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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Indoor Whelping Box

The puppies are now 2.5 weeks old which means they're getting around much more and making more of a mess! These are the steps in creating a functional whelping box set up for this age puppy. Any earlier, and the puppies are too small and can get wrapped up in the bedding and suffocate. Step 1 - Clean the bottom of the whelping box that has a cleanable surface, in this case vinyl tiles, with a bleach spray and rinse thoroughly. Wipe dry. Lay some traction material that one might buy to put under a rug, on the bottom of the whelping box. All done while puppies are safely tucked away in a laundry basket. Note the padding all the way around the whelping box. This is to make the puppies' exit from the whelping box safe.

Step 2 - lay some absorbent material over the traction mats.

Step 3 - Place a couple bath mats over the top of the absorbent material. These will allow the moisture to wick away from the puppies and into the absorbent material.

Step 4 - Put puppies gently back into box

Step 4 continued - watch as they ALL pee on the newly cleaned material

The little exit on the right has a door that can be placed to block it off, however, we found that Rayna then tends to jump in and out which isn't safe for the puppies so we plan to leave it open and puppy proof the entire room.
Their little personalities are shining through!

Everyone is exploring and playing. They especially like sucking on their siblings' noses.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rayna/Arrow Puppies: 2 Weeks Old

Granite - Male - 4lbs 5oz
Vistonic - Male - 3lbs 14oz

Gucci - Female - 3lbs 5oz

Lobo - Male - 4lbs 1oz

Tikan - Female - 3lbs 9oz

Flame - Female - 4lbs 3oz !
Typhoon - Male - 4lbs 2oz

Coco - Female - 3lbs 14oz
Did I say that these are some BIG puppies! Wow, they just continue to grow so quickly. They were introduced to toys and a new area last night. We've got a puppy cuddle chart to make certain the pups are getting picked up and held at least 8 times each day. Feet, toes and ears are played with and fur is stroked backwards and forwards so that the pups become very acquainted with the human touch. They are doing so well and so is Rayna. They began to notice each other at about 10 days old and eyes fully opened at 12.

Rayna/Arrow Puppies: 1 Week Old (December 4th)

Granite - Male - 2lbs 14oz !

Vistonic - Male - 2lbs 10oz
Gucci - Female - 2lbs 3oz
Lobo - Male - 2lbs 5oz

Tikan - Female - 2lbs 5oz
Flame - Female - 2lbs 9oz
Typhoon - Male - 2lbs 8oz
Coco - 2lbs 8oz

All I can say is these are BIG puppies! Looking over statistics of previous litters I've found that these guys are significantly larger at this age. Rayna is a very good mom and giving far too much of herself, like most moms do.

Rayna/Arrow Puppies: Birthday on Turkey Day

Granite - Male - 1lb 4oz
Vistonic - Male - 1lb 3oz

Gucci - Female - 14oz
Lobo - Male - 1lb 2oz

Tikan - Female - 1lb 3oz

Flame - Female - 1lb 2oz

Typhoon - Male - 1lb 2oz
Coco - Female - 1lb 2oz

After over 24 hours of labor, Rayna had eight healthy puppies on Thanksgiving Day and what a day it was! Sleep is NOT overrated. We have a half and half crew with four males and four females. We chose our puppy names out of the lineage of the puppies as these puppies represent three different lines in our kennel. Typhoon, Flame and Gucci are named after relatives/ancestors in the Bassich line. Coco and Granite are named after relatives/ancestors in the Zulu line. Lobo, Vistonic and Tikan are names found in the Hedlund lineage. One thing noted about these particular pups it that they absolutely hate being picked up by the scruff and have yet to get used to it. We do this with all of our puppies at an early age to desensitize them. Not quite working yet with these pups.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ready? Let's Go! by Claire Hendry

