I am a person suspicious of love. I always have been, and probably always will be. It’s been almost a year since the teammates of ATAO wiggled their ways into my life, and still there is a part of me that holds out, not believing that these friends are here to stay.
And another part is starting to think– Whoa. I think this is my team. I think this is my little crew, and I think I get to trust that we’re gonna stick together.
Right now I have, I believe, the best 12 member sled dog team in the world. Hands down. No holds barred. And– bonus!– I have THE two most amazing retired sled dog old lady buddies as well. So. I’m pretty lucky.
Don’t believe my assertions? How dare you! It’s true, you know. I’ve come to realize that this little group is by far and away the best little group ever. In the last year, I have learned them and gotten to know them. I have become friends with them. I’ve had arguments and frustrations with them (and they have with me too!). We have gotten close. And, we haven’t even begun the work that will make us really gel– Mushing together. Then, in the heightened, nighttime runs, this bakers’ dozen of adventurers will become a pack. I can’t wait for that.
Meanwhile– Let me tell you a litte about these dogs. I’m going to list them in order of age, oldest to youngest.
1. Egret: Shy and Sturdy Driver
Egret is from Smokin’ Aces Kennel. She needed a smaller environment, cuz she’s super shy and not sure about the world, and Matt and Amanda thought ATAO might be a good fit. I really think it is. Egret is short and stocky and a fantastic team dog. Over the summer I’ve also learned that she is super, super goofy and full of life. You have to work carefully to get past her reservations, but once you do, she opens up a big ole loving heart. Her favorite place to sit while you scratch her ears is on her house, so you can see eye to eye.
What I’ve learned about Egret: She knows that ATAO is her home. She gives her all once you gain her trust.
2. Annie: Came for the Running, Stays for the Pets
Annie is another shy girl. In fact, she and Egret are really good friends. Both can get a little overwhelmed by the energy of the pups, but they love playing together. Annie is a tiny, concentrated ball of muscle and GO. She is a fantastic leader– The only thing she needs to improve on is lining out. She is such a sweetie that when we stop the first thing she wants to do is come get some pets. Annie held the team up last year as the main leader, even though she is still learning about being up front herself!
What I’ve learned about Annie: She wants and needs a lot of one on one time to cultivate a steady bond. Her absolute favorite thing is getting pet and snuggled.
3. Ophelia: Regina George?
Ophelia is my raised-from-the-ground sled dog… Also a slightly spoiled queen. I have been working hard to not give her favoritism over the rest of the team, because the dogs can all recognize a hierarchy. This year I focused on making sure that Ophelia knew her group was the whole team, not just the humans. Ophelia is a bit dog-wary– She far prefers her two legged friends. But she has been making big strides and loves to play one on one with the pups. In truth, she can sometimes be a bit of a bully, so that is something we are working together on. Ophelia is smart, fierce, and independent– and a major cuddler. She is the most beautiful Alaskan husky I’ve ever seen. Now I just have to make sure she doesn’t become Regina George.
What I’ve learned about Ophelia: Ophelia is smaaaaaaart. Maybe too smart. She needs that energy and intelligence channeled into new challenges, or she will create challenges. She is going to be an amazing leader.
4. Nala: High Octane Happiness
Nala has a lot of energy! This is something we always knew, but with fewer miles to run in the summer, that energy really comes out. Luckily all of that energy is *positive* energy. Nala is a happy, excited girl. She still love, love, loves her puppy playtime, and will keep all the “pups” (who are almost all bigger than her now) moving and grooving. She has not always been the best eater, and with her high energy it can be difficult to keep weight on her, but this summer she has been making leaps and bounds with her eating habits, which is great. I’m hoping some of that high-strung nervous excitement may temper down just a little in the next few years, but maybe it just needs to be focused where it does best… in harness! Nala is another young leader doing really well.
What I’ve learned about Nala: I love her attitude. She is happy and responsive, and is really motivated by praise and love. She always checks in with the humans, and does a great job of inspiring all the pups to do the same on free walks. I’m strongly considering her as a mama to a litter of pups next summer!
