Thursday, 16 March 2017

A List Of Scarred Souls

Today the ADN published a 'list' of all the dogs that died during the running of the Iditarod for the last 10 years.
Iditarod Dog Deaths Over The Last Decade

I've seen similar lists in different places and with different motivations over the years. Many times that list includes my name, for in 2007 in the village of Grayling my leader Snickers died of a Gastric Ulcer.

This lists might make it seem that those deaths are just an asterisk in an Iditarod career - or a painful, but long-past event. Let me tell you that is not the case.

The 10th anniversary of Snickers' death was last Friday. Sadly, that morning her brother Crunchie had to be put down due to old age. He would have been 16 in June.
He was one of the ones fighting with us in that little community centre late into the night 10 years ago.
Dr. Justine Lee, with minimal supplies, used him as a donor to do a blood transfusion on his sister in the battle for her life. I will never forget how stoically he sat amidst all the stress and commotion going on around him as Dr. Lee drew blood.
All our efforts were for naught though and she passed away in the night, cradled in my hands.

In terms of bad days in my life, that rates right up there with the passing of my father.

I remember walking out to the bank of the Yukon River shortly after she passed and having a talk with her. The moon was out and clouds were drifting across it in the wind. (I had a similar chat with her - and her brother - last Friday night. The sky was eerily almost exactly the same.)

The next morning I scratched from the race and went home. My heart for the race was gone. (Let me just say that most mushers do continue down the trail - and I get that. We all grieve and heal in our own way and, when there is no wrongdoing on the part of the musher leading to the death of their teammate - the race needs to support that.)

For a while I didn't know if my heart for racing and the Iditarod would come back, but it did. In no small part thanks to Snickers - on the banks of the Yukon that night I had promised to take her to Nome 'in a manner she deserved' and that had to be done.

In 2008, I stopped my team on Cape Nome overlooking the Bering Sea coast and the city in the distance. It's a spot that I have traditionally stopped to thank my dogs for the adventure we just had together, and I knew it was where Snickers' ashes needed to be scattered.
I thanked the team and then sat down and had a good chat with Snickers before turning her ashes over to the wind and snow.

The rest of my trip into Nome was graced by the most spectacular sunset I've even witnessed. It about broke my heart and helped settle my soul all that the same time. When I reached Nome, as I walked up to to my leaders in the chute, I stopped to spread the last little bit of her ashes under the burled arch.
"A promise made is a debt unpaid and the trail has it's own stern code." (Robert Service, 'The Cremation of Sam McGee')



Photo by Jeff Schultz



In the wake of her death, money was donated to help fund Dr. Mike Davis' studies on gastric ulcers in working sled dogs. His studies gave us protocols that are still used today - and '07 was the last year that a dog on the Iditarod died from a gastric ulcer (and for the record, bomb sniffing dogs for the military have also benefited from this work).

In '12, my last Iditarod finish, I stopped and visited with Snickers on my way into Nome. In the years I have judged, I have asked mushers that I particularly admire to stop and say 'Hi' to her for me. They all have.

I never have asked to work a particular checkpoint on Iditarod, but I have always requested that I NOT work in Grayling. Although the community rallied around me in the wake of Snickers' passing and supported me in ways that were so appreciated and will NEVER be forgotten, the memories are just too raw.

Even working Shageluk in '13 as a judge I was hit by a flood of memories, as it was the last checkpoint she led me out of. I could have told you exactly where we were parked and I stood at the 'out trail' before the first teams arrived, letting the memories wash over me.

I have spoke to other mushers who have lost dogs on the trail over the years. If the talk turns to such things, you can watch their eyes cloud over as they speak and the memories flood back.

So when you look at that list in the paper, don't fail to see that what you are looking at is a list of scarred souls - forever changed by those moments in time.




NorthWapiti's Snickers
June 6, 2001 - March 10, 2007



24 comments:

Elaine bartholomew said...

Thank you for baring your soul and sharing Snicker"s story. It never really stops hurting does it Karen. I will always "talk" to Fritz when the sky is just right.

Anonymous said...

Every time I read of a dog passing on the trail the first word picture that crosses my mind is Snickers.

Ron
Husky Howllow

Anonymous said...

This brought tears to my eyes as I read it. I remember following you that year and learning of this sad event. I cried then too.
Thank you for sharing this.

Lori Krug

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. Losing a dog is like loosing part of your family. I so wish the "trolls" who badmouth any of the sled dog races but especially the YQ and Ititarod when a dog dies be made to read this piece. Mushers are so bonded to their dogs and any death is painful.

