SP Kennel is a premier sled dog racing kennel in Two Rivers, Alaska, dedicated to the individual dog through excellent health, nutrition, training and specialized care.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Day in Anchorage

Alaska is a big state.

SP Kennel is in Two Rivers which is in Interior Alaska - approximately 375 miles north of Anchorage. Anchorage is the biggest city in the 49th state and quite a popular tourist destination. Allen and Aliy travel to ‘the big city’ periodically during the year. (Most notably on the first weekend of March for the Iditarod Start.)

Aliy and her dad, Doug, stand overlooking 4th Avenue in Downtown Anchorage.

Last week, Aliy found herself in downtown Anchorage. What does a musher do all day when there are no huskys to tend to or races to run? Well... day dream about huskys and plan for future races, of course. Aliy, her dad, Doug, and good friend Barbara spent half of the day ‘touring’ Anchorage.

They went to the Alaska State Troopers Museum first. Aliy now has a new favorite ball cap!

After that, they found 4th Avenue (even with out trail markers or the help of sled dogs).

After they got the ‘bird’s eye view, they walked down along the sidewalk. Both of these were entirely different perspectives than the Iditarod route which travels down the middle of 4th Avenue. It was peculiar to see the street from an entirely different perspectives.

The first stop on 4th Avenue was the statue of ‘Balto’ in front of the Fur Rondy Coffee Shop. They paid their respects to an awesome dog. And who can pass up a good cup of coffee? Then they went to the Alaska Public Lands Building. The computerized Alaska map was fascinating - Aliy and Doug played with the interactive tool from Anchorage 1,000 miles to Nome -- with a few side trips to Katmai, Gates of the Arctic and Atigan Pass. It was an adventurous day! Just as they were leaving a large wall map caught Aliy’s attention. She said “I bet this will be the easiest trip I’ve ever had on the Iditarod Trail!”

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Slow-Mo Sunday: Fire Pups

Remember when we used to walk all eleven of the fire pups - together?

We hope you enjoy this Slow-Mo Sunday of the chaos that is three-month-old Fire Pups!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Iditarod Sign Up and Volunteer Picnic

Saturday June 25th was the first day to sign up for Iditarod 2017. Both Aliy and Allen turned in paperwork (Aliy actually turned in Allen's paperwork, as he was working on the Princess Cruises Train in Denali all day.) But, Aliy was in Wasilla to share the day with many Iditarod Volunteers as well as Mushers who showed up for the picnic.
Fifty-two mushers signed up to start the 2017 race. HERE is the list.

Iditarod Trail Headquarters, Wasilla, Alaska; Aliy turns in race paperwork.

Aliy and Dallas talk dogs; Mille, Aliy and Joar.

Martin, Aliy and Dr. Stu Nelson; Aliy and Mark Nordman.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Flash Back Friday: Venus

A few of you have been asking about Venus!

Venus (right with ChaCha), was a hardworking and opinionated team leader. Aliy describes her as a sassy spitfire!

Her lineage has Jeff King’s Yuski as her father and an Erhart sprint dog named Cream as her mother.

Venus and ChaCha won the Copper Basin 300 together while in lead and raced the Iditarod in tandem as well. As half sisters, Venus and ChaCha had a wonderful bond.

For years the respective puppies of these Grand Dames were the main leaders at SP Kennel. Venus was Mom of the "Spanish/Mexican" Litter of Quito, Nacho, Chica, Bonita and Paco. Now, their grandpuppies are taking over the reins. It is fun to watch how the family of SP Kennel dogs continues to grow and blossom.

Sometimes genetics are passed on as spitting images. Here is Venus (lower left) and her daughter, Bonita (lower right.) Her other offspring bear no resemblance what-so-ever!

L-R: Venus and her look-a-like daughter Bonita

A funny story from Iditarod 2012 - SP Kennel Pit Crew was picking up dropped dogs in Anchorage and Bonita had been dropped in Kaltag so they had known that she would would be the next to arrive. When Wendy and my mom went to pick her up and the Iditarod volunteer asked: “Are you here to get “Venus?” and my mom just instinctively said yes. Mom had known Venus for many years as one of SP Kennel’s Super Stars but, Venus hadn’t raced with me since 2008 and Wendy had never known Venus. So Wendy said we don’t have a “Venus”, we are looking for a “Bonita”. Apparently, in all of my ramblings in Kaltag, I had confused the veterinarian terribly about the name of the dog that I was actually dropping. But, there sat Bonita!

Venus passed away in 2010 and she overlooks the kennel in her final resting place. Good girl Venus.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Midnight Sun Festival

Summer solstice in the Interior of Alaska is a BIG DEAL. Sunrise at 2:58 am and Sunset 12:47 am. Leaving us to bask in the rays for 21 hours and 49 minutes.
So, why not enjoy it?

