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
- 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.
Waiting At The Entrace to the Spirit Land:
Daisy -Traditional Freighting Lead
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
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 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 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 (pronounced "SHAY-mus") is probably an Anatolian
Shepherd Dog / Alaskan husky mix who my wife adopted as a thirteen week
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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 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
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 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
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 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
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.