Like everyone, I was shocked and saddened by Dingle’s sudden passing. It’s always hard to lose a dog, some more so than others. I love all the SP Kennel dogs, of course, but I will admit to having had a few favorites over the years. Dingle was one of them. In fact, we had a very “special” relationship. Here’s our story:
In the December 2008 GinGin 200, SP Kennel ran three ten-dog teams with Aliy, Allen and Bridgett all on the runners. I was the only crew member on hand, and it was only my third race experience.
Late on the first night, I was in Paxson lodge after a 20-hour day of handling dogs, helping mushers, filming the action and posting to the DogLog. I was just about to put my head down for a nap when I heard my name called, followed by words a handler doesn't want to hear: "One of your dogs has just come back from a checkpoint."
I bundled up to deal with the -50 degree temps and howling wind — epic race conditions which resulted in this iconic picture of Aliy — then went out into the pitch black night. Being thoroughly examined by a race veterinarian was two year old Dingle!
Having been dropped from a race for the first time — in only the second race of his young career! — he looked perplexed and disappointed, but was visibly reassured when he saw me. I greeted him with a brisk pat and asked him, "What in the world, Dingle?!?"
Apparently, the flap we attach to the underside of the male dogs' wind jackets — to protect their "private parts" — had blown loose on Dingle. Being particularly well-endowed, the lad had been exposed to the fierce winds and had picked up a bit of "frost nip" on his, um, "Little Dingle."
After examination, the vet assured me that it was a minor “nip” and that he would fully recover with no problems. He would, however, require some special attention over the next 48 hours.
In brief, his treatment regimen had two parts:
First, avoiding internal infection by keeping him thoroughly hydrated such that fluids frequently flowed through the affected organ. Second, avoiding external infection by keeping the affected area thoroughly lubricated with a liberal amount of ointment.
That was all the instruction I received. With the all of the Kennel's actual dog experts out on the trail, it was up to me to figure out how to comply with the doctor's orders.
The first job was pretty straightforward. Although there's only so much clear water a dog will drink, there's almost no limit to how much "fish soup" an Alaskan husky will lap up. So, I got a cooker going and made Dingle a huge pot, mostly water with chopped up pieces of salmon and a little kibble for flavoring. Every hour I fed him a big bowl of it, then walked him until he relieved himself of the previous dose.
Besides being time consuming and a bit of a drag to be outside in the dark, cold and wind half the night, the hydration order was easy to accomplish. I would do anything for the dogs, especially for my little pal Dingle.
Saying I would do anything for Dingle brings me to the second job. At -50 degrees, the ointment/salve had the consistency of clay, not something you can just dab on with a gauze pad. In order to apply it, I had to briskly knead it in my hands while inside the lodge, then run outside and manually massage it onto his booboo.
Picture yourself in the arctic night, massaging a dog's private parts every hour and you probably won't even come close to how ludicrous it seemed to actually be doing it!
The first time I did it, Dingle was more than a little surprised. After that, I swear the cheeky rascal smiled at me every time he saw me coming out the door.
Various humans couldn't resist getting in on the act, taking turns to make comments on my activities.
One grizzled veteran handler got a laugh out of everyone — and even a grin from me — by declaring, "You've sure got a special relationship with that dog!"
It was worth it, of course, for Dingle to make a full recovery, even despite forever being chided by various members of the mushing community whenever they saw me with the SP Kennel team: "Hey, which dog is your special friend?" If they only knew.
Dingle was very much my special friend, and not just because of our weekend in Paxson. It's always a risk to anthropomorphize a dog, but with him I'm proud to do it: Dingle and I have a lot in common.
￼Other dogs were flashier and more famous, like ChaCha, Quito, Nacho and other superstars of the Kennel. Dingle was a quiet, competent, hard working dog who rarely got — and never sought — the limelight. Being good at his job was its own reward.
Everyone who knew Dingle always knew he could be counted on to do his job, to do it well and to get it done. He always had a smile on his face!
I like to think of myself that way, or at least aspire to his level of quiet, solid, reliable performance and positive attitude. Dingle was my role model.
This is my favorite photo of Dingle. It's how I will always remember him.
Farewell, my special friend... