Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sept 28, Rabies Awareness Day

I know the mushers are all responsible dog owners and all their dogs must have current vaccinations to compete but this is still an issue of critical importance to everyone who works with animals and folks who spend a lot of time out in the woods, mountains and deserts because many wild animals are infected and some seem to be carriers without appearing to be ill. Rabies is a very dangerous and nasty disease and we all need to know about it so I am passing along this article from a farm magazine. We'll get back to mushing and Alaska next post, I promise!

Rabies Awareness Day, September 28

Although the rabies virus is commonly known for causing a life-threatening disease, many people are unaware of what exactly it entails and how to prevent its transmission. In honor of World Rabies Day on September 28th, here is some information to help further raise awareness about rabies and how to help protect your family and pets from this deadly disease.
Rabies is an infection affecting the central nervous system, or brain and spinal cord, of humans and animals. This infection is caused by a virus that is transmitted primarily from bites, wounds, scratches, or tissue from an infected animal. It is nearly always deadly if not treated before the beginning of symptoms.
“Symptoms include fever, lethargy, seizures, and ultimately paralysis,” said Dr. Stacy Eckman, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “This paralysis can include paralysis of the muscles that control swallowing, leading to a ‘fear of water’ or ‘hydrophobia’ that is often described with rabies.” Behavior changes leading to abnormally aggressive behavior may also occur.
Since humans and animals alike usually become infected through a bite by a rabid animal, many believe that it will be easy to tell when or if the disease has been spread to them. However, it is entirely possible for rabies to be transmitted to you or your pet unknowingly. Bat bites or scratches, for example, may be so miniscule that they go unnoticed.
“Bats are the most common carriers of rabies in the United States,” said Dr. Eckman.  “It is important to always avoid any contact with them. If you have come into contact with a bat, inform animal control officers in your area so they can submit the bat for testing, if possible, and contact your doctor.”
Although bats are the biggest threat to humans, household dogs can easily contract the disease if bitten by another infected dog or animal.
“Worldwide, dogs are a common transmitter of the disease via bite wounds,” said Dr. Eckman. “But it can also affect humans, cats, farm animals, raccoons, and many other warm-blooded animals.”
The time from exposure to the virus until symptoms appear is usually only a few months, and unfortunately, once symptoms begin, there is little hope in humans for survival.
“There are treatments that can be given after a bite and before symptoms begin (post-exposure) that are useful,” said Dr. Eckman. “They include human rabies immunoglobulin, followed by a series of rabies vaccines given over a two-week period.”  These shots help the body's immune system destroy the disease in its early stages, and getting them before symptoms appear is usually helpful in preventing infection.
However, prevention is always said to be the best treatment, and that couldn’t be truer when it comes to the rabies virus. The easiest method of prevention is to always steer clear of unknown or aggressive animals. This includes avoiding contact with stray dogs, bats, or any wild animals, as well as avoiding the handling of a dead animal.
Depending on the situation, preventative rabies vaccinations may also be a recommended method.
“Vaccination can greatly reduce the risk of infection for people who have a high risk of exposure, such as those who work with animals, including veterinarians,” said Dr. Eckman. “Companion animals and farm animals should be appropriately vaccinated by a veterinarian.”
If you think that you or someone in your family has been exposed to the rabies virus, wash the affected area with soap and water for five minutes after potential exposure and seek immediate medical attention. Rabies is more common than you might think, and preventing its transmission to you or your loved ones is the most effective form of treatment. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Aug 10, of Dogs and Celtic knots

Another re-post about the August 2014 trip. This one sets forth a very special day that was, as I say, a real highlight of my trip. It was amazing to actually meet and talk to Aliy and then to find her one girl puppy this year is named Ginger really put the cherry on my Sundae--and it was Sunday, too!
This afternoon I made it out to Skunk's Place, Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore's kennel. Skunk was her first sled dog and the name commemorates him, Aliy is just as real, sweet and funny as I had expected, totally warm and genuine and her smile could light up a room. She is one of those rare women who are beautiful for the light that shines out from inside them. She loves her dogs and loves everything she is doing and it shows. Her husband is a great guy too and they make a real and powerful team. I even met her parents who are wonderful folks about my age. They now winter in Florida but summer in Alaska and help support the SP Kennel efforts in many ways and their "grand dogs."