This past Sunday, in downtown Fairbanks, the Midnight Sun Festival was a gathering of thousands of Alaskan residents as well as visitors. What better time to 'Meet & Greet' three of Alaska's Fan Favorites in the sport of Dog Mushing? All three were conveniently located at a festival tent sponsored by SP Kennel Lead Sponsor (and cell phone provider) Verizon.

Fan Favorite #1: Quito.
Quito was introduced to thousands of her fans and shook paws with none. She isn't really a 'hand shaking' kind of dog. She greeted kids, dogs and adults a like. The only thing she didn't really appreciate were tiny dogs who looked an awful lot like squirrels. But, there was no chasing involved and only one rare "Yip!" at the sight of a miniature Yorkie. Quito of course, was the STAR of the show!
Quito wore a set of bright red Verizon booties and her Howling Dog Alaska harness. She rotated between her two handlers, Aliy and Allen. Her nephew, Mac, was also present at the event but stayed predominately in a wire crate. He felt more secure behind the wire barrier and people could easily pet him while he lay inside his crate.
All the other dogs were represented on SP Kennel Dog Posters.

Fan Favorite #2: SP Kennel Racing Sleds.
Allen set up two racing sleds and allowed mushing 'newbies' to jump on board to see if they were indeed ready to take on 1,000 miles.
The Yukon Quest stating line in the year 2014 was located exactly at the spot where the sleds sat on Sunday afternoon.
It was amazing to share the fact that Allen's sled started the race here on February 1st, then traveled over many mountain summits and along many miles of frozen river and trail, to cross the finish line in Whitehorse, Canada on February 10th in 1st Place.
We did have one little guy (see photo on left) who said he'd gladly ride along on the next adventure, but his Mama thought that 1,000 miles might be a bit much for the infant.

Fan Favorite #3: Aliy and Allen.
The two mushers were there to talk about their careers in mushing as well as the basics about sled dogs, racing gear and strategy. Locals and tourists a like were excited to get autographed hand outs and postcards or hear about a few stories from the trail
It was a delightful afternoon to get to know some of the Fairbanks Verizon Office Staff. The company is, of course, a nationwide corporation but their involvement and support at the local Alaskan level is remarkable.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Slow-Mo Sunday: Fathers' Day

In a special edition of Slow-Mo Sunday we take a slow-mo look at three of the Dads at SP Kennel - Biscuit, Nacho and Clyde! Happy Fathers' Day to all the Dads out there!

Friday, June 17, 2016

8 Weeks Post Surgery - looking at the Finish Line

It has been 8 weeks since I had surgery on my foot. At 6 weeks and 3 days (who’s counting?) I got permission from my Doctor to walk. He looked at my X-rays and decided that the bones had fused together substantially. I think he was shocked that I had actually been such a “good patient” (Allen’s interpretation and my Doctor’s may not be quite the same!)

So… I believe that walking is pretty much the “finish line” for me. It has changed everything! Granted, there is still a lot more to do, but I feel like I made it.

Just because I actually got permission to start walking doesn’t mean that my entire right leg is immediately ready to “walk”. This fact kinda bummed me out at first. But, as I massaged my pencil thin calf muscle and my tight Achilles tendon I understood that ‘take it easy’ really means take it easy. So, while I will not be running, jumping and hiking dozens of miles right away, those things will come back soon…

A lot of people I’ve seen in the last week, have said “Gosh, those 8 weeks went by pretty quickly, huh?” I can’t frown and outwardly disagree (because Allen has told me that I have to be nicer to everyone and smile more often now that I can walk) but, NO those 8 weeks went by quite slowly - thank you very much.

But, I will tell you that the finish line is here. I see the lights of Nome! I’m ecstatic.

Here is an excerpt from my 2016 Trail Notes about coming to the Finish Line:

