Memory of Martina Delp
5/20/07: We are sorry to report that Martina was accidentally
electrocuted at her home in May 2007.
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I am the only dog musher in my family, and the only member of my family currently living in Alaska. I have a younger sister that just joined the US Army, and my parents are getting ready to enjoy some long awaited traveling in their upcoming retirement.
I have been a member of ADMA (I need to renew my membership for this season) and have raced someone else's sprint dogs a few times.
This year I volunteered to help with the Iditarod's pre-race blood draw here in Fairbanks. I met a couple mushers that I know, and several that I didn't. I'll probably do it again next year. It was a great experience.
Aside from running dogs and the grader, I have a few other passions. I am also a graphic artist. Mostly by hobby, but I have done some commercial art. I designed the logo for the 2004 Yukon Quest race patch and pin, and have a few sled dog cartoon postcards that are sold at Cold Spot Feeds.
I intend to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. Animal behavior is a particular area of interest.
What is your primary sled dog activity or area of
How long have you been involved with sled dogs?
What sparked your initial interest in sled dogs?
If you remember your very first time behind a team of dogs, tell
us about it.
My first "real" team of dogs were Joyce Tuttle's sprint dogs. I remember it clearly! At first, I wasn't sure the four little hound dogs she'd hooked up would actually pull me. I envisioned myself having to do a lot of running behind the sled. I had NO experience with sprint dogs! I was caught completely off guard when they shot out of the yard like a rocket! The dogs tore down the icy driveway and hung a hard left on the road. Of course, the sled continued straight... into the snow bank on the other side! I was able to hang on (thanks to the death grip from years of working road grader controls!), right the sled, and catch up with Joyce at the highway crossing. I got the team stopped, but as we went across the dry pavement, a runner caught, flipping the sled again. I didn't want to stop the dogs on the road, so let them drag me across the highway on my back. I stopped them just before getting into the trees. That was a rush! And a real eye opener! That's also why I wear insulated Carhartt coveralls for training. Not only do they protect against the cold, they add a lot of padding for those unexpected spills! The rest of the run went pretty smoothly. I learned a lot about handling a strong team at high speeds from that experience! You definitely have to pay attention and be prepared for the unexpected... ALWAYS!
Who have been your mentors?
What size kennel do you operate?
What type of tether/bowl system do you use?
I also have large kennel runs (about 600 - 900 ft sq). I have 3 of these that are made from chain link kennel panels that have been reinforced by tying the chain link to the frame more securely with 12 ga galvanized fence wire. I like these panels because they're easy to disassemble and reuse, if you want to rearrange your yard. I'm constantly rearranging my yard! I'm currently working on a wooden fence and some permanent kennel runs. I like to connect adjacent kennel runs with a gate, as well, which makes it really easy to socialize dogs. I prevent digging out or in by laying some hardware cloth wire on the ground underneath the fence panel. There's at least 1.5' of 19 ga wire with 1/2" square holes protruding in either direction from the base of the fence. I haven't had any dogs dig under the fence with this new setup.
In addition to the kennel runs and tie outs, I currently have three fenced yards ranging from about 600 ft sq - 1/2 acre.
I like to rotate dogs between these accommodations, letting them spend some time on a tie out, and also in a large running yard, and in a kennel run with a buddy.
In the winter I like using little 1 gallon plastic buckets as food dishes. During the summer, I'll use the plastic buckets and also regular metal dog dishes.
What are the most important considerations in housing sled dogs?
Give us an overview of your feeding program.
While training they're fed and watered twice a day. During the off-season, due to my busy work schedule, they're fed once a day. In the summer, each dog has a 12 gallon galvanized bucket filled with water that I change when it gets dirty or starts growing anything. That way, they can't tip it over, and they always have water available.
In the winter I supplement their food with cooked fish and game meat, rice, fat, dry kelp, and a few other odds and ends.
Summarize your basic kennel management style.
What breed(s) do you work with?
Most of my dogs are adopted from the local animal shelter. I have dogs ranging in size from 35# - 85#.
What physical characteristics do you look for in your dogs?
What mental or emotional attributes do you require in your dogs?
Tell us about an all time favorite dog or two.
Misha is another little angel that is no longer with us. This little houdini could escape from anything. She was so tiny (a little 35# sheltie/husky mix) that I hadn't thought of putting her in the team. She was primarily just a housepet. After escaping a couple winters ago, and losing two toes by winding up in a trap that some jerk had set out in his driveway for the specific purpose of trapping neighborhood dogs, I decided to give her a try in the team. She definitely needed a job. She did great! She really enjoyed it, and seemed very happy with her new job. When her little foot would get too cold or sore, I'd put a booty on, and she'd run along happily. She was a real joy. A very loving little dog, and Sasha's best buddy. They'd been adopted from the shelter together as pups. Unfortunately, the little houdini continued escaping in the most creative ways over the summer. One day, she didn't come home. I miss her dearly, and continue to work on yard security to prevent future break outs of even the most determined dogs!
