Saturday 30 June 2007

June 30, 2007 This One's For Snickers

Well, I was poking around Wasilla today and ended up stumbling into Iditarod Headquarters. Low and behold, it was the opening day of sign up for the '08 Iditarod. I signed what I thought was an autograph and next thing I knew I was signed up for the Race!!!

Okay, that isn't quite how it happened - in fact, nothing like how it happened. To be perfectly honest, the decision to run the 2008 Iditarod was made in Grayling before my name was ever signed on the paperwork to scratch from the 2007 Race. I always knew that the team and I owed Snickers a trip to Nome. I wasn't ready to do it for her in the days following her death last year, so there was no doubt that it was to be this year.

When I got back off the trail last year, one of the first calls I received was from my friend and mentor, Jamie Nelson. Jamie doesn't often scratch from races - doesn't really believe in it and I knew she was going to call me to task for not taking the team to Nome despite what happened in Grayling. "Your going to give me heck for scratching, aren't you?", I said. "I'm going to tell you what Snickers would have wanted." - was her reply. "No"
I answered, "I'll tell you. She would have wanted me to take the team to Nome in a matter and style that would make her proud - and we couldn't do that this year. So we will be back next year to honor her." There was silence for a minute and then she said, "That's a good plan."

I never said anything earlier because I wanted to make sure that after everything settled down I still felt the same way - I do.

When I filled out my 2008 Iditarod entry form there is a big spot to write a bit about yourself, your dogs, why you are running the race, etc. There are only two words on my form this year - "For Snickers".

So here we come 2008 Iditarod. This one is for Snickers.


Tuesday 26 June 2007

June 26, 2007 Who Knew??

Who knew??

The plane dropped beneath a thick layer of clouds and there it was - green.

Who knew??

I came down the escalator and there stood my friend in something other then polar fleece and a winter jacket. Who knew?

We drove over bridges with flowing water underneath them, passed scenery that looked similar, totally different. Who knew?

We drove into a yard that was oh so familiar, yet not. Leaves, wildflowers, bugs, gravel and dirt.
Who knew??

In case you haven't figured it out, I'm up in Alaska. Mark and Ronny are holding down the 'fort' at home - which incidentally includes 7 new little pups that were delivered by Hilda the night before my trip north (check out  Ronnie's Pictures for some snaps of the newcomers) - and I'm up here so..well..guess you'll have to wait for the rest of the story, although I'm sure some of you have already sorted it out!

BTW - Powder made the trip up with me to her new home in Jamie's dog yard. Despite a horrendously long travel day with flight cancellations, delays, and missed connections due to stupid TSA rules, she handled everything very well and is happily settling in with the rest of the Westrunner Crew.


