On every single dog: End of season wrap-up

Image by Erin Clark

Image by Erin Clark

This time of year I wonder: what does it mean to train a dog team? What is the feeling to put a dog in harness, attach them to a line, and then connect that line to a sled and we travel the wilderness together? The five months of summer, of the non-training season, pass all too quickly, a rapid rhythm of cutting firewood, growing flowers (I love growing flowers), getting all my doctor’s appointments in, and completing exactly one large project. Placing dogs and raising puppies. And, of course, the rotation of taking dogs for hikes most evenings.

I wrote the below wrap-up, a logging and status-report of every single dog, to send to the sponsors and supporters of the team, writing it back in April but only just mailing them out this month. As I put the envelopes together, running my fingers over these words, it made me love these dogs even more, made me hug them tighter when I was in the dog yard and laugh with them when we are hiking on the trail. In mushing, and in working with animals in general, we talk about shared bonds. When I first started in dogs, that shared bond was assumed, rooted in a natural shared attitude and a clear vision. As my personal life has evolved and become more complex, for better and for worse my bond with these dogs has evolved as well. Reading through these narratives, I see not only these facts and stories, I see the blinding love and energy I share with each and every dog. These dogs are more than the workers, the athletes. We are a team.  

2019 Roster Wrap Up


Lead Dogs



Photo by Erin Clark

Photo by Erin Clark

There was a training run in October when I realized that Ariel had become a true main leader. We were doing a 10 mile run on a trail network that had a lot of trail intersections, which I love to use for training leaders on commands. In one intersection, Ellie stubbornly and absolutely wanted to go the wrong way, and as I repeated the command ‘Gee’ (for right), I watched Ariel put her ears back, and then forward, and then dug her toes in and pulled the 16 dog team into the correct turn. I learned, in that moment, that Ariel had my back, and it was up to me to make sure that I always had hers. Ariel spent most of the training season training new leaders, and in early January was paired with Aurora as I knew they’d be leading the Beargrease. Having two solid leaders was just extraordinary, a total confidence and steering wheel. The sisters were in perfect sync, always.

Ariel led the Beargrease and the Can Am. After acquiring that sore wrist in the Beargrease it lingered through to Can Am and she was dropped at Rocky Brook, the second checkpoint. Ariel is a tough dog and hides her injuries, and my mistake is that I miss the tiny silent cues that she sends. I cried when we left her behind at Can Am.

Ariel led all the spring fun runs, with new leaders including the returning yearling Flora. Ariel liked running with Flora the most, and I’m looking forward to those two working together next year. 





Aurora is the most confident natural leader on the team. In lead, her head is locked in the forward position, and she drives the speed on flats and charges uphill. Some of this is due to her previous race experience with Laura Neese in the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest, but some of it is due to the magical essence of Aurora. 

 Aurora led the vast majority of training runs this year, and, like her sister Ariel, was tasked with the job of training new leaders. Of the young batch she worked with, Aurora and Willie Nelson Jr had a natural rhythm and worked really well together, navigating tough trail and making decisions as a team. Or, more likely, Willie just agreed with what Aurora suggested. 

Aurora and Ariel in lead together is just too much, too much confidence and too much fun. I came to rely on them for everything, and they led the Beargrease together in perfect sync. Unfortunately, in that race Aurora tore a muscle, an injury the vet team, handlers, and myself completely missed, and it showed up when we got home. This ended Aurora’s race season, and indeed her training season. Aurora was not pleased about this. Aurora will be spending the summer hanging out with her daughter Fauna, and if the timing is right…having puppies! Fingers crossed! 




Ellie Ellie Ellie!!! 


Ellie is too happy and toooooo fast! The sheer number of exclamation points I’ve put in this description so far pretty much sums up the Ellie-ness of Ellie. In recent years, Ellie has gotten injured either in training or in racing, so I watched her like a hawk all year and worked on her feet and muscles after every run. Ellie combined with Aurora was unbelievably driven and fast. Ellie combined with Ariel was a little bit different, a little bit too playful as Ariel is not as confident as Aurora. Ellie in lead, also, involves a lot of stopping to pee, but she usually manages to do so without breaking stride or slowing down the team, so I usually let her get away with it. 