Claire runs a team with the ATV

        “READY, LET’S GO!”  The sudden explosion of movement forces me back on the ATV, bringing my feet off my carefully chosen spots, rocking my body backwards and immediately silencing my whir of apprehensive, even nervously excited thoughts. The sort of thoughts one might expect when one relocates thousands of miles away from home, away from family and friends, away from a student filled city with pubs and clubs on almost every given street, to live and run dogs in the heart of the North Woods; the famous Minnesotan Wilderness. ‘Am I going to like this?’ I think as I plonk down on the ATV with the dogs attached to the front for the first time. ‘I hope I like this. Oh, what if I don’t like this? I’m not exactly an adrenaline junky… I mean, I cried when I tried to ski every time I went for 5 years. Gah, this better not make me cry, that would be embarrassing. Phew, just chill out Claire. Breathe. Okay, don’t breathe that hard you’re going to look as if you’ve escaped an asylum or something. Breathe in. Is this a good place for my feet? There’s not any other place for them so it better be. Why do I have such big feet! Breathe Out. Am I holding on tight enough? Oh, yeah, I’m starting to lose blood flow to my fingers, probably tight enough. Breathe in. Oh my… okay Linda is getting ready to go. Breathe out. She’s asked me if I’m set to leave…. Breathe in. You know what? I’ve never wanted to do anything more.’ Breathe out. “I’m set”.

        I wish I could describe to you, in sufficient detail, the feelings, the sights, the sounds and the smells of my first fall training run through those woods but I’m afraid my writing skills aren’t anywhere near proficient enough to do so. If they were perhaps I could tell you about how the icy air, which might seem bitter and cruel to others, seemed to welcome me and paint my face with fresh clean kisses. Perhaps, I would be able to share with you the quiet in my mind as I watched a sea of the richest, fullest green unravel before me, interrupted only by shocks of white and black birch. Perhaps I could explain to you the sense of weightlessness my heart achieved as we would jump and spring over rock and stump, or the thrill of evading the sweet smelling slap of a low hanging balsam branch. Perhaps I would find the words to explain the marvel of seeing the team of gorgeous creatures before me, effortlessly and elegantly crisscrossing the lumps and bumps that would probably cause me to break a bone if I ran above a mere trot. Or how humbling it is to be able to witness them in full stride, fulfilling the task they were bred for, still meeting their side of the agreement that was forged thousands of years ago when humans and dogs first worked together, seeing this relationship still benefit both beasts and be carried on from the bare roots. Perhaps I could describe how joyous it is to stop and walk out to praise each dog, their big spooling tongues and wide open mouths like giant grins to expel the heat, making them look like they’re all bursting with laughter at some secret joke. Or perhaps I would be able to thank the people at Points Unknown for giving me this chance to be here, nestled in the quiet embrace of the wood, for filling my heart with the sort of unrivalled love you can only feel for the selfless, loyal creatures that dogs are, or for filling my brain with more than I have ever learnt before, allowing my body to grow stronger and my soul fuller. Yes, perhaps if I could only put it into words you would be closer to knowing just how my first fall training run went. Alas, the metaphors and alliteration and writing techniques I learnt so begrudgingly in high school do not quite match the feeling you can only get from this incredible experience. Perhaps you’ll have to come try it yourself?

“Woah!”. The run was over, we were back at the kennels. Linda jumps off. “How was that?” she asks smiling. I grin, but how could I explain all those feelings? “Good!” I reply, overjoyed at now being able to answer my own initial question: yes, I am very much going to like this.

By Claire Hendry

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rayna's Puppy Journey

Rayna (left lead in the photo) on her last run on day 24

Me and my Arrow

Rayna is a licker!

Arrow leading with White Feather

We’ve love it if you followed along on our puppy journey! So, let’s start at the beginning. We chose to breed Rayna, a Bassich line Alaskan Husky, that came to us three years ago from a homestead 12 miles down the Yukon River outside of Eagle, Alaska. She was brought into the kennel for genetic diversity in our current Hedlund and Zulu line breeding program and we fell completely head over heels in love with her and were smitten not only with her, but with her intense work ethic and leader ability. Arrow was the chosen one for Rayna; this big, burly, thick-coated stud has everything we desire in our dogs. Eager-to-please is by far his greatest attribute, passed down from his papa Oken who is also quite an amazing sled dog. Arrow is intensely strong and trail focused. Becoming a reliable leader, Arrow takes his job very seriously.

