...we knew we couldn't save them all, but we could at least save one lucky pup.
The first few weeks of Juno's life were rough and her home not the best of places for a pup to grow up in, but in the end her life path pulled her another way when we responded to an advertisement for sled dog puppies posted at a local mushing store. When we arrived the musher's home was in a state of disrepair and the other dog's living condition were not all that much better.
We asked to see the mother of the litter that was advertised but she ended up being a bit smaller than we had hoped. Her ability as a sled dog was part of what we were looking for but what attracted us the most was the way she looked at her owner. From the moment he came near she would not take her eyes off him. The female remained transfixed as the owner walked away. It was in that moment we realized we were transfixed as well, on this wonderful sled dog! If this mother could form a connection that deep it could be a strong genetic trait and so some, if not all, of her pups may have the same loyal gene.
The nights were getting colder and it wouldn't be long before our first big freeze. The decision to take a pup home or not was going to be now or never, we knew we couldn't save them all, but we could at least save one lucky pup.
There were a few who stood out but the one who pulled on our heartstrings the most was a little white female with a brown patch covering one eye. She was cute, as cute as cute could be, but there was no telling if she would be the one to grow up like her mother. With any pup you never know what kind of personality lies beneath, but we were willing to take a chance on this little one for sure.
She settled into house life taking short trips outside to relieve herself or to see the dogs in the yard, if the weather was warm enough. If it was too cold she would ride tucked away in our parkas as we went about our daily dog chores. By the time we had fed halfway through the yard she would be peacefully sleeping snug and warm inside the parka.
At the time we thought the weather would be a hindrance to her puppy-hood but it only brought us closer together. As we had carried her around during the dog chores we carried her with us as we drove the sled. During short breaks on the trail we would let her out to stumble around the bigger dogs in the team. When it was time to go she would be gathered up in a parka and away we flew, her head poking out of the jacket with the wind in her fur, totally fascinated at the team running in front of her.
As her tiny legs grew we would let her out to run beside the team when the snow was deep on the trail and the dogs were slow to plow through. Her mind was always ahead of them on the trail but inevitably she would feel her legs tiring and would position herself next to us beside the sled runners, letting out a soft whine with every exhale of breath as a signal to lift her up.
There she would be, a happy wagging, dangling, limp puppy as the sled moved along. As soon as she caught her breath she would start squirming, her other signal for being let down. At a smooth straight stretch, she was lowered ever so gently until she could feel the ground while her legs started to move. As soon as she clicked into the rhythm and speed of the team she was let go and off she went keeping perfect pace without missing a beat.
The next season Juno flourished as a lead dog out on the trail and from the very start she knew what job she was destined to do. There was no place in the team better than lead and she would accept nothing else. To this day she is our go to leader and helps get us through any trail as long as the snow isn't too deep for her short legs. When breaking out fresh powder her size becomes a hindrance and she is forced to command from the rear until the trail opens up again.
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You can read more about Juno in the September/October issue (2012) of Mushing Magazine.