Aliy and Allen do not farm dogs out in the summer as they say the dogs can pick up bad habits and get confused by different handlers and different ways of running them even with hand picked people so they stay home. They get to vacation in the summer because they do not do well in heat and just take free walks and such, no pulling. Then in September the actual training cycle will start again.

They breed most of their own dogs and have a plan on that but occasionally go outside and pay a stud fee to get a specific bloodline or trait strengthened and prevent too much line breeding. Just one litter this year, four boys and one girl about four weeks old. You will never guess what the little girl's name is!! Would you believe Ginger?? I got a photo of Aliy holding her. I have to tell my Ginger that she may have a namesake running in the big ones in a couple of years. So see what I mean by Celtic knots? What were the odds of this happening? Sled dogs get all sorts of names from mythology to sports and TV figures, goofy ones like the puppies Mary Shields is fostering and so on. But Ginger--you could have knocked me down with a feather!!

I was part of a small tour group, several of which Aliy knew or knew of and even one of her old high school buddies from down in the lower 48 but I got a little one on one time with both her and Allen and the parents and got hugged twice and a picture together. All in all I was a kid meeting my rock star or sports hero and even got a pic with little Quito, Aliy's fantastic little lead dog; I think she will be retired soon but she has been awesome. Everyone was enthused about the book plan and that was very validating to me, also. So without a doubt this was the highlight of my trip but it has all been great and there are a few days to go yet. There is no doubt I have to come back and that is a good goal to march toward, the next checkpoint so to speak. This race of mine is far from over but I'm off to a great start!!

A week from tonight I will be getting to the Anchorage airport about now to turn in my last rental car and wait for my late night flight back to the desert. It is still my beloved home but Alaska has definitely taken a foothold in my heart, especially the wonderful dogs.

Monday, September 15, 2014

August 8, Adventures in Fairbanks

Note: For readers here who may not have heard about all of my plans for the Alaska trip, let me explain that Mary Shields is truly a legend in her own time. She was the first woman to complete the Iditarod, doing this the second year of the race, 1974. Then, when the Yukon Quest was started about a decade later, she also completed it several times, the first woman to do that as well. Of course I had to see her!


I called Mary Shields while I was eating breakfast and she could get me into a tour today so I decided to strike while the proverbial iron was hot. I already knew the way for the most part but asked directions again. Turned out I had passed her sign and gone too far up the last road yesterday but today I found it easily.
Mary herself is precious, a kind of hippie grandmother, but this  lady has done some fantastic things. Back in 1974 she decided it would be fun to run the brand new Iditarod mostly because it was a chance to cover a whole lot of new territory with her sled and dogs! At the start in Anchorage some spectator shouted to her to turn around now and stop while she could. She got her dander up and thought no darn way! So she ran the whole thing, finished in the middle of the pack just ahead of her frenemy, Lolly Medley, (the two were the first women to attempt and complete the race)  Mary then turned around and mushed back over half way home until the thawing Yukon stopped her and she had to be flown the rest of the way. She has also done the Yukon Quest and a special international trek across the Bering Straits to kind of commemorate the migration of the early people from Asia to the western hemisphere.

She came out from Wisconsin to work for the Campfire Girls one summer in the early sixties before she finished college; the next year she stayed. She decided she wanted to build a cabin and live in the woods but ended up rehabbing an old existing cabin and staying there for a while about half way down the train track to the Denali Park but then ended up in the Fairbanks area.She now has a gorgeous log cabin that is more of a neat, modern house inside but made of huge birch logs a foot or so in diameter. It also has a sod roof with wild berries growing on it! I took one shot outside but felt it would be too intrusive to take pix inside. She also has a beautiful flower garden with some veggies mixed in that is her pride and joy. I am just blown away by the flowers up here. They are astounding—everywhere you go.

She still keeps four dogs and may try for a litter in the spring with one female and keep a pup or two since one of the four is getting old and she has lost three the last two years, She still takes them out camping in the winter and drives them several times a week in the winter as well. She has a heavy old style sled she uses most, not a racing sled. She is also boarding three pups, litter mates, for a friend and they are terrors but adorable.