Monday 18 June 2007

June 18, 2007 The Snickers Memorial/Ulcer ResearchFund

I will confess that for a long while after coming home from Alaska I  just couldn't bring myself to deal with the Snickers Fund (see "Heartfelt Thanks" and "Snickers Memorial/Ulcer Research Fund" for more details). It wasn't that I didn't want to honor Snicker nor didn't appreciate all your  generous donations. It wasn't that Snickers isn't `present' everyday in our lives, she is. Not a day goes by that she isn't in my thoughts and/or mentioned in our conversations. Many nights I lie in bed and the last thing I do before falling asleep is replay the events from Grayling in my mind (Probably not `healthy' but it is the way I'm dealing.) I just wasn't quite ready to sit down and  devote myself to the project. 
Then, this week I picked up a lovely 20 x 30 picture of my team,  with leaders Snickers and Spider front and center, that I had framed for our wall. It's sitting leaning against the buffet waiting to be  hung – maybe that was my motivation to get into the bank and get  this all dealt with. 
So, as of this morning, the Snickers Memorial Ulcer Research Fund has it's own bank account. I started it off with a healthy deposit  of cheques and I just finished adding up and transferring all the  PayPal Funds to it. As soon as they clear, the Fund will be sitting  at $2980.13. The list of donators is HUGE – over 80 individual donations from around the world. We are very grateful and touched by this wonderful outpouring.
I have been in contact with Mike Davis, DVM, Phd of the Oklahoma  State University and he has explained to me the work that has been  done and that they are working on to find answers for the issue of  Gastric Ulcer in Working Sled Dogs. 
"Dear Karen,
Yes, you are correct that we had heard. Although I was up in  Anchorage for the pre-race week, I couldn't stay for the race this year and was instead following along online. All of the dog deaths  hurt, but Snickers particularly hurt because it was another reminder that, despite all our work, we've not got this problem solved. My team and I (and it is very much a team effort, along with Kathy  Williamson and Mike Willard) have been working on this for 7 years  now. We've made some progress, but obviously not enough. Continued progress does require money, so a pretty straight answer is: Yes, we can certainly put the funds to good use.
We had conducted a pilot study back in Dec 2004 in which we tested famotidine (Pepcid AC) as a preventative for gastric ulcers (funded  out of our personal funds). The exercise challenge was a simple 100  mile, 18 hr run (other studies have shown this to be sufficient to  get gastric ulcers started in trained dogs). The Pepcid worked beautifully, but we had to be cautious about the applicability of results since the challenge was certainly not racing conditions. We  repeated the study at the Copper Basin this year (funded by the  American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine), and our fears were partially confirmed. Although there appeared to be some beneficial effect, it was not the "slam-dunk" we were hoping for.  We plan on repeating the study at next year's Copper Basin using a  higher dose, with some additional changes to the experimental design  to catch any other unexpected surprises. This one is not yet funded, so any help would be appreciated. We've also got studies on  the drawing board for developing tests for gastric ulcers that don't require anesthesia and gastric endoscopy, but those have only recently become technically possible with the impending purchase of  the right machines, so I don't have a firm plan for those yet.
Please accept our condolences on the loss of Snickers, and I hope we can continue the fight to solve this problem for all sled dogs.
Mike Davis, DVM PhD
So, this is where we will be forwarding the "Snickers Fund' to.
Just so you all understand a little about ulcers in working sled  dogs, Dr. Davis has written a nice article (in layman's terms) about the issue for our list.
Stomach Ulcers in Sled Dogs
Introduction The tendency of racing sled dogs to suffer serious illness from  stomach ulcers, suddenly and with little warning, has been  recognized for at least a decade. At the request of the sled dog racing officials and participants (most notably those associated with the Iditarod Sled Dog Race), our team has conducted numerous  investigations into the causes and possible remedies for stomach ulcers in sled dogs. The following discussion will summarize our findings and describe the next steps we believe should be taken to  continue our efforts to solve this problem.
How Extensive is the Problem?
The goal of our initial studies (conducting in 2000 and 2001) was to  determine the extent of the problem. At that time, the only information on what percentage of dogs had stomach ulcers was through observation of the dogs (i.e., seeing them vomit blood) or  from post-mortem exams of dogs that had died during a race. These techniques suggested a very low percentage of dogs had stomach  ulcers, but veterinary officials were certain that these methods were not at all sensitive, and there were likely many more dogs with stomach ulcers that were going undetected. The best way of  diagnosing stomach ulcers is to examine the stomach directly using  an endoscope (similar to what is done with humans). To date, we  have conducted 9 different studies that have included, in some manner, endoscopic examination of sled dogs after exercise, and these studies have yielded relatively consistent results: 
· Approximately half of all dogs running a significant distance (100 miles/day or more) had evidence of stomach ulcers, provided they were not receiving any medication intended to reduce or eliminate the problem.