Rayna was bred to Arrow on September 26th and then again on September 28th.  After being treated for a vaginal infection after three days of bleeding, a month and a half previously, we were concerned that the current heat was potentially a split heat which means that there was a possibility that she could not have been ovulating, thus no puppies.

Rayna is likely to whelp (have her puppies) between days 60 and 63. On day 21 after her first breeding, Rayna began to refuse her food and vomit was discovered in her kennel. All good signs that she was pregnant!

The food refusal ended on day 31 when she began to eat regularly; however, she became pickier about when and what she ate.

We’re now on day 33 with no real physical signs of a pregnancy but plenty of behavioral signs. Rayna has become more possessive of her things and is also digging when she has not been a digger.

Because we stopped Rayna from working in the team on day 24, we are making sure that she gets lots of other stimulation to keep her active. She is free in one of our big play areas for much of the day with one of her male friends, Phoenix. After dinner, she comes in for the night and spends time lounging on the sofa. As her pregnancy progresses, she’ll be in much more during the day. We’re excited to be putting up the whelping box next week, in one of the spare bedrooms, so she can begin getting used to it. She and pups will remain inside until everyone begins jumping out of the whelping box, at which time, we’ll transition them outside in a thickly strawed and insulated dog house.

We’ll be giving more frequent updates on Rayna and all of the dogs at Points Unknown on the Points Unknown facebook page so please visit us there!

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Day in the Life by Rachel Sicheneder

Rachel runs a team with Rayna and Phoenix in lead

A Day in the Life; Dog Handling in the Northwoods

As I walk into the dog yard cold air hits me in the face. I take a deep breath in of the cool crisp air; feeling myself waking up bit by bit; waking up with the morning. My headlamp illuminates the kennels in the weak early morning light. Dogs pace back and forth; anxious for their first meal of the day. Even though it’s too dark for anyone to see I smile broadly. I love feeding in the mornings; saying hello to each of the dogs has become a centering way for me to start my days.

I open the first kennel and the two dogs within it burst out as if exploring the dog yard outside is the sole reason they woke up. I laugh out loud watching them run and play. Friendly growling, tail biting and chasing each other around, the two dogs are bright and alive. I call their names and they both lift their heads. Theirs ears perk up for a second as they register the command and then turning in a circle both of them barrel back into the kennel. It’s breakfast time! I hug each one of them individually. Feeling their ribs I check for anything that might be abnormal. After I am sure nothing is amiss and no one is gaining or losing any more weight than they should be I grab the five gallon bucket full of kibble. Immediately all eyes are on me. One of the dogs in front of me stamps her paws and whirls her head around in circles; a little happy dance I only get to see at feeding times. The other dog sits patiently and cocks her head. Her eyes glance from mine to the five gallon bucket and then back to me “It's kibble time! Look at my good sit! Feed me!,” she seems to be saying. I giggle and scoop out food for each of them. As I slowly make my way through the kennels the sun starts to peaks its head out of the woods to the east. Vibrant pink and red hues paint the sky above me and for a moment, with dogs running around me and giving me kisses, the world is complete and vivid and full of magic.

After feeding I set up the ATV for our fall training run that afternoon. I take care to ensure that the gang line, quick release, tug and necklines are all in working order and safety attached. I’ve learned to do this task slowly and methodically. A fray or loose carbiner can have disastrous results for a dog team and even though the tasks are now routine I take special care with each connection; making sure everything is secure.
In the afternoon when it is time to run the other handler working with me, Claire, and I walk into the dog yard with leashes. As I walk past kennels dog ears windmill and eyes follow me, “she has a leash! Is it me! I want to run! I want to RUN!” There are some excited yips and as I approach the kennel I’m headed to the dog whose name I’m speaking hears me and jumps into the air in a triumphant leap “I’ve been chosen! I’m going to run!” I let the dog out of the kennel and marvel at how fluidly he runs towards the gate. Every time I see one of these dogs run it feels like a special present, their limbs and muscles respond so fluidly with the rest of their body; sometimes it takes my breath away. 