She has twenty acres up in the hills above town, about eight miles out by my rough figures, but most of it is in woods. It is peaceful and serene. There are neighbors but not wall to wall. I’m not sure I could do the winters—she says there is about four hours of sun in the midwinter time. That would bother me more than the cold, I think in truth.

But she is an amazing lady and full of incredible stories, very warm and caring and a confirmed ecologist or preservationist. I’m not sure what her major was in college but likely something related to that as it began to become popular when she and I were at that age—we are a bit over a year apart. Now she is not anti-racing per se but does feel too many resources are spent on it and it is far too commercial and such. In a way I have to  agree even if it has totally captured my fancy for some time now.

We discussed time. She took twenty eight days to go the route in 1974. She attributes most of the speed now to the breeding programs with more speed and less lugging "tractor power" in the dogs and some of the technology applied. That makes sense to me.

When I got back to the hostel in the afternoon and checked my email, I had a confirmation from Aliy ZIrkle to visit Skunk's Place, her kennel, on Sunday. It has been in the mid 70s today and a bit breezy. Fantastic weather although not so good for sled dogs. They tend to be pretty lethargic and no one runs them when it is warm.

Here is a shot of Mary, one of her cabin, one in the dog yard and one of her flowers!

Monday, September 8, 2014

More from the past--Wasilla to Anchorage to Fairbanks, 7 Aug

The day began very early and was full of potential little glitches but in each case the saints or angels who help travelers were right there for me. It is kind of amazing. really. I drove my rental down to turn in and had understood they were open 24/7 but not true. I managed with a phone call and then called a cab to go the couple of miles to where the bus stopped.That was fine and I got safely to Anchorage but sorting out the city busses was a bit more complex. When I finally got the right one I only had a $20 and they do not do change. The driver pitied me and gave me a free ride worth $2. I told him I would pay it forward. See what I mean??

I sailed through security and then had quite a time to wait before boarding.The plane was actually a big prop plane, not a jet! Two rows on either side of the aisle. I was sitting with a German couple and their son. He seemed to speak English ok and read it but she  not so much. I got a good look at Denali/McKinley but was on the wrong side of the plane to take any photos. That is one impressive mountain. It had clouds about half way up but this massive white bulk rose up from them like a ragged edged cloud itself. That was really awesome, in the turest sense of the word! Makes the biggest Colorado 14K peaks look like hills.  No, I do not want to climb it or even go out there really but I did want to see it.Now I have.

Landed in Fairbanks in just over an hour--faster and easier than driving up the Alaska 1 although that might have been fun. I was supposed  to get a little economy car but they had none so I am driving a Dodge minivan for the same price.I expect it may use more gas but I do not cringe from the big pickups and SUVs anyway! And that is what almost all Alaskans drive.

I found my lodging--very utilitarian but will do for the cost--$210 for a week when a lot of places are that for a day. Then I drove around. There was a musher's museum shown on the map but it really does not exist--if it ever did but a guy walking a dog there gave me  a couple of leads that were helpful. I have  general directions to Mary Shield's  place which I followed enough to know where to go when I set a time to meet with her.

Then I went to the fair, which is still ongoing through the weekend. I located the Iditarod booth and actually met Joanne Potts, the volunteer coordinator I hoped to see the end of next week in Wasilla and the third of the young female mushers who was with Lisbet Norris, not the Red Lantern winner who is from Canada but another young woman from Norway, or at least with Norwegian ties. So that was quite serendipity too. I will call Joanne after I get home probably since she will not be back at ITC Hqs as quickly as Donna Olson had said.

By then I was tired and came back to the hostel, picking up a few microwave dishes etc. at Safeway so as not to eat fast food out all the time. Healthier as well as cheaper. Sharing the room with one young woman of Oriental ancestry but she has studied in England and other places and quite cosmopolitan.Also met a young man from Australia who's thumbing, bumming and sometimes getting tickets to travel all around the north and will be going on to Canada tomorrow. So in a way it is interesting to stay a place like this and meet some young people from many places having their own adventures.