 Ellie this year injured her shoulder during a training run in deep snow in early January. We weren’t going particularly fast, but the trail was pockmarked with hidden holes and I think she fell into one of those. That ended Ellie’s season, much to both her and my own disappointment. 

 Ellie has now retired to a wonderful home in south Boston, with her uncle Gunnar. Ellie, as we speak, is right now making new friends in Southie with that ridiculous grin and those friendly little paws. Thank you Ellie! 






Wembley wasn’t supposed to be doing much this year, excepting training new leaders and spending time inside where she could eat my popcorn and destroy my shoes. In typical Wembley fashion, she made it clear that she still wanted to be part of the time, biting at me when I would walk past her in the dogyard. She led a few runs, and spent a lot of time in the middle of the team as Wembley despises fall training for some reason. Of the young leaders, Wembley seemed to really like Gem, picking up on a confidence and sense of self and willingness to listen to her. 

 After years of trying to breed Wembley, Wembley made her own decisions, quietly came into heat, and then tied with her neighbor Inferno when I was gone for a weekend. As she had never gotten pregnant before, I considered spaying her but thought that it wouldn’t take so it didn’t matter. Of course, after five weeks, I realized that she was pregnant, confirmed by ultrasounds and X-rays. 

 Wembley died suddenly only days from her due date. It was heartbreaking and heartbreaking still. 

You can find the full story, her remarkable race history, in her memorial here: http://shadypinessleddogs.com/wembley-in-memory

Team Dogs: 




Some mushers might be fooled by his resemblance to a Labrador retriever, but once you see Egan in a harness you realize he’s a sled dog. 

Egan quickly earned the nickname ‘Tigger’ for his bouncing around the truck. Egan became a key dog in the front end, running in the front of large teams during ATV training and then running in point during sled runs. As a hound, Egan was sometimes all goof all the time, usually found rolling on his back after being hooked in. 

After an October run on rough trail, during which a few dogs got rear-end soreness, Egan was never able to fully perform, as even though I gave him two weeks off that soreness kept returning after long runs. This made me reluctant to put him in the race pool, which was a bummer because he was one of the top picks for the Beargrease. Mid-February, I gave Egan to the Therriault racing kennel, who do tours but also are where I buy the dogs meat from. Egan is now leading tours for them and they love him. 








Someone asked once who the barking leaping dog was just behind the leaders in the 17 dog team, and I said ‘That’s Fanzine, she’s the rev to our engine.’

Fanzine’s job in the team is to man the spot just behind the leaders, and also to be the cheerleader when it’s time to get going again. Her talkative ‘woo-woo’s and high-pitched squeals are always what brings the team up from a snack break on the trail, usually timed right for the moment I try to pull loose the snowhook. I have had Fanzine in lead before, and she does her job up there but not driving very hard, and thus prefer to keep her in the front end but not as a leader.

Fanzine’s best moment of the entire year was probably the Beargrease, where in the deep cold (never above zero that entire race) she just got fatter and happier. At the vet check 100 miles into the race, the vet team laughed as they could barely find her hip bones. This is amusing because, usually, dogs lose a little weight during races, but not Fanzine—she gained weight. Her nickname in the winter is ‘fat Fanzine,’ bringing a little comic relief with her jellyroll wiggle and her talkative woo-woos. There was another moment, standing in the parking lot at the shores of Lake Superior in the driving wind with windchills easily into the -50Fs, and while I struggled to keep wind from nipping into corners of my layers and chased bowls as they blew away, Fanzine just sat there, staring into the wind with the biggest grin. Fanzine is the kind of dog that should be running in the Arctic. She definitely passed her genes onto her puppies, and I’m hoping for more puppies from Fanzine in the future! 



 Gem Gem!!! 

 I can’t say enough about how proud I am of this flop eared fun loving slip of a hound dog. 

Throughout the training season, Gem rose to lead as one of the main leaders. I spent most of the fall pairing dogs with Aurora and Ariel, and of those young dogs Gem rose to the top as the most focused and the most natural leader. Gem is a three year old, but this was her first year truly training for racing so I wasn’t sure how she’d take to the longer runs and checkpoints. That ‘not being sure’ had me leaving Gem lower on the roster of options of who to bring to the Beargrease. However, as dogs got injured or moved off the prime race roster, Gem moved up.

