I have generally not replied, liked or even acknowledged anything and I wanted to make it clear that it was not because I am ungrateful or don't care, but rather that I just CAN'T. We all grieve in our own way - and my way is often to withdraw. Please don't take it personally, it is not intended like that.
I don't think I can write a little memorial page for him as I usually do with the passing of one of my dogs, but I did have some things that I think were important to say about him - some for the folks with his offspring and his future offspring (a few folks have collected and stored semen on him) - and some for me.
I don't have some great breakout memory of one day recognizing his potential as a puppy. With him it was more like a jigsaw piece clicking into place. Without effort or force he just became part of me and part of the team.
Many have commented about the loss of my 'leader' - but in fact, I don't consider him a 'lead dog'. In a pinch, he could get the job done, but it was rare that I put him up front. Despite that, he made any dog team he was in better. I don't understand how, but I really didn't need to. He was just a different sort of 'leader'.
He ran his first Iditarod at 2 1/2 years of age. He ran his last Iditarod, and probably his best, at 10 1/2 years of age.
He ran just about every race with me from 2004 to 2012. He was never injured, sick or dropped in any of those races - and I could likely count on one hand the number of times he had booties on. I think he embodied the toughness of Siberians of old.
|Crunchie resting in McGrath in '12 at 10 1/2 years of age|
One year the Discovery channel came out to film us for a series on Iditarod they were doing. Inevitably, they asked the question, "who is your favourite dog?". I took them over to meet Crunch. The cameraman got in tight for a head shot and Crunchie fixated his dark eyes on him - or so the cameraman thought. When he got in close Crunch struck like a cobra and ripped the fuzzy cover off the microphone. It took some doing to get it back.
Weeks later when they were filming us in Rainy Pass on Iditarod, the same cameraman tried to get Crunchie to do the same thing. Crunchie looked at me and looked back at the cameraman with a look that CLEARLY said "can't you see I'm working". The cameraman didn't get his shot.
Retirement never suited him. This is him in his teens singing the blues because I was out with a team.
After his first Iditarod I got the harebrained idea to take him to a dog show. He was what I thought a Siberian should look like, so why not show him?
I promised him that if he thought it was foolish, I'd never ask him again but the second he figured out that you just stood there and got fed, he was on board.
He finished his Canadian Championship with a Group 2nd.
The year I took him to the US Nationals I clearly remember being in the Open Dog class. It was a huge class and I had no expectation of placing with my little old sled dog.
The judge went over him, commented on his lovely shoulders and sent us to the front of the line. It wasn't until the next few exhibitors came over and counted back to insert themselves in the line that it occurred to me that the judge was putting us in the order she intended to place us - and we were up front.
I got stressed and attempted, to Crunchie's dismay, to place his feet like a show dog. He brushed me off and put his feet back where he wanted them. I took the hint and was just a puppet on the end a show leash from then on. HE won the class.
Those stories - and many more - about Crunch make me smile, for sure - and I'm proud of the things he accomplished in his life, but none of them are the reason I grieve so deeply for him.
I'm stealing something that my dear friend Simone wrote to me after hearing the news of Crunch's passing. I didn't ask her permission, but I don't think she'll mind.
"I went through all my photos to check if I find a great photo of him. I realized, I took selfies with almost all the dogs - except Crunchie. He was always your dog, and he sure let me know this - he was quite reserved around most handlers (well, all the ones I met) but as soon as you came in the yard - he was totally focused on you! a once in a lifetime relationship!"
I have spent the last 16 years with those little black eyes boring into me. I have deeply loved many dogs, but I have never known one that I felt more connected to.
Simone's right: he was not a super affectionate, cuddly dog. He didn't give kisses, he hated hugs, and he NEVER wanted to be pampered. His way of connecting was to stare into my eyes and sniff my face. Correction, stare into my soul and sniff my face.
I can't count the number of times I'd be puttering in the dog yard and look up to catch him lying somewhere he could stare at me. On our last Iditarod, I swear he was sitting up staring at the door of the checkpoint every time I walked out.
In 2007 flying home from Grayling after losing his sister (Snickers), the dogs were all behind me on the small plane, necklines snapped into cargo netting - I turned around in my seat as we got ready to take off to make sure everyone was settled. Some were fussing, some lying down, and Crunch was sitting straight up staring at me. We locked eyes - and I'm not really sure I know who was comforting who in that moment.
In the Vet Clinic that final day, I sat on the floor with him waiting for Tannis (Dr. Jackson) to come in. He locked eyes with me and we sniffed moments before she did. I couldn't look in his eyes as he passed - I feared the light going away would suck my soul out with it.
He was my teammate, my partner and my friend. I will grieve his passing always.
Ch. NorthWapiti's Crunchie
June 6, 2001 - March 10th, 2017