Since there are no new pictures today I will drop in a couple of cute "Husky" shots that I lifted from elsewhere and put in my files. I love the one--say, 1000 miles is equal to forty marathons FWIW!! And that other, now that is a real sled dog! I had to laugh a bit at that. Probably posed but worth a chuckle.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Another re-post--Aug 6 activities

Trains, Planes, Automobiles--and sled dogs!

I almost didn't go down there--it is off a bridge across a kind of slough but it was well worth my time. It is called The Museum of Transportation and Industry and sits about a mile off the Parks Highway or Alaska 1 here just north of Wasilla. There must be twenty acres or so and one big steel garage/hanger sort of building but most of the best stuff is outside except for a few antique cars housed indoors. But wow, there are a number of airplanes since aviation played a huge role in the state's development in the post WW II period.There is also quite a bit of Alaska RR rolling stock to include about four locomotives and several assorted cars and some maintenance equipment, all retired and of various vintages. Then there are lots of the early "Iron Dogs" or snow machines, farm equipment, and autos of many types. It is amazing, really. I took quite a lot of photos and it will take some time to sort them out. It was a really fun place to wonder around even if walking through grass and weeds has given me a bad case of allergy eyes this evening. Hopefully that will clear up with generous use of drops. So should you ever get up this way I recommend this highly.

But of course I am here for the Huskies and I did that today as well.  First I went back out to the ITC Hqs. I talked a bit more to Barb Redington and was quite surprised she recalled me from the brief visit on Sunday. She and I think her father-in-law (need to verify this) were again unloading dogs for the rides and busy but we got in some chatting. I also took a ride this time behind eight of the dogs--who were rearing to go in typical sled dog style. They just go about a mile on a track through the woods behind the gift shop and all. From the feel of the wind in my face I'd say they move as fast as a brisk trot or easy lope on a horse. In short, moving right along. That's me on the cart. And in the back you can see a bootie tree--those objects decorating the small spruce are all booties used by dogs on the race! Is that cool or what?

After that I went up to the gift shop and talked to Donna Olson some more and showed her my first mule article but busses were coming inand she did not have much time. There were two with touring Korean families. Apparently they got a lot of them since Rose and Donna and also Barb Redington have learned a few words to speak to them as not all have much English, clearly. It still felt very special to be there!

Then this afternoon I went out to Martin Buser's Happy Trails Kennels and got the tour--not too many there and very low key and casual. Born in Switzerland, he is very charming and nice. Speaks with a slight subtle accent but very articulate. I got there early--you know me--and he chatted some and let me look at the dogs. His son  Rohn, named for one  of the checkpoints BTW, did a lot of the talk and demo. He has won Jr Iditarod, run the big race twice and is now building his own team. He hopes to be a serious competitor in about two years. Nice and articulate young man. But Dad says he babies the dogs too much! I got a chuckle at that. I suspect Martin is all business when it comes to real mushing.

I might point out that most of these folks are far from the image of  unschooled unwashed sourdoughs. Whether formal schooling or not, they can "meet and greet" and are very much into scientific and medical research and such to improve their dogs and the breed in general.  This stuff is big business.

Busers have a bed and breakfast, do demos and tours and some dogs are in Juneau where helpers give cart rides with them. They also had two litters of pups--nine about ready to wean--maybe 6-8 weeks and four just two weeks old. Of course guests love puppies and these dogs are well socialized. Redingtons had two pups there also; again I'd guess 2-3 weeks old.

Another productive and interesting day. Most of tomorrow goes to getting to Fairbanks and settling in.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

And yet another day in Alaska--Aug 5

Networking and Connections:

This has been a very positive and progressive day. It's all about networking and reaching out to people with warmth and sharing, a willingness to be open and the connections form, link and grow.I was once too shy to do this but it comes easy now and talking with folks on a shared passion makes it easier!