Claire and I hook all the dogs up to the ready line and start to harness them. Nervous yips and barks abound. The dogs are anxious and excited and amped up and ready. One big floppy eared beauty, Wyakin, lies down after he is harnessed but continues to make small yips of excitement. Other dogs stay still but tremble with anticipation for what is to come. I spend time walking down the line and petting each dog. Dogs that are not normally affectionate seem to lean into me on the ready line; needing support and reassurance.
As we start to hook up the dogs to the gang line the noise level rises in the kennel. All the dogs still in their houses howl and pace. Their turn to run will come but still they’re jealous of everyone out of the kennel. The leaders of the team look back in anticipation at the ATV. They are still holding the line tight, but they too tremble with eagerness for what is to come. Their position in front of the team is not an easy one especially at hook up; with all the noise and dogs behind them they need to stand forward; keeping the team tight and in line.

I start to wrap the quick release as Linda hops on the front of the ATV. Excitement and butterflies rise in my stomach as she starts the machine. Starting off running, even in the fall, always gets my adrenaline pumping. With a “Ready, let’s go!” from Linda the team is off. The ATV jerks a little as the team accelerates; the downfalls of fall training are such that the ride is not very smooth. But in my mind I imagine what we are training for; sleds and snow and clean cold rides through wonderland. Regardless of the rocks or gear changes however, running the dogs still thrills me. Their long bodies trot and lope down the trail effortlessly. I am reminded yet again why I love mushing so much; animals doing what they were made to do; what they love to do. Like watching a musician play or a famous basketball player shoot hoops to watch sled dogs run is to watch nature in its element.

We stop for water halfway through the run and panting dogs eagerly lap at the bowls I put in front of them. With their tongues splayed out everyone looks like they’re smiling. Mud dots some of their noses adding a comical look to the wheel dogs. I pet and check in with everyone giving praise and checking to make sure no one looks like they are hurting or tiring to easily. Finishing the run with a “Whoa” we unhook the dogs and take them back to the ready line. In stark contrast to how amped up everyone was an hour ago now most of the dogs are lying down; waiting to be taken back to their houses.

As the day closes and we finish all of our runs the dog yard quiets down. Everyone got out and now dogs lay relaxing on their houses. Some of them curl up like cats with their tails tucked in, dozing off and waiting for evening feeding.  I breathe in deeply, inhaling the clear air of the woods around me. My muscles are tired and sore as I stretch my arms up to the air above me. My body too feels the run we did today and the stiffness feels good, reminding me of the work I accomplished. 

As Claire and I enter the dog yard for evening feeding I laugh loudly in response to the eagerness the dogs show for their kibble. Each dog’s personality is strikingly different; making it hard not to think of them as little people. We play and hug and say good night to each dog, softly talking with each other in between kennels. As we enter the final kennel Claire starts to sing quietly. Her clear voice seems to echo among the trees and I close my eyes briefly. Calmness descends with the end of the day. The sky once again blazes hues of orange, red and pink and with one final howl the dogs tuck themselves away in their houses. 

Rachel Sicheneder
Points Unknown Dog Handler

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Introducing Rachel Sicheneder

Rachel cuddles with Q before a run

Rachel was born in the suburbs of the Twin Cities and some of her earliest memories are of camping in state parks and forests near her home. Her parents instilled in her a sense of adventure and respect for nature that has continued to be a foundation for how she views the world.  She attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA and earned a Bachelors in Biology. Her degree has taken her all around the world for research including Costa Rica, North Carolina and Africa. Despite the thrills of traveling, Rachel always felt drawn to Minnesota and the north woods and returned home in 2012. She went on an adventure with Points Unknown in 2014 and fell in love with the dogs and quiet lifestyle at Irish Creek Homestead.

Last year Rachel quit her job as a natural resource contractor to realize her dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. She completed her hike in the beginning of September and is excited to be once again back with the dogs and in the woods. She didn’t have dogs growing up and is using all the furry friends at Points Unknown to make up lost time. After her time up north she is heading to Officer Training for the Coast Guard and is crossing her fingers hoping she will get placed somewhere cold with sled dogs!

Please welcome Rachel to the Points Unknown team! She'll be with us through December, helping with fall and early winter training.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Passing of Special Friends

Blueberry at 11 years old, taken last winter.

