Stardancer Historical Freight Dogs

Two Rivers, Alaska

 

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Meet the Stardancer Historical Freight Dog Team

A good dog is so much a nobler beast than an indifferent man that one sometimes gladly exchanges the society of one for that of the other. William Francis Butler   

    The Current Team:

  • Seamus- Swing, team and wheel dog.
  • Nels - Swing, team and wheel dog.
  • Capella - Swing, team & leader in training.
  • Orion_ - Swing, team & leader in training.
  • Beau - Swing, team and wheel. Can lead sometimes.

 

Retirees:

  • Chinook - Pet and Weight Puller

  • Torus- Retired Leader and Trail Boss

 

Waiting At The Entrace to the Spirit Land:

  • Daisy -Traditional Freighting Lead Dog

  • Gump - A traditional "Up River" Dog, and a True Canine 'Gentleman'.

  • Sheenjek - Team and wheel dog.

 

The Current Team

    These are the dogs who are active, full-time members of the Stardancer Historical Freight Dogs team.

 

Amazing Grace

Grace sitting still

    Although she's not a freighting type of dog Grace's story is very interesting.  Grace came from a non-mushing pet home and was relinquished to Loving Companions Animal Rescue at around four or five months of age because she was "hyper and destructive."  When my training partner and I first saw her run we were astounded by her talent.  We immediately pulled her from the rescue and began training her with an eye toward running her in the lead position.

    Grace was a bit of a head case, prone to stereotypical pacing.  After consulting with a certified canine behaviorist she was diagnosed with canine obsessive compulsive disorder.  We removed all corn and corn products from her diet, gave her melatonin supplements and starting changing her environment two or three times each week.  That, combined with running her on sled dog teams as frequently and as far as possible seems to have resolved the symptoms.

    Amazing Grace is an exceptionally talented little girl.  In her very first season running on teams she developed into a fine lead dog who frequently responds to cues more quickly than her more experienced running mates.  You can see a photo of her running in lead beside Torus in the 2008 Jeff Studdert Passenger Race at the bottom of the page. By the end of the 2009/10 mushing season she was capable of running as a single leader, and has been leading teams throughout the 2010 - 2011 season.

 

Just

Just is on the small side for the Stardancer team, but this little lead dog has a huge heart. He came to us from the Daisy Acres rescue kennel and is a true treasure. He always maintains a tight tugline while running, he knows his left from his right (most of the time) and is a very willing and able worker. Just is shy and aloof with strangers, but readily approaches people he knows seeking affection. He is one of the few Stardancer dogs who is 100% reliable when off lead, regardless of the setting or circumstances.

 

Rose

    Rose and her brother Nells were a wonderful gift from Dillingham musher Kyle Belleque.  They came into the Stardancer yard in March 2007 at 9 months of age.  Their mother is "Lucky" is from Will Forsberg's kennel in Healy from a breeding between a "big Mackey dog" and one of Will's famous 70 pound black dogs.  Their father is "McKenzie", a Hedlund Gray Husky from Kim Fitzgerald's team in Knik. 

    As a yearling Rose had run in every position on the team.  Today she is one of our primary lead dogs. The polar opposite of her brother Nels, Rose is very aloof and avoids interacting with humans other than ourselves.

 

Seamus

    Seamus (pronounced "SHAY-mus") is probably an Anatolian Shepherd Dog / Alaskan husky mix who my wife adopted as a thirteen week old puppy only weeks before her death.  When visiting the Fairbanks North Star Borough animal shelter, shelter staff members told her that he is an Irish Wolfhound / Doberman mix although his shelter paperwork described him as a German Shepherd mix.  Thinking that was of Irish Wolfhound ancestry we gave him a traditional Irish name.  Later assessment by a professional animal behaviorist and trainer determined that he is more likely an Anatolian husky mix.

  Regardless of his breeding, Seamus is an incredibly enthusiastic 70 pound athlete who began his mushing career by running at the wheel position with Mike Green's team three winters ago.  Mike and I have both been amazed at his sheer exuberance on the line.  Seamus loves to run with the team and has been known to bark out his complaints when the lead dogs slow down or the team is stopped for a rest break. 

    Seamus runs well in every position except lead.  His temperament is that of a social butterfly.  When hitched up front tries to turn around to play with his buddies rather than lead them down the trail.  He is very well socialized to both humans and other dogs.

    Anatolian shepherd dogs are livestock guardians, and some of that heritage is displayed in Seamus' behavior.  He will prevent strangers from messing with "his" stuff.  He won't allow strangers to mess with his truck, his harness or other gear, &c.  In addition to guarding his stuff, he has also guarded his team and last fall protected his team mates by driving a wolf away from the yard.  Once he's been formally introduced he is easy to handle and a joy to interact with. 