Gem during a fall training run, photo by Joe Klementovich.

Gem during a fall training run, photo by Joe Klementovich.

 Gem was invisible in the Beargrease, running just behind Ariel and Aurora the entire time with Fanzine. She was serious and stood sentry at every checkpoint, refusing to lay down. Looking back, at the time I thought she was maybe not enjoying herself, but I realize now that unlike other dogs for whom this was their first year racing (such as Vega and Victor and Rocky) there never was any moment where Gem ‘figured it out’. From the get-go, Gem knew what it meant to be a racing dog. 

 At the start of the Can Am 250, I was down to the three young leaders and Ariel, and knew that Ariel wouldn’t finish the race. Gem moved into lead at mile 30, and stayed there for the remainder of the race. I watched her learn how to follow a race trail and connect commands to dog scent, and when the leadership began to falter, it was not Gem who struggled but her co-leaders Willie or Victor. Gem just didn’t have enough confidence to move forward both herself and a second dog, at least not yet. For her leadership and strength of character in that race, she is firmly the ‘rookie of the year.’ 


 Hawkeye has become my big blue-eyed security blanket. Of the dogs on the team who will be racing next year, Hawkeye is now officially the dog who I’ve traveled the most miles with. We have a special bond. And while each dog has their individual personality, Hawk stands out not just because he’s the biggest freaking dog on the team and has those striking baby-blues, but because he now considers himself the man in charge. Not many things phase Hawkeye, and I’ve come to rely on his steady presence. 

Hawkeye at Rocky Brook Checkpoint, during the Can Am 250. Ashley Conti photo.

Hawkeye at Rocky Brook Checkpoint, during the Can Am 250. Ashley Conti photo.

 Hawkeye is currently in his prime at six years old, and showed it this year, running every mile of every run and running in every race and launching into ‘beast mode’ which always has my eyes widen as I feel his power moving us uphill. While he is a strong driver, his personality has remained the same, and is the most cool calm and collected (sometimes seemingly indifferent) dog. Hawkeye doesn’t get worked up about very much, except the occasional conversation he has with the other Mackey Boyz or alerting me to a team arriving at a checkpoint. The one goofy trait Hawkeye does possess is that he is one of the most obsessive snow-rollers, creating giant holes on the side of the trail that could fit a moose; he then continues to lie on the ground until the exact moment the snowhook goes back on the handlebars andhe leaps up just before takeoff. 

 As the largest dog on the team, I worry often about him becoming injured, as large dogs, just as larger people, are prone to injury sooner than smaller dogs. Hawkeye did get some tight shoulders this year, in the Beargrease, but again amazed me with his ability to run smart and take care of himself. Hawkeye finally began to accept running in the front end of the team. Maybe as a six year old I can launch him to leadership? We shall see.



 ‘Is Hilde ever happy?’ Maria asked during the Beargrease, where she had met Hilde for the first time and saw her bark crabbily at other dogs at the truck and refuse to be touched by anyone other than me. 


Hilde at the Beargrease start, with Victor Hugo.

Hilde at the Beargrease start, with Victor Hugo.

‘I think she’s happy when she’s running,’ I replied.

 Hilde wants to be a sled dog from her competitiveness, which also is where her crabbiness comes from. The only dog who can match her crabbiness and dish it right back is Hawkeye, who just takes his giant paw and knocks her right over. Oh, Hilde. 

 Hilde’s job this year was to give confidence to younger dogs, and ran the Beargrease with Victor Hugo. I should no longer be surprised by Hilde, with her weird gait and her crabbiness, but she continues to be one of the toughest dogs on the team. However, it was a tough decision but I decided to retire Hilde this year. While I adore her, and have raised her from a puppy, I realized that I didn’t miss her crabbiness when she was not on teams this year. Hilde seemed ok with this, and the universe delivered the perfect home for her almost immediately, with an emotionally-intelligent and super intuitive couple Amanda and Adam, with their older dog Dale. Hilde settled in quickly and has become her goofy self, playing with toys and lying on her back with a silly face. As I’ve seen in some dogs, the stress of racing is not for them. I’m so happy that Hilde found a place where she can just be a dog.