5. Rebel: Chatter Bot
Rebel was my first pick of puppies last fall. She is a beautiful dog, and always has been, but now I’ve come to learn her personality, and it’s a lot less dignified than her looks! Rebel is a big, talkative goofball. She is chatters away if she is not getting to play or eat while someone else is doing so, or if anything else exciting is going on. She has a great play bow. If we are playing fetch with the group, Rebel almost always gets the toy and will carry it around as long as she can. She is not exactly mischievous, but she does always seem to be calculating, figuring out how she can get more pets, more treats, and more playtime. I think she’s going to be a great leader down the road.
What I’ve learned about Rebel: She is food motivated and a really fast learner. She really likes cuddles, but if there is something more exciting than people around, she’ll definitely vote for that.
6. Rey: Quietly Building up an Arsenal of Knowledge
Rey is getting bigger by the day. I had a hard time keeping weight on her this winter, but I think some hearty summertime feedings, extra snacks, plus a little growth spurt, are finally letting her fill out. She looks more like her mother, Happy Trails leader Pineapple, all the time. Rey is sensitive and inquisitive. She can be a bit sassy, but she also is the first to greet new or older dogs with a lot of chin licks. Rey is a bit more mellow than her fellow Star Wars pups, maybe a little more reserved. All of the SWP’s are super smart, and Rey is no different. I watch her watching the world and learning.
What I’ve learned about Rey: She is the most people-oriented of the SWP’s, and also the shyest. It takes her a little longer to get oriented to new situations, but once she figures out what’s going on, she is able to thrive, perhaps even outshining her siblings. I’m excited to work with this strong learning ability and hopefully hone it into fine leadership skills.
7. Rogue: Trouble, Trouble, Trouble
Rogue is the most aptly named dog I have. Rogue has a high jump to rival a cat, and has used these skills to: jump onto the dresser. Jump out of the playpen (prompting construction on a higher wall of the playpen!). Jump onto a (parked) car!!! JUMP JUMP JUMP. She was the first to learn to jump onto a house. Luckily I was smart enough to put a top on both puppy pens as soon as this happened, or I’m sure she would have figured out how to jump out of that too. This upwards motion also translates into some pretty impressive forward motion. And, it’s a good analogue for her personality. Rogue is stubbornly, leapingly friendly, as though she always speaks in positive-toned all-caps. I AM EXCITED. TIME TO PET.
What I have learned about Rogue: She is a great dog. She literally jumped her way into my heart. In all honesty, she was the SWP I was most tepid about bringing to ATAO, because she seemed like a lot of trouble from day one. While that is entirely true, she is the most good-natured trouble I’ve ever met, and I can’t help but fall for her. Also a great leader contender, like her siblings.
8. R2: Growing Fast, Inside and Out
R2 started off as Shy Guy Number 1. Brought home as a bonus pup (the runt of the litter, slated to be a pet), he’s grown into a pretty good looking sled dog. I think he’ll excel. His personality changed from extremely withdrawn and doubtful to a calm confidence and a love of ear scratches. In his formative months I did a lot of work with R2 to help him grow trust with us and to feel at home. He definitely had a self-protective nature, and I needed to show him that this is his family and pack. I feel really good about how far he’s come. He seems really comfortable and happy here. He’s best friends with Max, loves inside time, and is a general Good Boy.
What I’ve learned about R2: His calm, everyday demeanor vanishes in the face of a run. Like most huskies, he becomes a wild, un-contained ball of excitement when it’s time to get his harness on. For R2 this manifests in chewing EVERYTHING around him. I’m working to see if we can channel / redirect that excitement into other forms (for instance, Egret will dig vs. chewing), so that we’re not in danger of a chewed through gangline. Or, maybe he’ll just have to run up front all the time, where there are fewer lines to chew on!
