“Is that a wolf?”
“These are Hedlund Huskies, actually. They come from Points Unknown, an educational sled dog adventure business in Hovland, Minnesota on the Arrowhead Trail.”
This is the repeated phrase used in town when we take the dogs out to meet with people and be socialized. Many mistake the dogs for wolves, as they’re large and some do in fact look pretty wolf-like. Points Unknown is dedicated to educating the public in the Hedlund Husky story and keeping the line running. They hold the largest number of Hedlund’s in the world with a kennel of 30 or so. Points Unknown leads adventure tours, which includes basic training in sled dog life and a ride, usually in the basket. You can learn to run a team if you sign on for a multiple day adventure.
These dogs came out of Alaska in the mid-1900’s and were bred for running trap-lines for subsistence living. They are a very versatile bunch, with the ability to amp energy up to drag freight (Linda, the boss of the outfit, has clocked them running at least 22 miles an hour), but become calm and docile while waiting in rig. As a result, not only are these dogs ideal working dogs, but they can also be good house dogs.
Summer life with the dogs is a quiet and calm one, with a focus on bonding and playtime. We, the interns, have a focus on the dogs and establishing relationships with the dogs so that in the fall and winter runs the dogs will know us well enough to listen and carry out the verbal commands given in training. We are also fixing kennels and learning and maintaining the trail systems.
I get up at 6 in the morning to let out the house dogs, then crawl back to bed for an hour or so before true wake up call, when I make food for myself and prep pills for those dogs who take medication. We start feed at 8 AM and clean the kennels as we go. The kennel is set up so that the dogs do not live on chains, but have kennels and a kennelmate if they get along with another dog (only one does not get along with others and has to live in his own kennel). Most days the dogs are then let out in hour and a half play groups and the rotation begins. They have ample room to run and play and we will brush and examine them in between cleaning up the yard, such as checking for scat and inspecting fences.
On the occasional day we do things differently, we will take peanut butter and dip their Nyla-bones in it so they have a little enrichment while we go out of the area, usually with a few dogs to hike with. So far I have been to Mount Josephine, Grand Portage, Mink Mountain, High Falls (both the US and Canadian side), and a state park up the road. Canicross is a lot of fun, and also a lot different from normal hiking. The dog attachment is very helpful ascending, but very…strenuous in the descent.
We feed the dogs around 4 PM once again for evening meals, and then finish whatever we need to in the yard before coming in to either make dinner or wait for it (we do dinners in rotations). We tell each other what we’ve been working on during the day, and check in on certain dogs and how things are coming along.
There is one other intern at the moment sharing a bunk with me. Amy got here last Sunday and we’ve been getting along very well, especially when we’re trying to get Phoenix to cuddle up in the bed with us as we watch tv shows on our laptop, courtesy of the local library. She is from England and it’s been a lot of fun learning, believe it or not, cultural differences. Michelle, who will be coming the day after I leave, also came up last week for a visit to check things out. We all went to a local Pow Wow and canicrossed with the dogs. I’m sorry I can’t work with both of them this winter season.
The night eventually ends with nighttime pills for the dogs that need them. I’m a little old lady at heart, and like my 9:30 PM bedtime, so generally I’m curled up after 8:30 with a book or a movie.
I set myself up with several goals while I’m here, like diving into Lake Superior, which I’ve done. Gotta tell ya, it’s very cold. I want to swim across Esther Lake and back. While the swim won’t be more than a hundred yards or so across, it will be cold and a little unnerving to me (I do not like it when I can’t see the bottom). Amy has agreed to do it with me, so one of these days while it is still warm we’ll be heading out to the lake. We’ve even called loons there and been answered; Michelle is very good at it.
It has been a good interaction with the sled dog world, a world many animal advocates tend to balk at because there are so many horror stories out there. My own dogs have taught me over the last few years that the sport is fun and a good way to alleviate stress all around, and I wanted to delve further into this world to see how a chainless kennel runs. I have even been able to add some new skills to the list at Points Unknown, teaching how to clean teeth to my fellow interns and soon my boss. The dogs are happy, lovely, kind souls, and I am very happy to be learning here.
Every week starts on a Sunday, according to the calendar that is tacked on my barren wall. The thing about calendars is that they only seem to focus on full moons, Christian holidays, and patriotic milestones. So there is all that white space, and even when we decide to write in the box, it’s to say important things you have to remember and think about. It says, ” Heartworm Meds,” “Dr. Apptmt,” “Mom B-day.” They don’t say what you do everyday of the week. They don’t say that you carry three part-time jobs. They don’t say that you moved in with two boys and cleaning rotors are a joke. They don’t say that you spend probably 10 hours of your week driving back and forth from the three different jobs. Calendars are quiet, because if we filled them in with everything we do our hands would cramp and we would have to highlight the numbers in the box corners.