Bazil at 11 1/2 years old, taken in early spring of this year.

It has taken me nearly two weeks to reach the point of writing about the passing of two very special furry friends. Honestly, it still has not fully sunk in and I have not been able to properly grieve either of them due to the busyness on the homestead since their passing. Since Blueberry's death was only a day after Bazil's and was completely out of the blue, I have not even begun the grieve. I am still in shock and filled with feelings of disbelief.

Dogs. Yes, they are dogs. No, they are not "just" dogs. Each and every one of these loyal, honest, beautiful, compassionate and passionate fuzzy beings that comes into my life holds their own very special place in my heart. My heart turns upside down when they depart. The loss is felt deeply. Each one comes into your life for a reason. You may not fully comprehend that reason at the time, but as time passes, it does become more clear. They each teach you something new about yourself; about life. And if you don't think they do, then you aren't paying attention.

Since they passed somewhat "together", I feel it fitting to memorialize them together. Where they close with each other while living? No. They didn't have much of anything in common, on the surface and had no relationship to speak of. I have yet to discover their similarities. Blueberry was a 22lb unique mix of Beagle, King Charles Spaniel and something with the whitest blue eyes you've ever seen.They were curious as they also had a very deep blue ring around the pupil. He was, in all aspects, an eccentric soul, beating his own drum, nose to the ground, sniffing, sniffing, sniffing. The beagle was quite apparent in him.

Bazil was from my very first husky litter in 2002. I raised him to 6 months old and then circumstances surrounding a poor marriage and subsequent divorce made it sadly necessary for him to leave me. He came back for a few weeks in 2007 when he bred Tuloon and we had a glorious time together. I remembered why I was deeply in love with this soulful dog and I didn't want him to leave. Several months after he departed, I packed up all of the dogs to head up north to spend the winter. I was told that Bazil got out of his kennel, jumped a fence, ran across a frozen lake, jumped over my backyard fence and was found sitting in front of my vacant back door, waiting to be let in. My heart was broken hearing this story. Surely this would have been an indicator of where this beautiful boy wanted to live.

Each year, there was a chance to bring him home, that was then eventually thwarted by the indecision of his keeper, until this year. My dream came true when, in early spring, I got the call that Bazil and all of his furry companions were available. Neil jumped in the cube van within a couple days of this call and brought them all back. Bazil came home! The reunion was filled with tears and wags of joy. At 11 1/2 years old, Bazil was no longer a working dog; his body had grown to frail. His mind was still sharp and his soul filled with light. He so enjoyed his daily free runs in our big fenced play areas, time on canicross hikes and moments spent in the house with us.

The spark in Bazil's eyes began to fade just four days before our trip to the vet. He appeared to long for another place. Perhaps a place free of pain. You see, Bazil was unable to keep food down those last days. He seemed less interested in food. It was confirmed at the vet that he had a tumor, likely cancerous, that had likely spread to his organs, making him unable to keep food down. I feared this would be the case. I just lost his sister, Sweet Pea, last month. The wound for me was still very raw. But despite how I felt, Bazil needed to be in a better place and after a few deep breaths and an "I love you, Bazil. See you later." I let him go there. After all, he did finally make his way back to me. He came home. Things had come full circle for us. I think this happened for a reason. I couldn't be selfish. He needed to continue on with his journey.

I came home from the vet that afternoon, feeling that hole in my heart, compounded by the fact of loosing Bazil's sister last month, as well. I walked the house dogs and went on with the rest of the day. Nothing seemed unusual, except this hole, and the house dogs helped to comfort me that evening.

I awoke to the sounds of Blueberry gagging as if something was in this throat. He did this on occasion when he would snatch a ball and roll it to the back of this throat and had for many years, every since I picked him up at his Second Chance Rescue foster home. There he was, a seemingly confident, yet somewhat standoffish, pretty 1 1/2 year old fluff ball. I searched for a friend on Petfinder for Copper in 2005 and found him! Interestingly enough, Copper never really paid much attention to him nor he to Copper. Blueberry was attached to my hip; my velcro dog. Where I was, he was there or would be shortly. He soon grew to be a big part of our puppy socialization crew here at Points Unknown and did his part to teach them what he knew. He came along dutifully on our remote adventures, either hiking in with his booties and jacket or being wrapped up in a heat blanket, in a crate, on the back of a snowmobile as we make our way into the cabin. He was up for anything and everything.