 Inferno is steady, and embodies some of the best traits from the Mackey Boyz (Hawkeye, Victor, and Rocky). He is an incredibly hard worker and has a positive attitude. His only flaw? He is the biggest horndog when girls are in heat, which holds him back from developing as a main leader. 

Inferno at Rocky Brook checkpoint, at the Can Am 250. Photo by Ashley Conti.

Inferno at Rocky Brook checkpoint, at the Can Am 250. Photo by Ashley Conti.

 Inferno did take to lead this year during ATV training, but without Hyside’s bulk to counter Inferno’s high-energy curiousity, it was tough finding the right leader partner for him. Aurora rose to the challenge, and I found running Inferno without a neckline helped minimize the chaos. He was pretty content up there, so I’m hoping to continue to build his confidence next year. 

Looking at data alone, Inferno, for the second year in a row, is the only dog who ran every run, and ran the most miles, finishing the season with over 2,000 miles. A lot of this is due to his impeccable manners, which makes him one of the favorite dogs to work with, but also due to his self-care during runs—he never tires, he never injures, and he never fails. Inferno, as a reminder, is also the only dog that swims like a fish during summer hikes.  I just adore this boy. 


Loki was a mid-season addition to the team, coming off of the racing team of Denis Tremblay in Quebec. Denis had been training two teams for the Yukon Quest and other races, but when they lost their handler due to a family emergency, they had to cut down on a few dogs. And, thus, Loki came to join this team just before Christmas. Denis said to me ‘You will love Loki and Loki will love you,’ and I said to Loki ‘You just might save our race season.’

Loki at the start of the Beargrease.

Loki at the start of the Beargrease.

 It turns out all of those things were true. Loki fit right in, a happy hardworking boy with more miles on him by December than the miles we usually see all year (those dang Canadian mushers!). Loki shares genetics with both Fanzine and Oriana, and eventually landed as the full-time running partner for Oriana. The two of them clicked personally, and became this unstoppable blonde barking duo at the back of the team. Loki will run anywhere in the team, including the desperate move I made to put him in lead during the Can Am. 

 Loki is exactly what I have come to love in the Canadian huskies: amazing appetite, beautiful coat, keeps his weight during long races, and a happy barking talkative dog. Loki also embodies what Julie trains into their dogs, which is to understand the value of play and to be trustworthy loose. Loki’s only weakness is that he is a very nervous traveler, his nervous panting frosting the entirety of the inside of his box. At five years old, we don’t have a ton more years with him in the team, but I’ll be enjoying every minute along the way. And, I think, Loki will be as well. 


 Nibbler, for the first time this year, was often mistaken for a boy because of her size. I remember when she showed up, and Ward Wallin who had transported her from MN had commented that he thought she was a good sized dog. I looked at the 10 month old Nibbler and thought ‘what? This is a bird boned lean fragile looking dog.’ 

Nibbler with Victor Hugo, at Rocky Brook checkpoint in the Can Am 250.

Nibbler with Victor Hugo, at Rocky Brook checkpoint in the Can Am 250.

As Nibbler aged and came into maturity, she bulked up and I finally saw what others saw: Nibbler is a beast. This year, as in years past, Nibbler served the team in the middle-back, as Nibbler loves to pull and the back of the team is where the pulling gets done. Nibbler is the cheerleader, her weird purring call always demanding more. Nibbler is one of the most stubborn dogs on the team, and while she has grown out of some things like her persistent crippling shyness, she has held onto others: a stubborn refusal to let me put booties on her hind feet, and a stubborn refusal to snack on the trail. 

 It was heartbreaking for me to see Nibbler fall completely into a giant hole made by a moose during a training run, which eliminated her January and took her off the Beargrease team. It was then, heartbreaking, to see the same happen in the Can Am, and she was dropped at the second checkpoint. However, Nibbler did do her main job in Can Am, which was to coach Victor through the race and give him confidence because Nibbler, of all the dogs on the team, officially had more race experience than anyone else. Because of a number of things, but especially because of Nibbler, Victor gained confidence and figured out what these races are all about. Thank you, Nibbler.