9. Cassidy: When she was Good, she was Very Very Good…
Cassidy has become a lanky, beautiful husky. She’s got a flop ear and a point ear, and we’ll see if that sticks (I hope so). Cass Cass had some growing pains coming up; she was a bit snarky with the other Outlaw Pups, but with some work and positive redirection, she has become really responsive and warm with humans, and much better with her friends! She and her sister Sundance still tend to have some rough-and-tumble play times, but they both know when I say enough is enough. Cassidy had a pretty recent growth spurt right as she blew her coat, so it looked like she emerged from a cocoon of furry cuteness to become a super long-limbed beauty. She seems really fond of me and I’m super charmed with her. Again, this is another dog with leader potential. (In case you can’t tell, I believe almost every sled dog has leader potential, and a lot of that potential, in my opinion, is based on building confidence and trust and connection… And since our little pack is growing that all around, everyone is in the leader bullpen!)
What I’ve learned about Cassidy: She likes to push boundaries, but is really responsive when she gets a firm “No” or “Too far.” Basically, she is sassy but sensitive, and really wants human connection and interaction.
10. Sundance: Teddy Bear as Dog
Sundance has not quite made it past the cute furball stage. She is STILL blowing her coat, and has been for weeks. Her shape is much more teddy bear. She seems to have tiny ears, though it may just look that way among her continual puffiness. She is a bit shorter and stockier than any of the other pups still, but in harness, for the few runs we’ve done, she has already proven herself to be more forward driven than any of the other Outlaw Pups. She is friendly, friendly, friendly. Possibly because of her size, she gets picked on a lot, but she doesn’t seem to get mad about it. She’ll emerge from the over-crowding at playtime full of happy wiggles. She’s a very silly little friend. She makes a noise like Chewbacca… She trills! I will trill back to her at dinner time and give her some good pets. I’ll be curious to see if she has another growth spurt packed away, or if she’ll be a little wiggle-butt forever.
What I’ve learned about Sundance: She’s a really hard worker in harness, and has a great attitude overall. I love this little nugget.
11. Mad Max: Good Boy
Mad Max is my other male (along with R2). I originally was trying to get a female cousin of his to fill out my almost all female team, but I’m glad I ended up with Max. He may end up becoming the father to future litters, depending on how he does in the next few years, but for now he’s an essential part of the group. He’s a really friendly guy, a good team player, and is becoming a good looking sled dog. He loves being in the house (especially on the couch). He is very good natured– Not over full of himself or mean in any way. He blew his coat recently and went from being a large snowball to a sleek, muscled adult dog. He’s grown much bigger than the other pups– Other than Egret and Ophelia, he’s the biggest dog in the group. I’m excited to see how he does this coming year.
What I’ve learned about Max: He is an awesome people dog. I love that he’s not boisterous or overwhelming. He does great with the whole crew, and he and R2 are besties. I really love his personality.
12. Furiosa: Voted Most Likely to Derp
Furiosa is my least aptly named dog. At least for now. Perhaps Furiosa of the movie was also a supremely dorky child with no impulse control and a loud mouth? Who ran around and got stuck in things because she didn’t fit as well as she thought she might? And who showed no signs of dignity… Only to later bloom / be honed into Valkyrie level poise and badassery…? I don’t know if Furiosa the dog will ever make it to that place. But she’s got the goofiness down. Furiosa is full of personality. While her brother seems at least moderately collected, Furiosa is just a big… Derp. And, she’s a lover. She is here for the cuddles, the couch time, and of course, play time. She is a very good girl except when she gets super excited about yelling at her brother or chasing Sundance. She is even more talkative than Rebel. She often starts the group howl with her off-key yodeling. She is so hilarious. Her first runs in harness were about as dignified as she is in general, but lately she’s been making a lot of improvement, and I predict she’s going to do well, and also be an awesome cheerleader for the team.
What I’ve learned about Furiosa: When I let her personality do it’s thing, she is great at getting the dogs excited. She is super friendly and sweet, like her brother. Sometimes she is a bit deaf to human words amongst her own loud monologues, but once she realizes someone is talking to her, she’s very sweet and responsive.
So… I guess I’m letting these guys into my heart a little bit. And realizing that we’re sticking together to the end. Getting to learn them slowly and as they become their own people is a huge privilege. I am so excited for this winter. They have no idea yet the fun we’re going to have! Working together doing the thing that we all love, building ourselves to our mutual maximum potential. How amazing is that?