I didn't give Blueberry's gagging noise a second thought that morning because, as I said, it wasn't uncommon. What was uncommon, however, was that it progressed with more intensity and frequency. He lost interest in his food. This dog ALWAYS eats his food. He vomited, had runny stool and then when going to get a drink, he laid right down next to the water bowl as if not having enough energy to continue. At that point, I just thought he had a stomach bug but that we did need to get him into the vet that day. Off we went, fully expecting to bring him home and begin our evening routine of couch cuddling.

While waiting for the vet, Blueberry seemed to decline rapidly. I laid him on my lap, stroking his head and he walked away from me and laid down on the floor by himself. He was in pain and didn't want to be touched. This broke my heart. When he began to cry, my heart sank and I ran out to alert the vet that we needed her to come soon. A full exam found a golf ball size tumor inside Blueberry's throat. Based upon how he was presenting in the vet's office and everything that had gone on at home prior to the visit, she hesitated and was nearly in tears when she said that it was likely a cancerous tumor that had spread to his organs. He was in great pain.  She told us that she could give this news to any other people with less emotion but because it was us and we had just been in the day before, she couldn't hold herself back. Blueberry continued to cry.  I told Dr. Amanda that it must be done NOW. I did not want this little dog to suffer for one second longer. It wasn't fair to him, despite my wanted to spend more time with him. We just went into the vet for a stomach ache. He didn't get any special walks or treats or fun before we left. We just all hopped in the truck with the intention of us all coming home.

Blueberry left quickly and was at peace after an "I love you, Blueberry. I'll see you later." . I, on the other hand, was numb, in shock, and filled with feelings of disbelief. What just happened? What the hell just happened?

We returned home with Blueberry's collar and leash in my hand. I saw Claire through the window and shook my head as tears, again, began to roll down my face. What just happened?

I spent the next couple days looking at each and every one of our 25 remaining sled pets and 2 remaining house dogs wondering who was next. Was that sneeze, just a sneeze? Wait. What was that look? Was that a limp? I decided I must shake myself out of this state and quick for it was not a healthy way to move forward.

Now I sit, eyes filled with tears, writing the story. Feelings of closure are beginning to appear. The lessons, however, will still come trickling in. I look forward to those lessons.

September Birthdays!


Rayna from our Bassich line of Alaskan Husky, turned 3 years old on September 25th. She's a fantastic sled dog and leader, as well as a mild-mannered and gentle companion

Zala, Zodiak, Q and Oken turned 7 years old on September 26th. They are from our 2007 Tuloon/Bazil litter and are half Hedlund and half our Points Unknown Zulu line. They are all exceptional sled dogs with Zala, Oken and Zodiak being leaders. Q definitely has leader potential, however, since he returned to us only this past spring, we have yet to explore that potential.



Q baby


Rayna/Arrow Breeding 2014


 We just bred Rayna and Arrow and are expecting puppies around Thanksgiving! 

 Rayna is from the Bassich line outside of Eagle, Alaska who we brought in to the kennel to provide some genetic diversity to our line. At 75lbs and 30" at the shoulder, we're hoping she brings some size into the females in our line who tend to be in the 50-65lb range. Rayna is a strong leader that is eager-to-please and she's a quick learner. Her temperament is mild mannered and steady like our deep Hedlund line. Rayna has an exceptional build. We are quite certain that these will be outstanding puppies!

Arrow is from our Hedlund Husky line with a dash of our Zulu line mixed in for good measure. He's 31" at the shoulder and weighs 78lbs. He is as eager-to-please as they come and is such a happy, goofy boy. His work ethic is outstanding. Having just started his leader training late last winter, we can see that special spark in him that comes from his papa Oken, one of our very best leaders in the kennel. Arrow has the dense coat we look for in our traditional line of sled dogs and an excellent structure.