Leaving White Mountain, we had very little pressure to ‘keep racing hard’. Brent and his dogs’ massive communication breakdown had changed the 2016 race outcome drastically for us. Dallas and Mitch had already claimed the first two positions. But, now the third place position was sitting open just waiting for us. No teams were close enough to catch us from behind.
We had the advantage of running most of these final miles in the cooler nighttime temperatures. There isn’t much ‘shade bearing’ vegetation along the coast, so the timing was a real plus. The rolling hills between White Mountain and the sea coast are not enormous, but they are very steep and require extra effort from both the dogs and myself. We were well rested, so we put everything into ‘getting there’ as fast as we could. No sense in dillydallying.
I had Scout and Mismo up front. They seemed to be my ‘go to’ dogs at this point. I carried 40 pounds of meat and fish and regularly snacked the team. I had a few energy bars myself and drank 3/4 gallon of water. I didn’t want either the dogs or myself to look like we had just ‘washed up on shore’ when we got to the finish line.
We climbed Topcock mountain, the last hill before the Iditarod Trail comes down to sea level and parallels the shoreline. At the summit, it was simply amazing to look down and out across the somewhat frozen ocean. The night sky was still shaded by darkness but the sea ice was white and it was lite up by the amazing stars and a tiny sliver of a moon. In all my lifetime, I will never see a sight like that again. The dogs and I paused very shortly to admire the beauty.
We came down Topcock and turned in front of the Nome Kennel Club shelter cabin. Then we started to parallel the shore. The first few shoreline miles naviagte down the center of a frozen lagoon. There is rarely any snow covering on the lagoon ice and this year was no different. It was quite the doggie skating rink. I stopped before anyone panicked as their legs slipped out this way and that. I dropped my chains underneath my runners and again thanked Allen for coming up with such a great invention. Then I walked down the team and put necklines on every dog so that they had two points of contact with the mainline. This way if a dog started to slip, it could either lean into its harness or into its neck line or both to get support. I also moved Mismo back a few spots. I kept Scout up in lead by himself. I took off his front paw boots because he would have better traction with out “slippery socks” on. I needed to be able to steer him back and forth across the skating rink. We took off again and had very little trouble ‘skating’ the next few miles.
The twenty miles from the lagoon to the Safety Checkpoint were rather tame. I will always shake my head in awe when I pass through these miles. This early morning, I was able to look around with my headlight and identified a few familiar landmarks. I really wanted to pick out the telephone pole trail marker that my team had been wrapped around during the 2014 blizzard. We passed a few that could have been “the one”. I asked Waylon and Willie if they recognized it - these two brothers were the only dogs from this team who had been with me during the final miles of the 2014 race - I got no definitive answer.
We went through the Safety Checkpoint without too much of an incident. The dogs did want to drift off to the left toward the cabin, but after a few overly suggestive “Gee” commands they turned. I will admit that a cabin in the middle of this harsh and featureless shoreline with friendly faces is quite a temptation to a dog. Plus, this cabin had indeed saved us in 2014. So, I wasn’t overly critical when the dogs wavered a little. I even told the Checker and volunteers that we might knockdown a few of their trail markers before leaving. “Sorry!”
As we trotted away, we headed up toward the last hill of the race: Cape Nome. I stopped the team at its base. I knew that we were less than 3 hours from the finish line and we were still carrying about 25 pounds of snacks. So, we had a large buffet of turkey skins, beef chunks and salmon steaks. Yummy.
After that we screamed up the hill. I either ran or ski poled every step of the way. At this point, I was really, really ready to cross the finish line. My emotions were starting to seep out. At the top of the hill, the lights of Nome consumed the horizon. Wow. I get chills even writing this now.
The last miles were an emotional roller coaster. The dogs, thank goodness, were on cruise control. Mismo was back in lead with Scout. They both knew our destination. We saw crowds gathering as day break filled the now pink-colored horizon.
I could not believe that we were going to actually finish. I was back to shaking my head constantly. I began to see family and friends standing along the trail and off in the distance. The lump in my throat grew larger and larger.
About a mile before the finish, I stopped my team on the sea ice. I tried to pick a spot that wasn’t cluttered with spectators or photographers. I wanted to thank each dog individually for getting us here. I knew that the finish line would be crowded and I just needed a few minutes to say some words to these incredible dogs. I tried to compose myself. I didn’t want to be a babbling, crying, speechless Aliy Zirkle at the finish line. This was going to be a joyful, unbelievable moment.
I walked back to my sled and asked the dogs, “You ready for this?” Apparently they were, because we took off towards the finish.
We made it. Yes we did. I couldn’t believe it then. I can’t believe it now.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Summer Camp for Woody

Woody is having a different and exciting summer!

As you may know, several mushers send their dogs to one of the Alaskan glacier operations where they get to run in harness all summer long. That can work really well for them but generally we have felt that this is not in the best interest of OUR dogs and prefer them to have their summers "off", keeping fit with free running and the occasional jump in a pond.

Woody is a dog that has SO much potential but hasn't quite managed to break-through. We felt he needed some confidence and a consistent 4 month "Summer Camp" seemed like a good idea.

Chris was heading to Mendenhall Glacier to give tours to Alaskan visitors and had to leave his pet, Green Dog, with his parents, so there was an open spot for Woody.

Chris reported to us early on that Woody is, of course, one of the guests' favourites with is large size, handsome face and big bark.