 Nibbler has retired to a small kennel in New Brunswick, Canada, where she’ll run in a six dog team and be part of a musher’s family. It was a sad moment for me, watching her go and removing her name from the kennel license, as Nibbler has been here for five full years since she was a puppy, and she was there during some of the best and some of the hardest races: the most successful race year of 2016 and the small-but-mighty race team of 2017. I will miss her, but am so glad for her and her new kennel, where she can still run and pull because, well, Nibbler loves to pull. 

Oriana Fallaci:


When a dog turns three years old that is usually when things really click and their role solidifies. I saw this in the other three year olds, like Inferno, but in Oriana it was amazing to learn what she really brings to the team.

Oriana at home. Erin Clark photo.

Oriana at home. Erin Clark photo.

I watched Oriana a lot this year, as sometimes I wasn’t sure she was pulling. I would see her pace but not sure if there was weight on her line. She would weave from side to side, sometimes a sign that a team isn’t going fast enough, but sometimes a sign that a dog isn’t into it. I wondered. 

However, this year I learned that Oriana’s gift to the team is when the team gets smaller during the course of a long race, when she shines when things get hard. In the darkest moments this year, there was Oriana with her relentlessly positive attitude and sheer desire to get to the finish line. I saw this in the Beargrease, where Oriana was in wheel by herself, and in that position right in front of the sled flung every pound of her bird-boned frame against that heavy sled to move us forward from a stop. I saw it in the Can Am, where Oriana (with Loki) were the driving force that made it hard to stop sometimes on the trail or pause on our way into a checkpoint. I saw it, especially, the morning after our Can Am scratch, where Oriana was there hammering me with her paws and love. This girl, and the bond we share, brings tears to my eyes. 

Oriana is one of the most gifted athletes on the team, possessing a rubbery flexibility that prevents her from injury. During the vet checks at the Can Am, during a thorough joint and flexation exam, the vet commented on Oriana’s amazing flexibility and fluid joints. Oriana was spayed this year, and when I told Stephane Duplessis, the Quebec musher who bred her and who I got her from as a puppy, he said to me ‘You will bring that to your grave.’ 

Oriana is still one of my special pet dogs, a mama’s girl from puppydom. She has grown into a beautiful mature dog, but when she hurls herself at my chest with her paws, I still see her as the tiny golden puppy. I am so glad she’s here, and that we have so many more years together. 

Oriana before a fall training run. Joe Klementovich photo.

Oriana before a fall training run. Joe Klementovich photo.




Rocky with his running-buddy Inferno, leaving the Sawbill checkpoint at the Beargrease.

Rocky with his running-buddy Inferno, leaving the Sawbill checkpoint at the Beargrease.

Rocky boy! Rocky quickly became one of my favorite dogs, at least once he learned how to load into the dog truck instead of turning into a heavy bundle of legs and torso. Rocky was a September addition to the team, a semi-impulse purchase. I really didn’t need another dog, but Rocky’s genetics as the half-brother to Hawkeye, the bargain-bin price, and the easy logistics of transport made it impossible to say no. And thus, Rocky joined the team.


Rocky is the runner-up to Gem as the rookie of the year, as I watched him grow in confidence and saw the wheels click into place as he figured out what it meant to be a racing dog. I watched his ‘meh’ attitude turn into complete commitment. I watched his ‘meh’ appetite become a chow hound. I watched his ‘meh’ thoughts about resting in straw turn into an immediate husky ball at checkpoints. Some of this was due to having good role models like Inferno, who he spent most of the season running next to, and some of this is just the team ethic and attitude I have come to love in the family tree of dogs like Rocky. 

Of the Mackey Boyz, Rocky is the biggest goofball, with a ridiculous happy dance for me in the dogyard and scratching his face on the gang line. He has a wonderful butt wiggle when you scratch his back, and just loves going for walks. I forget often that Rocky is new to the team, and only three years old. Rocky had been showing promise in the front end, and I’m hoping to cultivate that this coming season, if not as a leader at least as a point dog. Rocky is a lover, and loves going for hikes.


Driving home from the Beargrease, I put down Vega’s bowl and waited for the inevitable bowl-dump. My jaw dropped as I watched her eat and drink the bowl clean. Vega had finally figured out racing. 

Vega during fall training. Photo by Joe Klementovich.

Vega during fall training. Photo by Joe Klementovich.