First, as planned, I met with Lisbet Norris, the third generation of Norwegian folks who came to the US and to Alaska back probably during WWII or even before. Her grandparents started the first Siberian Husky kennel way back in the 40s  first down near Kenai and later on a homestead near Willow. They're part of history. Her mother came over from Norway specifically to mush and Lisbet herself has been in Norway and worked in the sport there. She is a very intelligent and articulate young woman and impressed me very much. She said she kind of always knew she'd race but took time to go to college and travel some, learn and grow. Very wise!! Now she'd ready to really dig in to it.

She was a rookie in the challenging 2014 Iditarod
and came in with the final three, just ahead of Marcelle Fressineau who won the Red Lantern.They had traveled much of the race together, three rookies just getting the feel of it. Even so, the time of the three for the race was faster than that of winners back twenty years ago or so. They followed Deedee Jolnrowe's advice to make the rookie run a learning experience and just to experience it with no pressure.

In Lisbet's opinion the biggest difference in the time is the trail. Because the Iron Dog snow machine race is not long before the Iditarod and basically over the same trail, it is beaten down and much more clear and solid than the old days of breaking deep snow and trying to find those illusive markers that may have been buried or blown away. Rarely is breaking deep snow an issue now--even when and where there is snow! Which was scarce over parts of the trail the last two years.

I even met one of her dogs, a two year old female name Mika or Meeka (not sure on this but that was what it sounded like). Lisbet told me this was one pup from an experimental accidental litter she has been working with and this one has become her bed-sleeping pet. Mika is shy like Ginger but finally condescended to take a few treats from my hand while Lisbet held her. She's a beautiful dog, still a lanky "teenager" and Lisbet is not sure if she'll make a team dog or not but will probably give her some chances when the training season gets underway this fall. She says they differ greatly in personality but many "Sibes"  are quite independent and not really wanting to be pets.

I also got a tour of the feed store her family runs, mostly dog stuff, and a good lecture on nutrition. Her father has compiled a formula which he has produced in the Midwest and shipped in that compromises between top quality and cost so the budget pressed mushers can afford it, not the best but definitely in the "better" level than your average commercial kibble.While I was there a couple of customers came in and bought that or other more costly brands and I chatted with one lady who is a musher but not a racer and hosts some of the Iditarod folks who come to train and prepare, especially the Norwegians as I think she is also of that ancestry. She too seemed very excited about my project and will be a good contact and perhaps a help in time. For the most part these are all wonderful people and very open and supportive if you are 'with them' in this special endeavor.

Later I did a little more tourist stuff--drove out to Palmer which is closer to the mountains and very pretty--there is a gorgeous garden in the middle of town that I took some pix of and then I visited the Dorothy Paige museum in Wasilla. She along with Joe and Viola Redington was instrumental in getting the  recognition of the trail and the race to begin back in the early 1970s. She must have been a fighter!

One more from the trip--Aug 4

I am still amazed at Alaska in general. And I've only seen a smidgen of it so far. The woods are so thick you can't see 100 yards in many places. That is a bit claustrophobic but novel. Pretty wild flower in places. I got a few pix.

Had a very brief chat with Deedee Jonrowe. She is up to her backside in alligators pretty much with some family and health issues and I really sympathize with her. So I went on up the highway to Talkeetna, an old mining town and now pretty much a tourist trap. Did all the gift shops and the museum. Got a few souvenirs/presents and took a few train related pix for my brother. They do some rail tours from there up to the Denali Park.

I saw a poster I would love to have bought but it was too pricey It said "God made dogs so mushers would have heroes." Isn't that really cool? I did take a photo of it. Also got some fabric with sled dogs for my long-delayed special little quilt. So it was a pretty good trip today.

Wednesday I do a tour of Martin Buser's kennels near here. He is a multiple Iditarod winner and his sons are now racing. He spoke on that video I saw at the ITC HQs the other day and I was quite impressed. Not sure what I will do tomorrow but we'll see.

Here is a few flower pictures. The magenta is fireweed I think and not sure the white, too heavy for Queen Anne's Lace. And the jagged peaks are across the inlet from Wasilla. Now those are mountains, eth? But nothing to Denali. Oh I learned Susan Butcher and Joe Redington scaled  Denali with a small dog team and sled! Now the park service won't allow so no one will ever do that again. It was quite a feat. Took them over three weeks and bad weather almost got them.