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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Apple Blossom Bloom in April!

I caught this honey bee gathering nectar and pollen from our apple blossoms.

One of the many red winged black birds that resides on our Oake Lake paradise.

Look closely and you'll see the pollen sack on the honey bee's leg. They pack the pollen into these sacks with their legs and when they fly into their hive there is a little brush that flicks the pollen out of the sack and into a tray below the hive. Pollen is a super vitamin and has the highest protein content of any food. Now that's amazing!

Caught in flight

On the approach...

Honey bees are amazing creatures!

'Tis the season when honey bees begin gathering the nectar they will then turn into honey and the very precious beeswax used in our Scent from Nature: 100% Pure Beeswax Candles!

The apple trees in our orchard are blooming much earlier than I can remember. Since winter ended the beginning of March this year, it is only natural that everything else would be early.

I was able to catch on disk, some of our special worker bees in action as they pollinate and gather nectar from our apples trees. How exciting it is to watch them go from blossom to blossom!

The bees zoom through the sled dog kennels on their way too and from their destinations. Many of the dogs jump up and try to snatch them out of the air and each time, can't seem to remember or don't seem to care that they sting! Sweet Pea is notorious for this. I recall the first time she was stung on the snout. One side of her face swelled up to double its size. Benedryl saved the day. Now she is able to snatch them with no reaction to the stinger venom. I figure that she is only making the bee population stronger by knocking off the weak ones. It's survival of the fittest for our honey bee friends once they enter the dog kennels!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Zala/Phoenix Breeding

Photo by Hailey
Zala is a half Hedlund Husky/half Zulu line Alaskan Husky.
As you can see by the look in her eye, she is intensely focused on her job, never slacking. She got her Uncle Klaus' work ethic and for a female that is only 45lbs and 24 inches at the shoulder, pound per pound, she does her job and takes up the slack for anyone else in the team. She is a quirky, silly girl when off duty and has been a firecracker from birth, always thinking.

Photo by Don Deckert
Phoenix is a deep Hedlund Husky line Alaska Husky.
The look in his eyes tell it all. He is a sweet, kind and honest dog. He does the job of two and is extremely attentive in open country lead, taking turns on a dime. When he was younger and learning to pace himself, he often had to be unclipped from his tug line because he pulled so darn hard we thought he might hurt himself before he figured it out. Phoenix weighs 70-75lbs and measures 29 inches at the shoulder.

With the unexpected and upsetting lose of two dogs in our kennel this year, we have no choice but to accelerate our breeding plans. Topa and White Feather were to be our next candidates for breeding, however they are far too young at the moment. Tuloon has had two litters and that is enough considering both were difficult for her. Our only other intact female is Zala, a half Hedlund Husky, half Zulu line firecracker of a sled dog.

We initially had decided not to breed Zala purely because of her smaller size. In all other aspects, she is an excellent example of a well rounded, hardworking, traditional sled dog. With our current needs and due to the fact that we recently were startled to hear that there are so few intact Hedlund Huskies left, we had to change our direction. We do run the risk of having smaller females from this pairing, even with the sire's 70-75lb weight and rangy build. However, we run an even greater risk of losing this line all together if a concerted effort to disperse the Hedlund genes is not made. Zala's pups will have to be assessed for size in addition to all other desired traits and those that don't meet the standards must be spayed/neutered.

Phoenix has a mix of sizes in his family tree as does Zala. When dealing with an Alaskan Husky line, there can be so many different variables one must just choose the most desired traits to pass on to future generations. Genetics is a roll of the dice. First and foremost is the temperament and then we move down the list from there.

We are hopeful that this pairing will produce dogs with sound temperaments and builds, good coats, excellent work ethics and dogs with amazing leader potential as both parents are leaders. Size will be the wild card.

Big Accomplishment

And the digging begins!

All done!

Rebecca was finally able to fly home to England last Wednesday, four days after her scheduled departure, when the airlines thought it safe to be in the the same skies with volcanic dust from Iceland. She said that it was bitter sweet as although she loved more time here with the dogs, she was missing the start of her last term and it would be a big job to catch up with the school work.

