September 24, 2015. Mac and Cheese, by Debbie Clarke Moderow25 Sep 2015, by Uncategorized in
I walk out the door holding a cluster of harnesses. The instant my huskies see me, all twenty erupt in a barking yowling song. Brie catapults to the top of her dog house. Cheddar pounds the ground with her front paws as if she’s pouncing a squirrel. Unable to carry a howling tune, Porcini and Truffle bark and bark. Spaghetti and Bowtie—they live in a pen—mouth each other in jest. They’re so jazzed these handsome brothers bound on top of a dog house at the exact same moment. They collide, fall off, and land in a heap. In a flash they’re up again, yipping and yowling in a canine version of belly laughter.
Mark drives the four wheeler to the edge of the dog yard, and attaches a gangline for the eight-dog team. Meanwhile I look at the roster. I’ll run the first group the morning: the Cheese-Noodle team. It’s made up of four veteran mentor-Cheeses and their rambunctious young proteges, the Noodles.
They’re all related. Brie—our best racing leader—is the Noodle Mom. Muenster and Gouda are uncles, Cheddar the aunt. Together we’ll go four short miles, at a controlled 8-10 mph pace. Each pairing will include a wise Cheese and a rowdy young Noodle. I want to start the season reminding our young dogs about manners on the line.
Hooking up a dog team early in the season is a challenge all of its own. The dogs are strong athletes, infused with excitement; the humans vulnerable to early season sprains while handling these over-stimulated canines. My strategy today is simple: Put the calmest dogs out on the line first, then add the rascals next.
Brie the veteran leader of the team goes out first. As soon as Mark clips her in position, she darts left and right, left and right again. Meanwhile I add Cheddar behind her in swing. Cheddar is usually a leader; she gives me one of those put-off looks. I slip her a biscuit—a sort of peace offering—while my husband clips handsome Gouda into position behind her. Mark watches over the line while I go get Rigatoni. Slipping her harness over her head is no easy proposition. She wiggles and darts, but I get the job done. Even though she’s a rambunctious young girl, it’s important to put her out on the line first, ahead of her partner Muenster. Despite his mature age, he chews on the line as if his life depends on it. Hoping to spare the impressionable Toni from his bad habit, we’ll clip Muenster in at the last minute. Melli the sweetheart Noodle goes into place alongside Gouda. He barks at her, warning that he will not tolerate juvenile trouble. Then come the big boys: Spaghetti and Bowtie. Mark puts Bow next to Cheddar; he towers over her, which only makes Cheddar’s attitude worsen. Mark positions Spaghetti—lunging like a madmad— in lead next to Brie. At the last second I add Muenster, tell him a stern “NO chewing,” and jump on the four wheeler. Doing so is something akin to pouring fuel on a campfire.
At the sound of the engine, everyone goes nuts. Spaghetti catapults ahead, while Brie swings frantically around him. Cheddar digs a hole in our driveway while trying to avoid contact with the obnoxious Bowtie alongside her. Gouda and Melli nip each other in play. Muenster grabs the line and yanks back in huge jerks. Toni is too busy barking and lunging to notice.
I put the machine in gear, touch the throttle, and we are off. The line tightens, and after a few additional yips, every dog quiets.
The temperature is perfect: 34 degrees. It’s warm for the dogs, but not too hot. All eight bound ahead, doing what they love best. After the hikes and individual outings of summer, they’re back together. A dog team on the line. This is their purpose, their passion. Their ultimate calling. Nothing makes Alaskan huskies happier, than moving together down the trail.
We cruise along for the first mile until coming to a Y. We need to go right, so I call “gee.” Young Spaghetti responds by lunging hard to the left. Brie knows the commands better than her son. She darts to the right, but Spaghetti is insistent. I stop the machine—this is the perfect training opportunity.
“Gee Brie, Spaghetti Gee,” I call.
I know Brie will respond, and I’m not disappointed. She loops left behind her son and pushes him over to the right. Nothing works better than a maternal correction from the Queen Cheese.
We’re off again, speeding toward two more intersections. They each come quickly. Brie noses Spaghetti before they reach the first “gee.” She’s telling him to pay attention. They take that turn without incident, and side by side the lovely boy and his mother navigate the last intersection like pros.
By the time we’re heading back toward home, the entire team is settled—the elder dogs trotting in unison next to the youngsters. When we come to some water, I stop the team. Everyone cools down in the muddy puddles. Bowtie paws at the water with glee; Toni isn’t so sure about getting wet and tries in vain to keep her feet dry. Gouda lies in the water just like his mother Sydney did.
Within seconds everyone starts barking and lunging, and we’re moving again—first through the golden meadow and into the woods, then home to the yard. When we pull into to the kennel the others bark a greeting to the Cheeses and Noodles. They, at last, are satisfied. Mark and I sit on the ground with them sharing muddy pats and slimy licks. Then we take each dog back to his or her house and ladle fresh water into dishes.
There are two more teams to run this morning and several dogs to walk, so Mark does the next thing: he drives the four wheeler around so it’s pointed down the outbound trail. Meanwhile I study the roster—the Mushrooms and the Crackers are “on deck” for this next run. Mark and I will work together again to harness them and maintain order on the line. The Crackers will be easy, but the Mushrooms are one rambunctious challenge.
But that’s a whole other story.