Here is the latest from Chris:

This morning I woke up at 6:00 AM. The sun was already shining, which was a relief after 7 straight days of rain. The Mendenhall Glacier is right above the largest temperate rain forest in North America, so we all get used to the rain pretty quick.
Living on the glacier feels a bit like living on the moon (I guess I’ve never lived on the moon, but you get the idea!) I have never been to a place so stunning. Though the weather can be a bit harsh, the dogs are always happy to get out and run. They can deal with blizzards and 50 mile-per-hour winds, so a little rain doesn’t slow them down at all.
Aliy let me take Woody to the glacier with me, and I am elated to have him. The rest of my dogs are from Iditarod Musher, Melissa Owens Stewart, and Woody has fit right in. He has even been training a couple of Melissa's young leaders. I’m not sure how Aliy feels about her dog training the competition, but it has made my day much easier having Woody leading my teams. He has an incredible attitude, and has been steadily gaining confidence in himself.
Here a couple pictures of the big guy enjoying a beautiful sunny day.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Slow-Mo Sunday: Iditarod Finishes

We're back with our occasional summer series "Slow Mo Sunday" where we slow down some footage you might have already seen to you can enjoy it in more detail and from a different perspective.

Today we see both the Red and Black teams crossing the finish line of the 2016 Iditarod in Nome.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Congratulations All-Star Chica

Today we induct Chica into our SP Kennel All-Star Hall of Fame!

Each summer we retire select dogs from their racing careers at SP Kennel. Our philosophy has always been and will always be: "the right home, for the right dog, at the right time". The "right home at the right time" has come along for Chica now.

Leslie and Don have sponsored Chica for many years and upon hearing she was retiring from harness, they put their hands up to give her a new life in Anchorage. Her calm "out of harness" demeanour meant she was always going to be a great pet dog once her racing days were over. Leslie and Don have reported that "Chica is so into our daily routine. She is more settled every day and her confidence in this whole new environment improves by leaps and bounds daily."

Chica is one of "the big three" grey "Mexican" named dogs that were the heart and soul of the successful SP Kennel teams for the last six years. She will always be remembered as one of the best dogs ever! To celebrate her retirement and her 10th birthday, we have inducted her as an SP Kennel All-Star!

L-R: Dingle, Scruggs, Quito, Chica during 2012 Iditarod - Photo by Sebastian Schnuelle

Chica is a multiple Copper Basin 300 and Yukon Quest champion and came 2nd in the Iditarod three times. She did all this reasonably quietly, and people could be forgiven for not even noticing her. She, of course, has a very famous sister and her brother Nacho is also kind of a big deal. Chica's other siblings include the gorgeous and talented Bonita and the Paco who both reside in the Fairbanks area.

Aliy wrote in her 2012 Iditarod Trail Notes "Chica was the sweetheart of the team. This season, she was one of the hardest working dogs at the kennel, but got the least fanfare for her efforts. Her siblings usually “steal the show”, but the team would not have had the success that it did with out this fantastic dog. She was steady from start to finish and never asked for anything."

Chica in swing during 2015 Yukon Quest - Photo by Mary-Beth Schreck

After Allen and the Black Team won the Yukon Quest for the first time in 2013 he described Chica as "an essential part of the winning team". Then again, in the 2014 Yukon Quest she showed just how important she was to the team when she and Quito lead the team over Eagle Summit and went on to take the championship again.

Chica was easy to spot coming into a checkpoint, as Aliy or Allen were checking in with the officials, she would lunge in harness and bark making quite a fuss! At the other end of the checkpoint stay she would remain sleeping or lying down, looking like she was not into it at all. At the very last minute, when the musher would say "Ready?", she would jump up and get right back into it. Chica learned to make the most of any rest stop!

Chica's Mom, Venus, was a sassy, spitfire and her Dad is the famous Zorro from Lance Mackey's kennel. Her bloodlines are phenomenal and she lived up to all that potential, and then some. As well as being a fantastic racing sled dog, Chica is also Mama to six current SPK racing dogs. Check out our latest Mothers' Day post for more details.

It is a mixed blessing to retire any SP Kennel dog. Chica has meant the world to Aliy and Allen and many SP friends and handlers. But, by letting Chica move to a new home, she will now be the center of the universe for to very deserving people. She will bring great joy to more people than she has already has. Her life will be very different in her retirement years. As it should be. In addition, since she is leaving SP Kennel, she won't have to share dog biscuits, dog beds, knuckle bones or even scratches behind the ear. Simply put… Chica deserves to be singled out. She will be.

Of course, we are sad to see her go. Don't think for one minute that tears were not shed. But it would be self-centered, and certainly not in the best interest of SP Kennel as a whole to keep every dog, all the time, no matter what.

So, today is for celebrating the awesome champion sled dog that is CHICA.
Good girl Chica-choos. We love you.

Click HERE to see the All-Stars page and read about our other Hall-of-Famers.