It is with very heavy hearts we share with you the sad news that Dingle passed away unexpectedly last week. He was just eight years old.
Dingle had been taken out of training because Aliy had noticed that he didn't have his normal pep and energy. He had a wellness exam vet appointment scheduled for the next day. However, his condition changed rapidly during the afternoon and he died peacefully upstairs in the house; laying on a dog bed with Spencer caring for him.
An autopsy showed that Dingle had developed a mass in the right ventricle that became dislodged and caused acute cardiac arrest.
Everyone that knew him has used similar words to describe him: the strong, silent type who never sought the limelight and cheerfully got on with his job. An honest, hard-working, patient, knowledgeable dog who had more recently taken up the role of mentor to a new generation of SP Kennel lead dogs. He was gentle, sweet and affectionate. He stole many hearts and those hearts are all broken this week.
Dingle had an extensive racing history, running the Iditarod six times, the Yukon Quest 1000 once and the YQ300 twice. He ran the Copper Basin trail three times and had a multitude of other mid-distance races under his harness. He was truly one of the best SP dogs ever!
His most recent race was in the Black Team for the 2014 Iditarod where he was a superstar, leading the team at both the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage and the re-start in Willow. He contributed so much to the team until Ophir where he left the team due to a tender shoulder muscle.
L-R: Leading the Black Team with half-brother Beemer in the 2014 Iditarod Ceremonial Start (photo Mary-Beth Schreck); Leading the Red Team with Quito during the Iditarod 2013 (photo Sebastian Schnuelle)
We asked the SP Kennel Crew that knew him well to share some favourite memories and stories about Dingle.
Aliy has only three framed remembrances in her kitchen: a photo of her first sled dog puppy ever born, Rubia, playing with her Mom, Roller; a photo of her first Yukon Quest dog team climbing a windblown summit in 1998; and a photo of Dingle and ChaCha, his Mom, leading Aliy's team in the Iditarod. She says that the Dingle she knew was an inspiration.
Allen remembers the 2009 Iditarod, when dog teams raced against each other as well as an intense snowy blizzard. This was Dingle's first Iditarod as a 2 year old novice. Allen's two leaders through the storm were: veteran All-Star, Hoss, and a small, hard driving, dedicated youngster named Dingle. In their combined effort they "gee-hawed" over moguls and around enormous snow drifts for 150 miles on the Yukon River. Allen knew right then that Dingle would be an elite member of the SP Kennel team with his 'never give up' attitude.
Bridgett (right, with Dingle at the start of 2014 Iditarod) remembers Dingle for his "silly yet gentle and loving personality. Always wanting to please. I remember him as a pup! Mostly because I wanted so badly to name him Silver because as a pup his coat was thick of a beautiful shiny silver color. He was a fur ball! However, his name came about thanks to Scotty and Aliy getting seriously tickled one day when that beautiful silver hair had a huge dingle berry (poop) on it - yuck I know. And from that day forth he was and will always be remembered as Dingle :).
I loved every time he made it to Nome! He was always welcomed inside and would sleep on the couch ;). I was blessed to know him as a pup, yearling, train with him, see him finish many races bringing strong teams across finish lines and fortunate to race with him! Forever loved Ding Ding."
Kennel Mom (Mickey) tells us about springing Dingle from prison - see her story below.
Meghan had Dingle in her team for the Copper Basin 300 in 2014 and trained hundreds of miles with him during the last two seasons. These are her thoughts: "My favorite memories of Dingle aren't dramatic. That wasn't Dingle's style. He was understated and enjoyed simple pleasures. Dedicated and reliable as sled dogs come, Dingle also knew that the good life includes some quality time on a warm dog bed upstairs with the humans.
I love that Dingle was happy to run 1,000 miles at subzero temperatures, but insisted on riding in the cab of the dog truck on the way to the race ("Umm, I don't do dog boxes... didn't you get the memo?!")"
(Above: Riding in the cab with Meghan on the way to 2013 Iditarod)
Ryne from Ryno Kennel knew him very well, having trained with him over many seasons. He raced the 2014 Yukon Quest 300 with her team of up-and-comers. This was her recap of the race: "Dingle, from SP Kennel, was the man. With multiple 1000-mile races under his belt, he brought much needed maturity to the team. His Gee/Haw response was instant, unless of course I was wrong and then he’d correct me."