For the past two years, Vega has been a difficult dog to train. Some of this is I think because of the kind of dog she is, that requires a lot of one-on-one instruction. As a musher with a fairly large team, it is easy for a dog like Vega to slip through the cracks to truly help her shine. I was glad to give some of that opportunity to Vega this year, and see the rewards. 

Vega is a flawless mover, unbelievably driven. She was a key member of the Beargrease team, when in the first leg I watched her make a mental commitment to racing. Al, my friend who has an expert eye when it comes to the look of a dog, picked out Vega immediately on the truck and asked ‘wait who is this? They look fast.’ Vega is an incredibly intelligent girl, a gifted athlete, and yet struggles with confidence. 

For this reason, I made the tough decision of giving Vega to my friend Lynne Witte, who has Vega’s sister Polaris and as a retired teacher has a lot of time to dedicate to training her team. Lynne is a talented trainer and I know will bring out the best in Vega. Lynne, also, will be training the yearlings next year! 



Victor Hugo:

I am so stinking proud of Victor this year. Victor Hugo was the only two year old in the team, and was facing his rookie year without someone else of the same age. 

Victor, of all the dogs in the team, possesses an emotional intelligence and sensitivity that is unparalleled. This means that when he’s happy, the whole world lights up, but also means that when he’s stressed, he becomes this pearl of darkness. The good news is that Victor is a gifted communicator, so it is pretty easy to tell how he’s feeling, the trick is harnessing this skill and turning it into a strength. Victor rose to lead with confidence and love, with a heart that will bring him to lead for years to come.  Victor is a playful soul, BFFs with crabby Hilde, and I often bring him inside just to watch him toss a Kong around in the mornings. 

Victor’s grin during a fall training run. Photo by Joe Klementovich.

Victor’s grin during a fall training run. Photo by Joe Klementovich.

A shy dog that can easily become overwhelmed, Victor had a tough time during the Beargrease. The Beargrease checkpoints are noisy parking lots, the dogteam taken off the gang line and placed on droplines around the truck. Victor grew to love Elissa, our handler, but the chaos got to him and 100 miles into the race he was too stressed to continue—he stopped eating and stopped showing interest in the team. Seeing this happen in the Beargrease, I wanted to make his Can Am as positive as possible, knowing that if he made it past the first noisy chaotic checkpoint, he’d finally get the chance to learn what distance racing is all about. 

Sure enough, thanks to Nibbler and thanks to Victor himself, he made it past the first checkpoint. At Rocky Brook, the second checkpoint, Victor had a turning point and stood up and declared himself a racing dog. He communicated this through resting calmly and then chowing down on his meals. While this was a tough and disappointing Can Am for many reasons, the shining light was experiencing Victor’s growing confidence. I am so proud of him. 

Willie Nelson Jr:

Willie in lead with Aurora, during a training run in December.

Willie in lead with Aurora, during a training run in December.

I have never seen a dog take to lead like Willie. Willie Jr is an old soul, possessing a self-awareness that is rare in a yearling, but still showing a young goofiness that always reminded me of his age. Willie can be spotted in the team by his hot pink harness that I got especially for him in the fall; no, I did not pick out the pink color, but I couldn’t say no once Amy told me that the pink harnesses were no extra cost. 


Willie was the only yearling in the team this year, as the other five yearlings were training with other teams and kennels. I kept Willie home because, unlike the Triplets and Flora and Fauna, I had not raised him from a puppy and wanted to bond with him. Willie’s training season was typical of a yearling in many ways, he would sometimes hit a ‘wall’ and curl up depressed in his house, but he also would do thinks atypical of yearlings. Willie’s work ethic and focus was so strong that it was easy to forget that he was a yearling. 


Willie possesses a need for speed from his mom, and a hard-headed stubbornness from his dad Big Willie. Willie, by necessity, was called on to lead the Can Am 250 with Gem. That race is a tough race for leaders, and Willie did what he could to lead the team. I wish that I could have done differently and not put him in lead for so long, but I believe that he will come through this stronger. 


Zippo back in harness in February, pure joy.

Zippo back in harness in February, pure joy.