KINGSFORD said...

Sad stories always bring sobbing tears for me, especially dogs. I remember with thankful thoughts those dogs I have shared my 70 years with and the pleasure they have given me.

e. davis said...

I teared up reading your post Karen. It's never easy losing K9 family, it seems to break your heart a bit each time especially because you are so bonded to them. Those judgmental people do not understand. Thanks for sharing.

J. B. Sams said...

I cannot control the tears. I am so sorry. The love they give bring is as great as the pain when they are gone. Thank you for sharing this tribute. You are an inspiration Karen. Hugs from Carol Samson.

Pat Wall said...

I wear my "Snickers Necklace" almost every day, and each time I think of her and of you. Thank you, Karen, for all that you are.

Falcon's Former Sponor said...

Karen , So sorry to read of Crunchie's passing and your post about the dogs that have passed away during Iditarod and memories of Smartie. I do remember that event and the sadness I felt in telling a student that her musher had scratched due to her dog passing. It is eirily pertinent that you posted this on the 16 th of March as it is the date I had to say goodbye to my dog due to liver cancer. It was the right decision but oh so hard.

Heidi said...

I'm sitting in my office crying as I read this. The bond you have with your dogs is so amazing. Thanks for putting your memories out there for us all to read.

Gwynn-Morgan-Walton said...

Beautiful story and sweet-sad; every dog lover has been there, even those of us who do not have huskies (though we love them!) I was struck by how much a new puppy at Ali'sy and Allen's, born this summer, looks like Snickers; facial markings almost identical. I know SPK runs and raises mixed Alaskan dogs and not Sibes but the blood is in there too. You were there when Jeff and Aliy came in after the horror last year; your calm strength surely helped them cope.

NCL said...

Thank you for sharing this.

ElizabethMC said...

Thank you for sharing your life stories Karen. I have enjoyed following your adventures over the years. This particular post brings up my dads wise words, "You have to take the good with the bad, the happy with the sad." One cannot pick and choose what they want in life. And yet you have handled this tragedy with the grace of a saint. Happy Trails 4Ever. Husky4Life.

Linda Pierson said...

Thank you for sharing. I am new to following the race and wondered how musher's were affected by the loss of a dog on the trail as this year a few have died on the trail. I am overcome with emotion reading your eloquent post.

Merm said...

Please accept my sympathy on the passing of Crunchie. I know that brought the pain of losing Snickers on the same day 10 years ago back raw and heartbreaking. I have admired you for years and I vividly remember the story of losing Snickers during the race. I know every musher feels the loss of one of their furry family members with sorrow. Bless you all!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing from your heart. The pain never goes away. All we can do is accept our loss and cherish the memories.I lost my little terrier rescue guy, Henry-Norman a year and a half ago and the pain of that loss still cuts deep. Bless you for sharing this tribute of your special gal.

Carol Rickman said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to Snickers and how she continues to touch your life. I think especially of my dear Jenna and her brave struggle with osteosarcoma. All of these dogs are forever a part of our lives no matter how long they have been gone from this earth. Run free sweet Snickers!

Lynn Szymurski said...

I knew this would be a heartbreaking raw remembrance, thanks for sharing Karen. I know the pain you are still feeling, it stays with us for such a long time, I only hope that something may be learned by the ones we lose, whether on the trail or in the ring. Your words left such a vivid impression...

Barbara B said...

Beautiful tribute, Karen. When you told us Crunchie was gone, the other day, the first memory I had was of his calmly donating blood trying to save his sister Snickers. A very sad memory, but a beautiful one too. I'm sure there are many of us who will remember them both fondly.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful girl. So sorry for your loss, thank you for sharing this tribute. Healing thoughts ♡

Vermonter said...

Beautifully written.

Carolyn said...

Such an amazing legacy that you and Snickers have given. I didn't know about Crunchie until just now - he was always my favorite. I am so sorry. What a life he led! I have always admired you and your dogs, and love when you share, both the good and the difficult.

thecrazysheeplady said...

Amen.

Kristen Davis said...

Thank you for this heartfelt blog Karen. I have experienced the loss of two sled dogs this season, both under the care of someone else, both I didn't understand, both I loved, but one, one was my favorite...ever. I have stepped back for the remainder of the season and wonder if I will ever be driven to drive a sled again. It doesn't feel like it right now, but after reading your quip, maybe I will. I don't know. But even if I don't, knowing that there are more souls that have been wrought with grief over their losses, that have been deeply impacted in a way that would drive them to leave a sport they love behind, this makes me feel just a little... bit... better. Thank you Karen.