 

Nels

    Nels and his sister Rose were a wonderful gift from Dillingham musher Kyle Belleque.  They came into my yard in March 2007 at 9 months of age.  Their mother, Lucky" is from Will Forsberg's kennel in Healy from a breeding between a "big Mackey dog" and one of Will's famous 70 pound black dogs.  Their father is "McKenzie", a Hedlund Gray Husky from Kim Fitzgerald's team in Knik.

    As a yearling Nels ran in every position in the team.  When running lead he quickly becomes bored and then tries to play with his running mate, often resulting in a big tangle of dogs and lines.  In all other positions he is a strong and consistent worker who puts heart and soul into the task. Unlike his sister, Nels loves interacting with all humans and is bold as brass about seeking human affection.

 

Capella

    Born to be a Stardancer, Capella was whelped on July 24th, 2008 from our dog Torus and Kyle Belleque's bitch Lucky. She is named for the 6th brightest star in the northern sky, the closest first magnitude star to the celestial north (The "north Star" Polaris is only second magnitude). As a two-year old Capella is showing a considerable amount of potential as a lead dog, and is already a hard working teamate in either the swing or team positions.

 

Cassiopeia

    Another born Stardancer, Cassiopeia ("Cassie") was whelped on July 24th, 2008 from Torus and Kyle Belleque's Lucky.  She is the most mischievous puppy of the litter, who boldly goes where no other pup dares to go. She is a very enthusiastic worker in the swing, team or wheel position but is too distractible to show much leader potential.

 

Orion

 

    Another born Stardancer, Orion was whelped on July 24th, 2008 from Torus and Kyle Belleque's Lucky. Even as just a wee little puppy we knew there was something special about him, but we couldn't quite explain what we were seeing. Today he is a strong leader in training and can run in any position in the team.

 

Beau

Beau was a gift from a junior musher who graduated to a larger and faster team. We got Beau at about 6 years of age and he's truly a wonderful sled dog. Beau can run in any position in the team and is a passable trail leader. He causes so few problems that one almost forgets he's even there. He's just a lovely guy with a lovely temperament and tons of work ethic.

 

Retirees

Chinook

    We adopted Chinook from the Fairbanks North Star Borough animal shelter when he was about six months old.  Today he is an 8-year old St. Bernard / Alaskan husky mix who is a big bloody love muffin.  Chinook is a tremendously strong weight puller and has been trained to pull a travois or a toboggan loaded with camp gear by himself.   During the 2006/07 season we ran Chinook in the team. He is a hard worker but sometimes can be very scrappy with running mates, especially other males.   Rather than deal with squabbles we reserve him for running on the Sacco cart, weight pulling or rarely allowing him to run in a single swing or single wheel position. 

    Chinook isn't nearly so huge as he looks.  In working condition he weighs in at only 73 lb.  He is 24 inches tall measured at the withers.  His thick coat always makes him look much heavier than he actually weighs.  We sometimes joke that he is a St. Bernard / Fence Jumper mix who takes after his daddy.  He is an accomplished escape artist who has been seen clearing a six foot fence, digging under the fence and chewing through the fence in order to cruise the neighborhood.  In the past couple of years he has been much better about staying home.

 

Torus

Torus came to us from the Rogue Summit Racing Kennel as a 9 year old Yukon Quest and mid-distance race veteran, originally from Eric Butcher's team.  Torus is a dog who would run lead for anyone willing to drive him. He gets along well with all the other dogs, was a truly brilliant gee/haw leader. In all regards, Torus is an exceptional dog. 

It isn't unusual for retired racing dogs to find new working homes in less demanding teams.  As Manny and Tammi grew and developed a faster team Torus wasn't been able to maintain the higher speed, but he was a great match for the Stardancer Historical Freight Dogs team.  He's one of the very best lead dogs we've ever seen and it is an honor to provide him a retirement home. 

In 2008 we bred Torus to Kyle Belleque's bitch Lucky, resulting in a litter of 6. Three of the puppies went to Kyle's Nushagak Kennels working team, and the other remain shining stars and hard running members of our Stardancer Historical Sled Dogs team.

Torus was retired at the age of 12 years after suffering a shoulder injury during what should have been a very easy, short training run. It was his second injury of the season, but clear evidence that his aging body was not longer able to tolerate the demands of working. He enjoys going on very short, slow runs while training the youngest leaders. He remains an honored member of our kennel and family and will do so until he draws his final breath.