 My boyfriend! Zippo is still the barking chaotic blur of energy, the soldier in the team that only wants to go forward. He continued to be famous among other mushers we trained with because of his barking insistence from the moment he gets out of the truck to the moment we leave, and doing the same when we arrive back at the truck. When training with Martin Massicotte, the most talented and competitive of the Quebec mushers, Martin looked at the barking Zippo and said ‘train that dog more. Give him to me.’ 

I was heartbroken when Zippo got injured in December, likely a soreness that I missed that developed into a more serious injury. Zippo is a tough dog, and he hides injuries and works through them. Bringing Zippo back into the team can be hard, because I’ve found if he’s not running consistently, his metabolism goes through crashes when he starts running again. It was fun to implement what I called ‘plan Z’ to bring Zippo back into the team, taking him in and out of the sled bag so he slowly built up miles to catch up to the team. It was also good training for the dogs to carry a dog in the bag. Zippo, however, was not a fan of the rides in the sled. 

 Zippo has probably one more year in the team, and next year I am developing a different training program (smaller teams, shorter and more often runs) that hopefully will prevent injuries like Zippos, and give him one more year of racing! 



‘The Triplets’: Swamper, Spiller, Joan Didion:

The ‘Triplets’ spent the winter training with Al Borak in Michigan. Al is a talented dog trainer, and has handled for many racing kennels over the years. I met Al last year when he handled for the team during the UP200, and I really appreciated his sharp insights, skill with athletic injuries, and his immediate and obvious love and connection with dogs. Al brings out the best in dogs and I was so lucky to have him be willing to host and train the Triplets. 

Spiller in the middle of the team, Joan behind her, during the Apostle Islands sled dog race, where Spiller earned the nickname ‘the undefeated Spiller’ for the first-place finish.

Spiller in the middle of the team, Joan behind her, during the Apostle Islands sled dog race, where Spiller earned the nickname ‘the undefeated Spiller’ for the first-place finish.

During training, it became clear that Swamper was a more sensitive soul, and Al continued to run him but less often than the others. Joan still needs more maturing, she is the most athletically gifted of the three of them, but struggled with maintaining a steady pace and preferred to go bootie-hunting on the trail instead of focusing on doing her job. Spiller was the gold-star student of the three of them, and became Al’s favorite because of her positive attitude and her barking at her partners when they weren’t working hard enough. As Al liked to say, ‘a little bit of time with Spiller will give anyone a smile.’ 

Joan and Spiller got some great race experience and training experience, taking part in a rig training session with 10 different teams in the fall. For races they ran in the Apostle Islands open race and came in first (earning Spiller the nickname ‘the undefeated Spiller’), and then the Midnight Run although the deep snow was tough conditions for the team, and with injuries to lead dogs it was an easy decision to scratch. Spiller missed the third race, the Copper Dog 150, because she had an inexplicable allergic reaction the day before (don’t worry, she’s fine now).

Joan and Spiller are back and home, and I made the decision to place Swamper with another kennel in NH that does less-intensive racing. They absolutely adore him, and he adores them. 


Flora and Fauna:

Flora in lead with Ariel this spring, after coming home from winter camp.

Flora in lead with Ariel this spring, after coming home from winter camp.

Flora and Fauna spent the winter doing tours at Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel, in Jefferson NH. I made this decision because of their ages, barely turning 1 year old at the start of training season. Muddy Paw is managed by the same two people who take care of my dogs when I travel, so I knew they were in good hands. I also knew that Flo and Fauna would appreciate the Muddy Paw routine of lots of people, and short runs. 


For a young dog this kind of transition can be unpredictable. Fauna thrived at Muddy Paw and was one of the go-to dogs and was often found running just behind the leaders (or leading teams herself!). Fauna was clearly a top-dog there and bonded with Wes, one of the managers. Of course, when Fauna came home, she was a little surprised to find herself no longer top-dog and has been adjusting. Fauna is a confident beast of a dog, and reminds me more and more of her mother Aurora every day. 


Flora struggled with the transition to Muddy Paw, and ran a little bit but not as often as Fauna did. I wondered if this was a trait of her entire litter, as I talked to Ed who was training her siblings and said that they, like Flora, seemed to struggle sometimes. However, once Flora came back home she immediately grew in confidence, I kept waiting when we were running for her to falter but she never did. Flora led our last training run with Ariel, with confidence and drive—the future is bright for this little girl

Sally Manikian