During her extended stay, she began to dig out the back yard kennel which had been, at times, unusable due to the black dirt base. Our plans were to dig down at least eight inches, dump a load of sand then top it off with patio pavers. This area would serve as the kennel for older puppies or dogs transitioning in the evening to the house. The pavers would make this area extra clean which translates to extra clean dogs. After our research concluded that pavers would be far too expensive, we will opt to lay down some dig-out wire then top it off with several inches of a sandy base which allows for better drainage and cleaner dogs. Basically, this is the same system in our main kennels.

Not only did Rebecca begin digging out the kennel, she finished the morning she left! With our very limited schedules this time of year, she helped us out immensely. I was actually a bit envious as I would much prefer to be outside working around the dogs than be sitting in front of my computer doing appraisal work all day. Thanks so much, Rebecca! You were a great help and we look forward to having you back this fall!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Difficult and Heartbreaking Decisions



Ilu was diagnosed with discospondylitis which is an infection in the vertebrae. It is a blood borne infection that could have been caused by a foreign body, an injury or it could have just "happened" with no known cause. The good news is that he is likely to live a relatively pain free life with extended treatment. In 100 cases studied, most return to normal function. "Most" refers to pet dogs and not working dogs. The area of his infection is a very vulnerable one in the first place for working dogs. It is probable that he will not return to work and after much thoughtful consideration we've decided that he must be retired.

In a small working kennel where a dog with Ilu's condition will more likely than not be left behind alone when we all take to the trail and a dog of Ilu's breed, a Canadian Inuit Dog, is not suited as a house pet and even more so in our situation with two little dogs already ruling the house, the question is what is best for Ilu and what options are available to him? Being left behind would crush him and break his spirit.

When I began dog mushing I would hear other mushers speak of "kennel management". It felt like a dirty word to me and I refused to even consider that it might become necessary at some point. I am afraid that after struggling with this concept for a few years now, it is indeed a reality for a small working kennel. If there was unlimited space in our current kennel situation and/or he could become a house dog things would be different but, sadly, they aren't.

A dear friend, Genevieve, who happens to be the co-founder of the Inuit Sled Dog International organization and who is currently providing a wonderful retirement home for our Tukisi and Isis, now 11 and almost 12 years old, offered to provide a retirement home for Ilu. Adding more sadness to the situation for us is that Inuit Dogs bond so closely with their kennel mates and separating them would not be in their best interest, therefore we will be losing Icoa, Ilu's mother, as well. We aren't sad for them because they will have a wonderful life. We are, however, very sad for ourselves and our kennel as those two are dear to us and have provided so many smiles and good memories for us and our guests over the years.

Ilu will remain on 1000mg of Cephalexan 3 times a day for six weeks. At which time he will have another x-ray to see if the infection is subsiding. The real clue will be how he is behaving. Right now, he is guarding this area and when he bursts into a run he yelps in pain. He is on pain relievers as needed and anti-inflammatory medication to stop the swelling and help with the discomfort. Today while running I heard no yelp, so I am hopeful this medication will work. He is likely to remain on this antibiotic regime for up to a year as this type of infection is very difficult to attack as there is not a very strong blood flow to the area affected. During his treatment and after he will enjoy daily romps in the Canadian bush with momma Icoa, be pampered with hugs and home made dog food daily and bones weekly. They will have it extremely well!

Thanks to all of you who have offered kind words of support to us during this difficult time. Send positive vibes Ilu's way!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Topa at Obedience Class

Topa does exceptionally well during our "meet and greet" exercise which is designed to teach the dogs to remain calm next to us while we interact with others and do other things without being focused on them.

Topa's first "stay" exercise done only a short distance away.

Topa did an excellent job yesterday at obedience class! It took her the first class to really get used to the idea and this week she just blew my socks off! Although worried at times about the intentions of other dogs around her, she remains attentive to me and is giving super eye contact.

The instructor directed us in several different exercises the help move her though this fear of the unknown. One in particular involved each canine/person team weaving through a line of about a dozen other canine/person teams. After repeating this numerous times, she appeared unconcerned.

Dropping treats on the ground in random areas of the training area proved to be the perfect set up for some on-by training. While those not involved in dog mushing used the command "leave it" with their dogs, our command is "on-by" which will be the same command that transfers to working in the team when passing something tasty(squirrel, horse poop, etc) or interesting on the trail.

