower canine teeth interlock when their jaws are closed. In the bite impression of a dog with normal jaws, the lower canines fit in front of the upper canines. When those four teeth don’t come together correctly, the lower canines can actually drill holes in the dog’s hard palate. The problem is solved by either grinding the lower canines flat, or extracting them altogether.
In Bullet’s case, the lower jaw was so short that nothing had to be done; the lower canines are so far back they don’t hit anything. The space where they should fit is easily visible in front of the upper canine. For comparison, our house dog Bear’s bite is completely normal.
Anyone can see from looking at her that Bullet’s malocclusion is not a problem for her. She eats well, runs fast, and is a smart leader. And she is very used to having her mouth shown, though she doesn’t quite get why everyone is so interested.
One more photo from the pre-race photo session. These are three more of Aliy's dogs, Nutmeg, Rolo and Snickers. They are two- and three-year olds, and have great racing careers ahead of them. The experience they got running the Kuskokwim 300 will serve them well in future Iditarods.
My fingers are crossed for Aliy and her husband Allen Moore this weekend; they are both running teams in the Tustumena 200 over in Kenai, Alaska. I'd love to see them take first and second!
Photos by The Tundra PA.
Labels: Dog Mushing