 

Waiting At the Engrance of the Spirit Land

The Darling Daisy

Darling Daisy, Queen of the Kennel

 Daisy was our first leader, and even when she could no longer physically manage the longer distances we frequently run, she still loveed to work and played an important role in training younger sled dogs. Daisy was a 9-year old Alaskan husky when we adopted her from the Fairbanks North Star Borough animal shelter where she was relinquished when her owner suffered a catastrophic medical problem forcing him to move to town.

In her prime Daisy ran at 73 pounds and she was the type of husky frequently referred to as 'freight dogs', 'village dogs' or 'trapline dogs.' Historically such dogs were bred primarily for pulling moderate to heavy loads while performing the day to day tasks associated with a bush subsistence lifestyle. Until the late 1960s or early 1970s they were the mainstay of bush transportation in Alaska. A bush family's team of village dogs was their equivalent of a modern family's SUV or pickup truck.

Daisy was whelped in the prestigious Denali National Park kennel, where freight dogs are still used for hauling freight and patrolling the back country. The paternal side of her pedigree included dogs from very prestigious racing lines, including Swenson, Attla, Bruce Lee and others. All of the dogs in her maternal pedigree are Denali Park dogs. Daisy was adopted as a yearling by a park neighbor who ran her with a freight team hauling supplies into the bush.

Daisy was an awesome command leader, a lead dog trained to respond to directional cues such as "haw" (turn left), "gee" (turn right) and "straight ahead". Some of my sprint racing friends liked running their young leaders beside Daisy because she was a very good teacher and helped the younger dogs learn to respond to verbal cues. I nicknamed the old girl Darling Daisy because her temperament was always very sweet. She was an even tempered girl yet was the undisputed queen of the dog yard throughout her life. She didn't have to squabble to maintain her crown, she was simply recognized as the Queen and all other dogs bowed to her will.

She was having a tough time in the autumn of 2010, unable to gain weight and having a rough coat. On November 11th she went in for a vet visit, at which time we placed her on meds hoping to stimulate her liver and gall bladder. In spite of receiving half again as much food as any other dog in the kennel she was not gaining any weight at all to speak of. A sonogram confirmed our worse fears. Daisy had a tumor and some cavities in her liver. On November 24th, 2010 we decided that the kindest thing would be to euthanize her before she started hurting. I stayed with her through the entire process, and as she took her last breath I choked out her final cue, telling her to "run free, little Darling. Run free."

Gump

    Gump came into the Stardancer kennel in Ocotober, 2007.  He was a classic "Upriver" aboriginal husky originally whelped in Eagle, Alaska.  His birthday was December 3rd, 1998. 

    Gump was trained by the original breeders and then sold to a musher running a trap line in the Fortymile River country for some time.  He was recovered by the original breeder when his trapper-owner fell into hard times.  Some of the dogs had already starved to death and Gump and the other survivors were in dire straits.  Once rescued he was turned over to a rescue foster home in Fairbanks, nursed back to health, and ran lead on her rescue/rehabilitation team. 

    Gump was transferred to the Daisy Acres rescue team when his foster needed to go Outside for an extended time, and from there he came to the Stardancer yard.  Gump is a very friendly dog with no hint at all of shyness.  His behavior and temperament is that of a "gentleman".  He gets along very well with all the other dogs and seems to love all the humans he's ever met. 

    Although he was claimed to be a leader, he was not particularly driven up front.  When running back in the team he worked much harder, and seemed to do especially well when running in the wheel position beside Sheenjek.

 

Sheenjek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like Daisy, Sheenjek was an Alaskan husky "village dog.  Sheenjek was one of Daisy's pups and died at the age of 11 years old.  Although he was too easily distracted to be a good leader when hooked up in the wheel position, Sheenjek was in his element, pulling hard throughout the run.  Wheel dogs are harnessed closest to the sled and provide the strength and power needed to control the sled, especially in corners and tight turns.   

The moment I saw Sheenjek at the Fairbanks North Star Borough animal shelter I knew he was coming home with me.  He was the most striking working sled dog I've ever seen.  Standing 27 inches tall at the withers and weighing in at 83 pounds, he was also one of the largest working sled dogs I've ever seen and we sometimes refer to him as our "mega-mutt". 

Sheenjek displayed many traits common to the large freight dogs in common use in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries.  He was very friendly toward humans but ccould be a bit scrappy with other dogs.  Like most huskies he was a very intelligent dog with a strong sense of independence. 

 

Caution - Dog's Working

    Here is a photo of four Stardancer Historical Freight Dogs at work, carrying a passenger in the 2008 Jeff Studdert Invitational Passenger Race just days before the Open North American Championship in Fairbanks.