First and foremost, a good temperament and disposition. Good work ethic, tough feet, good coat texture, good metabolism, and healthy eaters. The two dogs in question would have to have physical attributes that complement one another. It is also important that the parents have a history of good health.
Do you use any pre-training evaluation of puppies?
What method do you use for starting pups?
What is the most important thing you look for in a young dog?
At what point do you decide a youngster is likely to make it in
What is the training/racing philosophy of your kennel?
Do you have specific training goals for your team(s)?
What do you consider most important to accomplish in training?
What is the most indispensable training equipment you use?
How do you choose which races to enter?
What are your strengths as a racer?
What do you consider your weaknesses, if any?
Do you have a mushing career goal?
What does it take to win?
What is your vision of the future of sled dog
What can individual mushers do to support and promote the sport?
Mentoring newbies is a great thing, too. Let people learn from the mistakes you've made, so they don't have to make them all themselves, at the expense of the dogs or their sanity.
What part do clubs and organizations play in sport development?
What advice would you give a beginning musher?
Also, never run a team larger than you can comfortably handle during training. You never know what can pop up out on the trail...moose, loose dogs, equipment malfunction, etc. Start small and increase gradually.
Tell us about one or two of your most memorable
sled dog experiences.
One winter morning, after hearing a commotion, I looked out the window to see all of my dogs in the driveway, on the wrong side of the fence. Of course, this is where I'd been storing the garbage bags awaiting a trip to the transfer station. So, I threw on some boots and a sweater and ran out to open the gate and let all the dogs in. I figured it would take them a while to squirm back out of whatever hole they created in the fence. Well, I had just enough time to go back upstairs and look out the window to discover all the dogs milling around the garbage, which they had dragged all over the driveway and underneath both the grader and the pickup truck! So much for getting back to sleep. I went outside with a flashlight and began walking the fence line. I had been expecting to discover a pretty good sized hole, since even the monstrously tall 85# dog was loose, but I was completely unprepared for what I found. A moose had apparently trampled a good 10' section of wire fence, including posts, completely flat! Not only that, but the noises coming from the woods just beyond the fence made it clear that the culprit was still hanging around! I had all 12 dogs locked in the cabin by themselves for about 4 hours, while the moose milled around in the driveway and I tried to hastily repair broken fence. That summer I put in some chain tie-outs. Whether I use them all or not, my goal is to have enough for all dogs in my yard, plus a couple extra!
I learned a lot about canine fertility from my sled dogs, as well. Since nobody in my family has ever bred dogs, I had never had any first hand experience with the issue. Also, I mostly take in shelter dogs and rarely any intact animals from private individuals. I had been under the impression that females can only get pregnant when they come into heat, which is about twice a year, six months apart. So, I didn't think anything of it when I put an intact male and female in a pen for a while. She'd been in heat over a month prior. Well, a few months later, I noticed that particular female gaining weight in a rather peculiar way. There seemed to be nothing else wrong with her, so I just kept her under observation. I had just decided to take her to the clinic for an x-ray, when the mystery was solved. I came out the next morning to feed dogs before going to work. I heard an unusual squeaking sound coming from Mauja's pen. I found the sound to be coming from some little critter writhing around in the dirt. My first thought was to get it out of there before a dog ate it! I figured that the dog's seeming disinterest in the little "morsel" was probably due to my arrival with a bucket of feed! It wasn't until I picked it up and brushed the dirt off that I realized what it was. A puppy. Again, my very first thought (albeit just for a split second) was "where in the world did a puppy come from?!" Then, all of a sudden (you could probably see the light bulb come on) I realized what had been "wrong" with Mauja all this time! It's rather embarrassing, but true. I called in to work and took a sick day, and brought Mauja into the cabin to have the rest of them under my bed. It was a flawless delivery. I had been so worried, since working at an emergency veterinary clinic, I'd only seen the deliveries that go wrong. I'd never witnessed natural dog birth before. It was an amazing experience! I just wish I'd been a little better prepared! Fortunately, a few fellow vet tech helped me out with "puppy sitting" while I scrambled around to get everything set up for the litter.
One of the little critters has found a home with a loving family, and the others will be joining the working dogs here this next winter.
I have found myself shaking, on the runners, holding a team of 8 eager dogs, because there's a moose grazing lazily in the trail about 100 feet ahead, that's showing no interest in moving! Then, I notice her calf trot out to join her. Oh boy. Everything turned out Ok. There was no way I was going to be able to turn the dogs successfully away from that on the narrow trail! I just kept an eye on the moose. I shouted at it, and let the dogs "lunge" toward it a couple inches at a time. I wanted to seem as unthreatening as possible, but be as obnoxiously loud and annoying as possible, so it would go find a more "peaceful" place to graze...somewhere away from the dog trail! Don't know if my reasoning was sound, but it worked in that situation.
Whether you're into competition or just recreation, it's a great activity to enjoy with your pets! Don't limit yourself to what everyone else does, but be adventurous and find something that works for you! There are so many different ways to enjoy winter sports with dogs, that there's something for everyone...no matter what kind of dog you have, or how many!
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