Topa gets a week off and White Feather attends next Saturday. Wimzi continues to do well at her puppy class. With Hailey and Rebecca along this week, each dog got some extra socialization as neither had to be placed in a crate during the other dog's class. Hailey even got up and took a turn at working with Wimzi on her obedience which teaches the little fuzzy puppy that she may be called upon to listen to what others have to say as well as her musher, at times.

Relaxing in the Dog Yard

Hailey and Rebecca relax with the dogs

Sweet Pea

Phoenix is just chillin'

Everybody wants a brush!

Sweet Pea is such a happy girl

Typical Sweet Pea with her ears back and silly expressions

Phoenix is such a goof!

Tuloon is teaching Topa a lesson as White Feather looks on

Rebecca in a sea of sled dogs

Dog Yard "Chores"

"Someone" commented over the winter that when we do our spring dog kennel clean up, we really need to clean the nasty orange sled on which the dog food is transported.

Rebecca carefully scrubbed out each dog crate and let them air dry.

McKenzie is one of the first to shed

The aftermath

Tuloon's coat just exploded over the weekend

I'm not certain I like the word "chore" for what has to be done on a daily basis to maintain a team of sled dogs, the dog kennel and the dog yard because this implies that it is a hard and unpleasant task. Hard at times yes, but unpleasant, most often no. We'll have to come up with another word.

If there is passion for something, engaging in any part of the lifestyle associated with it uplifts the soul. Whether it's moving dirt in the dog yard, moving through the woods silently on the runners of the sled as the dogs move to the rhythm of their breathing, cleaning dirty straw out of dog houses, cuddling with the dogs as you stop for a break on the trail, scrubbing the dog crates, spending the morning at obedience class with one of the dogs, brushing the dogs, traveling with the team over virgin snow on an endless frozen lake, administering heartworm medication to the sled dogs or any one of the thousand and one things that come with this chosen lifestyle, to put it simply, its all good!

This past week was spent scrubbing dog crates, cleaning out the dog truck, moving gravel in the dog kennels, brushing the first shedding dogs of the season and spending endless time with the dogs. Hailey and our English visitor, Rebecca, get the credit for nearly all of this and I am truly thankful for their help. Due to the current volcano eruption in Iceland, Rebecca's stay has been extended until the winds shift and flights resume so she'll get even more chances to engage in this musher's lifestyle that she has adapted to quickly and appears to be enjoying. (Minus the wood tick factor. It's that time of year!)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Oken Plays with (Fends Off) Wimzi

Oken is shedding and looking more naked at the moment. We still wait for Wimzi's ears to become fully erect. As you'll see, this is one of only a very few photos I was able to take where Wimzi isn't blurry!

There she goes with the tail grabbing!

Maybe if I put my leg over her she can't bit my face any more.

Face biting

More face biting

Oken tries to ignore her

Now there's a fancy move.

The little alligator is back.

Now she tries to bit his legs to see if she can get a response. Little stinker.

English Visitor Gets a Glance into the Lifestyle of a Musher

Rebecca with Oken

Klaus and Oken were the house visitors last evening.

Rebecca arrived on Saturday from England and will be staying a week to get a glance of the lifestyle with sled dogs. Unfortunately for her, winter is over and she'll be seeing us all in the off season which is a very different picture. At the same time, she can take this time to really get to know the dogs so that if it works out for her to come again during our Fall and Winter seasons, she'll at least have a head start.

Mastering the art of poop scooping, Rebecca has now moved on to walking the puppy and visiting the sled dogs while the musher works away at the computer, being very careful not to let anyone escape from their kennels. She received an introduction to Canicross Hiking a couple of days ago when we went for a short hike with Zala who showed Rebecca how a real sled dog does her job. This was also the puppy's first time in harness and pulling from a short leash. With Zala ahead to follow, Wimzi was set up for success and did a wonderful job for an 11 week old pup.

