Thursday, February 15, 2007

Return of the Matriarch

Too much Life to both live it and write about it, and more going on than I am at liberty to share. That is my only excuse for the recent dearth of postings, and it frustrates me because writing is what I want most to be doing.

My four days per week at the hospital are usually long and intense. We are deep into the winter respiratory season and bronchiolitis, pneumonia, asthma and COPD exacerbations abound. After several recent departures from the medical staff in the last six months, we are significantly down-staffed at the moment, and struggling along to keep up with patient demand for appointments.

Non-workdays continue to be mostly about dog mushing. Henry and I are usually training dogs on two of my three days off. There is new blood in the dog yard, in addition to the ten puppies we are training. Seven new dogs came to the yard after the K300. Four of them were mine to start with.

Early in 2000, I bought a beautiful puppy from Susan Butcher. Her name is Princess, and she was nine months old when I got her. I sent her back to Susan twice for breeding, and she produced two strong and healthy litters. I thought of Princess and her 13 offspring as the “Butcher Dynasty.”

Princess was the result of Susan’s careful breeding program, and her bloodlines go back to Susan’s famous lead dog, Granite. She comes from the best of the best.

When my own health issues forced me to stop mushing, I left the dynasty in the hands of my mushing partner, who subsequently moved away from Bethel. Which is how they came to be in the dog yard of Ben Bruce. He has trained them for the last year. He ran a slow and steady K300 this year, coming in next to last. I was at the finish line when he came in, and delighted to see Princess on the team. After 300 miles she came in looking strong, though very thin.

Henry has been interested in maintaining the bloodlines that Princess carries, and talked to Ben about taking her and three of her offspring to start a new breeding program with. Ben was agreeable, and I am delighted to have Princess back. I have always felt a connection with her.

When she first came to me as a nine-month-old puppy, she was scared and lonely after leaving Susan’s big dog yard and familiar surroundings and getting shipped to Bethel in the bowels of a cargo plane. That first night in the yard with six other dogs she didn’t know was spent whining constantly unless I went out to pet and reassure her. I ended up spending the night curled up on her dog house with my hand in the doorway rubbing her head to keep her quiet. This was in February, mind you. She has always been special to me, and there will always be a spot for her on my sofa when her working days are over.

I am delighted to say that she has been an outstanding performer since she arrived at Henry’s. She has run in lead almost every time she has gone out, and she paces the team well, mostly follows gee/haw commands (to turn right or left), and pulls hard all the time. I’m really proud of her. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she is also gorgeous.

A lot of thought and planning (and sometimes endless discussion!) goes into dog training, especially when—as now—there are complicating issues such as puppies and incorporating new dogs into an established yard. Besides the new kids which Henry and I are working with, Angela continues to train her Bogus 150 race team, and plans to run a few more races this season.

And then there is the Big Daddy of all sled dog races coming up. The 2007 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race begins on the first Saturday in March. We will be following the race closely, watching and rooting for our two favorite mushers, Aliy Zirkle and Mike Williams. Lots more to come on that.

Tonight Henry and I fly over to Anchorage for two days, for another medical appointment for him. So sporadic posting will continue for a bit longer. I’ll promise some catching up when I get back.
Photo by The Tundra PA. Princess (left) and Pancho (right).



Blogger Wil said...

If the photo is doing them any justice at all, they're both dogs I'd be proud to have in my life. You're a lucky woman in many ways, TPA.

Saturday, February 17, 2007 7:33:00 PM  
Blogger TheTundraPA said...

Thanks, Wil! I think so too.

Monday, February 19, 2007 8:50:00 PM  

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