Dingle (with Lester) at Mile 101 during the 2014 Yukon Quest 300
Wes and Wendy remember him as the best cuddler in the kennel. It was hard to walk past his house and not stop to give him some love. On one hand he was a tough, no-nonsense sled dog but on the other he had such a soft and gentle side it seemed like a contradiction. He took after his Mom ChaCha in that respect.
Moira was glad to have him in her team for the 2013 Two Rivers Solstice 50 :"It was my first 'proper' race, and the first race for the seven yearlings I had in my team so I was nervous. Spoog was fairly inexperienced as a leader at that point but luckily Dingle was my other leader. He calmly led all of us through many new experiences and respectfully ignored me when, in my nervousness, I got my Gee/Haw mixed up - I swear he could read trail markers!"
Macgellan had a "special relationship" with Dingle and will write a separate post so watch for that in the next week or two.
Alice van Dorn has been Dingle's sponsor since January 2010 and has been following his fortunes closely since then. She and her husband, Art, met him numerous times and they enjoyed each other's company. We feel for Alice at this time also.
Springing Dingle from Prison
Dingle was not only a tough, smart, dedicated member of SP Kennel, he was also experienced, calm and trusting. He was a role model for all. Below is our Dingle story:
Hiland Mountain Correctional Center
Eagle River, Alaska
1:30 AM Alaska Daylight Time
Negative 15 degrees F and windy
Doug and I had spent the past five hours helping the Iditarod pick up 69 dropped dogs at the airport, load the dogs into SP's F-350 dog truck and transport them to the local women's minimum security prison, just outside of Anchorage. Here the inmates temporarily care for our precious dogs. (See blog post, 'Prison Dog Drop').
On this blustery March night, Iditarod volunteer Veterinarians met us at the prison where, at about 10 pm, they began the exhausting task of examining each canine athlete in a huge, illuminated open shed. We waited for the 5 SP dogs to be released to us, so we could take them back to our hotel and, ultimately, to their home.
The vets started methodically checking the animals at the front of the shed, closest to our truck. In the first hour we loaded Chica and Oddball into our truck. In the second hour we welcomed Bonita and Snickers. In the third hour, no one! It is 1 AM, where is our 5th dog?
Farthest from us and behind the work shed we could see a line of about 10 or 12 dogs in makeshift quarters, sleeping amongst construction equipment, waiting for the vets. There had been no room in the inn for these last few animals. They were comfy but they were surely 'out in left field'.
A little after 1 AM, I finally got impatient and asked if the vets could expedite processing of the final SP dog, so we could get our precious cargo situated for the night. I have to admit that I am not very happy outdoors in the wee hours at minus 15 degrees.
We were shocked to hear the vet say, 'Paperwork says we have one more SP dog named Dingo'. It was late and I was grumpy and cold. 'SP doesn't have a dog named Dingo! You mean we waited here for 3 hours and you don't have our dog!' I was disgusted and ready to bail.
The tired vet walked us to that line of 10 dogs parked amongst construction equipment. There were anxious fluffy grey ones, small wary black ones, young eager houndy dogs, all seeking attention....and, oh my gosh, second to last in line was our Dingle (not 'Dingo' at all). He sat there patiently staring at us, anticipation and appreciation on his face. 'Hi guys, it's me, Dingle! Can we go home now?'
After his vet exam, we loaded him in the front seat of the truck between Doug and me. He simply nuzzled us, curled up and fell asleep. Typical Dingle. We all knew he had just run 700 miles, been left by his team mates, been cared for by strangers, been shipped hundreds of miles in small planes, to finally end up nearly last in line in prison. Nevertheless, he was content.
I've often thought that Dingle exemplified the perfect athlete (canine or human) that night: HARD WORK / POSITIVE ATTITUDE / NO DRAMA! Come to think of it, that is Dingle in a nutshell.
We will sure miss you, buddy.
This is extremely hard on us all, especially, of course Aliy and Allen who shared over eight years of extraordinary experiences with Dingle, and Spencer who had gotten close to him this season. Dingle was very much loved and will be very much missed. We can't believe he has gone.
In Dingle's memory we have started a "Kennel All-Stars" page where we will spotlight superstar dogs that are no longer racing for SP Kennel. We'll detail their race history and tell you some stories about them. Dingle is the first "inductee" to our hall of fame.
Do you have a favourite Dingle memory? Please share it with us in the comments below.