· Endoscopic evidence of stomach ulcers can be found after as  little as a single 100 mile run at a modest (8-9 mph) pace.
· The severity of the stomach ulcers does not seem to be  greatly influenced by how long the dogs are working (i.e., how many  consecutive days), but may be related to how hard the dogs are working (i.e., how many miles/day).
· In the majority of dogs, ulcers heal with 3-5 days of rest, so that during pre-exercise exams, most dogs do not have visible evidence of stomach ulcers.
· We have found no evidence that a particular blood line or  feeding strategy is related to stomach ulcers in sled dogs (although  these issues have not been thoroughly investigated).
· We have found minimal evidence of certain dogs being predisposed to ulcers. Many of our studies have involved similar groups of dogs, and there has been no tendency for the same dogs to  have stomach ulcers in different studies. However, we have found a very small number of dogs that do not follow these "rules", i.e.,  they tend to have severe ulcers, they do not appear to heal with  rest, and they seem to develop ulcers every time they run.
What is the Cause of the Problem?
We do not have a confirmed cause of the problem yet, but it is interesting to note that other athletic species like humans and horses also have high occurrence rate of stomach ulcers. The conditions between these species may not be identical, but there may be many similarities. Biopsies (small pieces of tissue) taken from dogs during endoscopic examination has shown that even when the  stomach appears normal (for instance, before exercise or a race), it  has extensive microscopic abnormalities that suggest an ongoing  disease process that may weaken the stomach. These microscopic abnormalities seem to resolve during prolonged rest between seasons, but the intervals between training runs may not be long enough to allow all of the abnormalities to heal. Chemical tests of the stomach have also provided evidence that the stomach is leakier  during exercise than normal, and that may be part of the overall development of the ulcers by letting stomach acid leak into the wall of the stomach and damage it. There is some evidence that the dog's  response to the stress of running can cause that leakiness, but this  is not a certainty, since it is possible that the leakiness causes the stress, rather than vice versa. We are reasonably certain that stomach ulcers in sled dogs are not caused by bacteria (like in humans) or by the type of food being fed (like in horses) based on  tests of the stomach biopsies and analysis of the distribution of the ulcers within the stomach.
How can We Prevent Stomach Ulcers in Sled Dogs?
One of the conclusions from our studies on the overall occurrence of  stomach ulcers in sled dogs is that most dogs effectively conceal  the stomach ulcers from the mushers and veterinarians. Since we had  little hope for detecting severe ulcers before they became a serious  problem, we focused our efforts on preventing the ulcers from developing. The most common method for preventing ulcers in other  species is to block the secretion of stomach acid. In one study,  dogs from 3 teams running in the Iditarod received either omeprazole (Prilosec) or a placebo daily, and were examined endoscopically at the end of the race. Omeprazole significantly improved the severity of the stomach ulcers, but did not completely eliminate them. Some of the drawbacks of omeprazole are that it must be given as a pill, which proved to be troublesome for mushers when faced with pilling 16 dogs/day for 10 or more days, all the while trying to race. In  addition, there was some evidence that dogs receiving omeprazole had a slightly higher likelihood to have diarrhea during the race. A study to see whether omeprazole could simply be placed in the dog's  food found that food significantly impaired the absorption of the  drug. Given the frequency that sled dogs are fed during racing, we elected to examine other drugs that inhibit acid secretion. Our  second study examined famotidine (Pepcid AC). We found that famotidine was well absorbed when administered with food, and could  simply be dropped into the dog's food (as long as the dog did not eat around the pill). Using a brief training run of 100 miles in  approximately 18 hours, we demonstrated that famotidine was  extremely effective in blocking the development of stomach ulcers at  a dose of 20 mg/dog once daily. However, a recent study under racing conditions found that this dose was not as effective as in  training, possibly because of the more strenuous nature of the  race. We have plans to evaluate higher doses of famotidine and  directly compare them omeprazole in a future study.
Goals of Future Studies
· Identify the best drug, dose, and duration of dosing to  prevent stomach ulcers in racing sled dogs
· Examine dogs training and competing at shorter distances to  determine whether these dogs are also at risk
· Develop a diagnostic method for detecting stomach ulcers that does not require anesthesia
· Determine whether preventing stomach injury during training  improves resistance to stomach ulcers during racing.
Further donations can be made via my PayPal account ( and please  indicate `For Snickers' when filling out your donation. Or you can  mail a cheque to me – Karen Ramstead, Box 9, Perryvale, Alberta,  Canada T0G 1T0. Please make cheques payable to the `Snickers Memorial Ulcer Research Fund'.
Heartfelt Thanks
Donations to the 
Snickers Memorial -
Ulcer Research Fund
can be mailed to:
Karen Ramstead
Box 9
Perryvale, Alberta
T0G 1T0
Click on photo to see additional team photos with Snickers in the lead.
Snickers & Karen
Or sent via PayPal