This morning our guest was fortunate enough to see how fun it is to feed the dogs in the pouring rain. Klaus and Oken had the privilege of spending last evening with us then spent the night outside in the kennel near the house. This pen is a temporary pen with only a black dirt base. Had we known it would be pouring rain over night they would have been relocated but we didn't and they weren't. Oken managed to stay on top of his dog house and out of the mud but Klaus just wallowed in it. He loves to get dirty and wet. Upon approaching the kennel this morning, I was greeting with literal mudslinging. Wonderful. Rebecca held Klaus while I hosed him down and then both dogs were put back into their pens for feeding. I then hit the shower myself.

More exciting new experiences await Rebecca. She'll take a break from the dog yard later this week and spend a day at the Mall of America while the appraiser/musher does her job around the city. On Friday, Hailey arrives for the weekend which will give Rebecca a chance to spend time with an American her own age. And on Saturday before our guest boards her plane back across the pond, she and Hailey will attend puppy class with me, Wimzi and Topa.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

White Feather and Sasha Go to Class

White Feather during play time

Sasha sits for a treat


Today was White Feather's turn at dog obedience class as she and Topa are alternating weeks. White Feather took to it quite a bit more quickly than Topa. Topa was a bit too concerned to stay focused for very long. I'm sure next week she'll have an easier time of it as it won't be "new" anymore. This was Wimzi's second class and she continued to amaze us with her focus and eagerness to please. At 11 weeks old she's got a consistent "sit" and a very good "down" and "wait" and does not pull on the leash when walking.

Chris, our excellent dog handler, joined us with Wimzi's sister Sasha. Those legs of hers just continue to grow longer and she has a wonderful coat and beautiful markings. Wimzi went out of her way to immediately show Sasha that she was the boss and after the initial reintroduction during play time, they took turns pinning each other to the floor during subsequent play periods.

Sasha is a bit less focused than Wimzi at this stage but did catch on quickly. She was very outgoing while meeting new dogs and the new surroundings didn't bother her in the least.

Fun stuff!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ilu's Back Pain Returns

Ilu rests in his crate while the sedatives wear off

I rolled over this morning to turn off the alarm clock at 6:27AM, hoping to avoid being jarred by the obnoxious sound of the alarm in just a few minutes. I was delighted, when, at exactly 6:30AM on the dot, I was greeted with the call of a loon. The loon's have been scarce on Oake Lake for a while so it was a wonderful start to the day.

After spending an hour in the beeswax candle workshop and feeding the little house dogs, I was awake enough to head out for a visit with the sled dogs and to give them their breakfast. All was well in the dog yard until I came to Ilu and Icoa's kennel. Ilu was his rambunctious self alright but he was still in obvious pain. As he ascended the ramp that leads to the top of a low dog house, he yelped out in pain. Back in February we visited the vet for what appeared to be a sprained back. With all of the ice in the kennels, this wasn't hard to believe. We went home and Ilu was on rest and pain and anti-inflammatory meds for two weeks. After which time, he was back in harness but only doing light work. He seemed just fine until a couple weeks ago when he began to walk stiffly. When the vocalization of pain began, we knew he needed to go back in for a check up.

The vet took x-rays of Ilu's back today and will be sending them to the University of Minnesota Orthopedic department for analysis. The x-rays showed a fuzziness near the sacrum which can indicate a bone density difference. We are trying to wait patiently and are hoping for the best. If he can't be a working sled dog, our hope is that he can still live a pain free life.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Surprise Envelope!

Group Photo

The "dog garage" is converted into a classroom for the winter with straw bales as benches.

The leaders are hooked up first as I explain what we will come next.

Sweet Pea gets in "the zone" before she's harnessed.

McKenzie was caught on film in one of his mid air jumps. This is to get my attention so I don't forget to harness him.

All happy now.

Phoenix checks back to see what could be taking us so long while Tuloon keeps her eye on the trail.

We head out on to the lake to show the Girl Scouts what dog sledding looks like.

We then head into the dog kennels to begin meeting the dogs!

The girls learn how to harness the dogs.

All smiles

Icoa and one of our guests.

We received a surprise envelope today from Girl Scout Troops 13180 and 12515 that included a beautiful 8x10 group photo, a lovely "Thank you" note and a CD of photos taken from the day.

What a wonderful gift to remind us of winter now that it has so quickly gone away. Thank you for this lovely reminder!