My non-calendar life starts in the first box, the Sunday box. I wake, normally groggy, to drag on several layers of clothes that (in theory, courtesy of Ohio weather) will keep me from freezing in the predawn morning. I let the dogs out and feed them and prep my own. I dash upstairs and brush my teeth, trying to avoid the creaky floorboards and failing miserably. I pull on the dogs’ collars and harnesses and attempt to keep my dignity as the two burst out the front door and I almost spill my chai all over the front of my hoodie. We drive the 15 minutes to the Riding Centre, the back windows cracked even though it’s freezing out. Beretta and Marcie spend the first few minutes bouncing around the front yard and I drop my keys and travel mug in the tack room. The dogs have to go in the bathroom while we let the horses out. When freed, they get to wander around the front barn, tied together so that Marcie doesn’t decide to run off. I work with the morning feeder and usually a volunteer. The dogs “help,” but are really there to provide entertainment and cuteness. When we go to the back of the barn, I let the dogs off leash and Marcie gets to sprint around the indoor until she’s ready to drop. We toss the water buckets in huge glinting arcs and I swear to myself I’m going to do more sit ups so that my back won’t split in half. When we’re finally done, we all slowly trudge back to the front of the barn and try not to take a nap in the heated tack room. The dogs and I hop back in the car eventually make it back to the apartment to clean and eventually try to take a nap.
Monday we repeat the process, only I leave Marcie with Ethan and Beretta and I go an hour earlier to the barn. We spend more time with the horses and I throw hay from the loft, taking care not to fall off the edge as I swing the bales. At the end of our shift, I sit on the bench with Yana and Adrienne, nursing the rest of my chai or smoothie until Dark Star opens in town and I have to start my shift with the books. Beretta and I walk through downtown Yellow Springs and do an odd dance at the front door until we can get through to clock in. I take a stack of books and head to the back, usually saying, “Off to our corner to make no noise and pretend I’m not here.” Beretta curls up next to my chair and I flip on an audiobook and start entering new books for Ebay. I take photos of the books, attempting to steady my hand and sometimes not getting a blurry photo. I enter the book’s information and try to sell it well enough. After a few hours we clock out and head home to do yet another round of cleaning and most likely a co-op assignment.
Tuesdays I get to sleep in. I love sleeping in. However, if I sleep after 8 AM my brain hates me. I only go to Dark Star on Tuesdays and it’s almost like a day off.
Wednesdays are the same as Mondays in the morning and early afternoon, but instead of going back to the apartment, Beretta and I pack up and head two hours up I-75 to home. He hates long car rides, but we get through them. I take all of the laundry up as well. Ah, the life of a college student. Who enjoys parading their underwear in front of strangers when they can just drag it to their parents’ home? But I digress. The gate is usually free of pigs and goats and donkeys at night, so we don’t have to move them out of the way, which certainly helps. I’m usually bowled over by the two cutest pitbulls, Lolly and Cady, when I drag myself, my laundry, and my computer through the front door. Mom and Dad usually follow after them, but thankfully don’t try to knock me down. After I toss all the laundry in the wash, I crash on my tiny twin bed with Beretta and Lolly and occasionally a cat or two. Getting sleep is interesting, and usually Lolly is the only one who stays in the bed with me, tucked under the blankets, her head propped on the pillow next to me.
Thursdays my alarm goes off at six, and I try to pull myself out from under Lolly, who immediately applies her 70 lb self to my chest. I pull on leggings and a hoodie and grab my homemade gangline, hooking in the pits and the former sled dog and we start running. The first 100 yards it feels like I’m flying because the pits pull so hard. At 8:20, after a shower, I kiss Beretta on the top of the head and trot out the door, driving another hour and a half to Sylvania and the Animal Behavior Center, where I volunteer to learn what I can about animal training and enrichment. Mostly I do enrichment, making toys to keep the animals from going crazy. And sometimes, I commune with the crow. After my shift I go to my grandmother’s in Maumee and help around the house when she lets me. I make dinner and we chat, eventually ending up on the couch with a bowl of chocolate bridge mix. Sadly, I’m the first one to turn in, being the oldest 23 year old I know.
Friday I bid farewell to my grandmother and go back out to Sylvania to make more enrichment toys and work/play with the new blind and deaf puppy who has planted her cute little self in our hearts. Despite all that, I watch the clock and sprint for my car when my shift ends. I drive myself back home, fingers tapping the wheel. When I get home, it’s me that bowls the dogs over, especially Beretta. I have dinner with my family and then it’s back on the road. We get to the apartment late and crash into bed.
Finally, Saturday ends out the week. And once again I work. Beretta and I go to the Riding Centre and then to Dark Star. At the end of my shifts, Beretta and I return home to vacuum and clean up the apartment a little until Ethan gets home and we make food or go to the grocery store.
The calendars are blank, but our lives are filled. Dogs are walked. Groceries are bought. Books taunt us from the bedside table. Netflix screams with the possibility of yet another Office rerun. Jobs take up most of our time. We spend time with our loved ones. School looms in the future. I don’t really know how my classes loop into my current jobs, but I know that I’m ready for the future. I’m ready to work outside and/or with animals. Winter is here, and it’s settling in.