I thank you all for helping us honor Snickers memory.

Sunday 10 June 2007

June 10, 2007 Busy, Busy!

It is pouring rain here, so my outside chores are on hold for the morning, as I’m hoping it will let up or give me a brief respite sometime later in the day. Rather then tidy up my office, do laundry, pay bills or one of the million other things I should be doing, I thought I take some time to bring you all up to date with a diary entry (okay, so I threw a load of laundry in the machine before I started typing – as Mark will tell you, I’m never happy doing one thing at a time – must multi task!)
Things are actually going pretty well around here. Kluane seems pretty much recovered from her emergency surgery earlier in the week. Nursing seems somewhat uncomfortable for her and although she does indulge the kids a few times a day, they are well on their way to being weaned.
Klu and the pups actually moved out into one of the Puppy Pens on Friday. The girls took alittle while to get comfortable roaming the pen, but Utin was out strutting the fence line, flirting with his neighbors, Holly and Casey, in no time. He is quite the puppy. I’m absolutely enchanted with his personality.
The girls went from sparkly, shiny balls of white fluff to dirt balls in a matter of minutes. That is the problem with white puppies!
The reason that the Cree litter moved outside was that Kara is getting close to her whelping date and I cleaned and reset up the pool in the back room for her. In contrast to Kluane’s sleek physique right prior to having puppies, Kara looks a lot like a beached whale. She is HUGE. This morning Mark was eating breakfast and could see her puppies kicking and creating a fussy inside her tightly stretched belly from across the room. I would expect another litter of 7 or 8.
Also in contrast to Klu’s independent nature, Kara is acting more and more like a princess the bigger she gets. She nosed me awake three times the other night because she wanted an ear scratch. I’m sure that is only going to get worse in the next 2 days. * yawn *
We also have one more little surprise on the way. Well, it isn’t a ‘surprise’ so to speak, but it wasn’t really a planned litter. Mom is Hilda and Dad is Nate. She is due alittle over a week after Kara. It’s a tight pedigree, but a nice one.
Bait – or B8, as he likes to be known – is enjoying his new playmates, Tic and Tac. They discovered how to get out the cat door on the garage the other day, but Bait seemed to have forgot to teach them how to get back in! I figured they were just enjoying the big, new world they had discovered and didn’t want to go back in the garage, but the other day I opened the side door and they about ran me over as they stampeded towards their food dish.
Now I make sure to invite them back in the garage every time I see them outside. Hope they figure out the door works two ways soon.
They did find a small hole in the screen to our sliding door and have broken into the house unnoticed a few times. I had to peel myself off the ceiling of my office the other day as Tic came unexpectedly barrelling into the room. A few more weeks of growth should fix that problem – or maybe we will get around to fixing the screen!! More likely they will grow.
Dasher, Batdog and I headed across the valley the other morning to start a new adventure – agility classes! No kidding! Lisa Wright, who is a top-notch obedience and agility instructor moved into the valley a few years back. At the time I approached her about agility classes, but she vowed she was getting ‘out’ of dogs. (Ah, I could have told her that is easier said then done. Maybe they need to come up with a patch or a dog hair filled lozenge to help folks quit dogs and dog sports!). Anyway, a few weeks ago I drove by her place and saw a full set of agility equipment in her front field, so I gave her a call.
Dasher, Batdog and I did a private lesson last week and Dasher and I are starting classes with a few friends on Wednesday! I’ll continue to work with Batdog, but not in a class setting. My goal with Batdog is just to help build his confidence, but I would like to get Dasher out competing in a few agility trials! And NO, Stuffie will not be joining us on the agility field.
Our new handler, Ronny, arrives from Spain on Wednesday. I’m very much looking forward to having him here! Actually, the decision to take the time to do some agility classes was based a lot on the fact that Ronny was arriving and taking some of the workload off me! Yeah!!
I’ve been fielding a lot of emails lately about the drastic jump in the Iditarod entry fee that was announced last week. It went from $1850 US to $3000 US. Honestly, I am disappointed in ITC, not for raising the entry fee (although I do have some issue with that too), but for the ridiculously short notice. Entries open June 30 and if you want to start in the front pack, you need to enter the first day. However are mushers supposed to budget and plan with this kind of behavior from the Board. Very unprofessional in my mind.
It is rumored that the entry fee will jump to $5000 for the ’09 Race. Sadly, without a corporate sponsor coming on board here, that will probably be the end of the NorthWapiti team running the Iditarod Trail. Breaks my heart, but that much of a increase in entry fee would just not allow me to prepare and care for my dog team at a level I feel comfortable with, but that is still a way down the road.
Well, that is the news that is new in the kennel this week. I expect you will all be hearing from me in the next few days when Kara has her litter. Wish us ‘Happy Whelping!’.

Supplement To Above...

Oh my gosh, it seems that I've never mentioned who Kara was bred to - or even that she was bred. I've been so eagerly anticipating the litter, I just 'assumed' I had mentioned it!
Kara was bred to Surge. I was hoping she would hold off on her heat cycle until we got home from Alaska so the breeding could be done (Surge didn't go to north with us this year) and she was kind enough to cooperate - just!
Just to point out why I'm so excited about this breeding - Kara bred to Surge's Dad, Butch produced Dasher - and of course, we couldn't be happier with the pups Surge has thrown (Charge, Watt and Tess).
I am very excited to see what this combination produces!!!

Tuesday 5 June 2007

June 5, 2007 The Flying Nun of NorthWapiti

The Flying Nun of NorthWapiti
July 14th, 1994 - May 2007
It has taken me two weeks to be able to write this. My sweet Sissy
was helped to cross the Rainbow Bridge. Her battle with cancer is
over and she is pain free. Sis was only in my life four years, but it
seems like longer. Her beauty, strength and dignity will never be forgotten.
People used to tell me how beautiful a dog I have. I would
proudly tell them she's my Iditarod dog for Sissy had been to Nome
with Karen's team. I haven't been to Nome, but Sis had. She taught
the other dogs a thing or two about mushing and when she was in lead,
I let her take us on whatever trial she wanted.
Run free and happy with your North Wapiti team mates Sister...I'll
look for you in the skies and never forget your beautiful face.
Godspeed Sissy.


Iditarod 2001 Finish
Sissy was part of the NorthWapiti Iditarod Team in both 2000 & 2001