Sled dogs and poodles

We couldn’t drive our truck up to the house until the driveway was plowed. In the meantime it was parked across the road along with 5 trucks belonging to dog mushers, here for the “Spring Festival” in Tanana. Joee Redington, who lives there, raises and trains sled dogs and races them. He and friends were racing dogs in the festival. Joee is in his early 60’s. His father, Joe Redington, started the Iditarod.
Dog trucks have a back consisting of a box of 12 to 24 (sometimes more) cubicles in place of the truck bed. Each cubicle is lined with straw and holds 2 dogs. The mushers come from near and far. There was one truck at Joee’s that had come up from British Columbia. Every 4 hours on the road the dogs have to be let out.
There is no road to Tanana, so from here the dogs must be transported another way. At Joee’s they were unloaded from the trucks and transferred to open carriers pulled by snow mobiles. Ten or so dogs sat together in each carrier, squealing and barking with excitement.


To get to Tanana the dogs were taken by snow mobile up our road to Tofty (a mining area) and then by an old trail to Tanana. Tanana is a mostly native village at the junction of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers. The festival consists of several sixteen mile “sprint” races, followed by a dance that begins at midnight and lasts all night. The next day there are more races, and then award ceremonies.


The dogs used in sprint races are leaner, faster, and have shorter fur than those used in long distance races like the Iditarod. Joee and his wife Pam, raise dogs for sprint races. Pam tells us that they no longer race or breed dogs that are pointer-husky crosses. Those dogs eat too much, are difficult to train for mushing, don’t do well in extreme cold and in general are high maintenance animals. The Redingtons now breed huskies, but their huskies are specifically bread more streamlined with shorter fur for speed in the sprint races.
Pam had dinner with us last night, and told us that Joee’s partner came in second at the Tanana races. Joee himself was racing yearlings, and was pleased to beat several seasoned teams. Pam, who doesn’t attend the races, said Joee enjoyed the dance. He always dances with the old ladies!

While we were chatting about dog races my poodles romped around our feet, playing with their toys. They were a contrast to the tough, semi-wild sled dogs. (When we saw the wolves on the highway, Jerry addressed Fluffy who, with Daisy, was in a crate on a platform behind my seat. “Well, Fluffy,” he said, “did you see your ancestors?”)

One year, Pam said, a team of standard poodles was entered in the Iditarod, but they did not do well. Their woolly fur became encrusted with lumps of frozen snow. Now the Iditarod is limited to huskies.

My poodles had a good deal of experience with snow this winter. We had more than usual on the island. Here in interior Alaska the snow is deeper than anything they have ever seen. In the brief period since we arrived the temperatures have climbed, but when we first came it was always below zero in the morning and didn’t get above freezing during the day. Things change fast in Alaska. Today, just nine days since we got here, the morning temperature was 23 and we are hoping for 40 this afternoon.

Daisy was here last summer, and she knew immediately where she was. She was alert for rabbits (actually, arctic hares, white at this time of year.) Although there are rabbit tracks all over the snow in the woods, we haven’t seen any rabbits from the living room window where Daisy perches on the back of the sofa to watch for them. Fluffy was very glad to be released from 4 days of driving. He and Daisy somehow communicate, and he seemed to be looking for rabbits as well. (On the island they both chase deer out of the yard.)

Both poodles were eager to go outside, but the cold seemed to upset them. Daisy limped from cold paws. They didn’t want to stay out long. After a day they began to acclimatize, and seemed to enjoy walking. Fluffy is very obedient and always comes when called, but Daisy only comes when is suits her. I thought that she would be afraid to run off into the deep snow. I made the mistake of letting her off the leash.

Daisy knows where the rabbits live. She immediately dashed over the high bank of plowed snow in the driveway and headed off into the woods. For the most part she could run along on top of the snow; it is soft, but she is very tiny — she only weighs 6 pounds. Every few yards she would sink in and have to scramble up. She was determined, and she soon disappeared into the wood.

I was in despair. I hesitated, then, although had Jerry told me not to, I climbed over the bank of plowed snow and tried to follow her. I found it impossible to walk in the deep snow, so I started to climb back over the mound of plowed snow. I was stuck. I shouted to Jerry who was on the road. When he finally heard me he said, “Wait, I’ll get the shovel and shovel you out.” It was cold. I was afraid for both me and Daisy, because the temperature was below zero. Jerry decided not to bother with the snow shovel, and he began to pull me out. Later I said to him, “I was heavy, wasn’t I?” “No,” he replied sweetly, “But it would have been easier 30 years ago.”

By the time I got inside the house I was cold and wet. The snow was inside my boots and under my jacket. I was sure my dog was lost; would get stuck in snow or not know the way home and would freeze to death. Jerry said he would go back down the road to look for her. I stood at the living room window, trying to see the road which is some distance down the long driveway. I wondered when I was going to start crying, and then when I would stop.

I saw Jerry coming back up the driveway, and at first I wasn’t sure, but gradually I knew that he had a little black poodle cradled in one arm. Relief washed over me. He had found her trotting along after him as he walked down the road by the rabbit patch. She was caked with ice and shivering. I know she’d do it again in a minute, and she isn’t going to be off leash again.

Now the snow has kind of subsided (rather than melted) and isn’t so deep. The afternoon temperatures are mellowing, and the poodles enjoy their after dinner walk up the road. They romp in the snow, Daisy always on the leash, Fluffy off.

The sled dogs tethered to their huts across the street bark at them frantically. Fluffy responds with a few barked insults and pees on the driveway entrance.










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6 Responses to Sled dogs and poodles

  1. dale says:

    Oh! I’m glad you got back, & I hope you’re warm & toasty now!

  2. Jan says:

    For some reason, I imagined Daisy and Fluffy as standard poodles, not teacups. I’m glad Daisy returned, safe and sound, and that you are safe and sound, too.

  3. annie says:

    Oh I am so glad that Daisy returned! I would be so distraught! My Daisy is a big pit bull!

  4. zuleme says:

    Hope you are thawing out there in the Frozen North. I’m almost ready to plant peas.

  5. lisa fitch says:

    I was wondering, if my miniture podle, 10 lbs has never lived where is is cold, ie SF area, would he be able to hike in snow for an hour or two? Is there such a thing as a doggy snow suit?

  6. Old Woman says:

    Lisa, Fluffy is just 10 pounds. At first both he and Daisy (5 pounds) disliked the cold and could only walk for a few minutes. They would begin to get cold feet, limp and shake their paws. But after a few outings they really got to like it. Their coats were quite long. As the snow began to melt off the road they preferred to romp in the snow banks piled up by the plow.

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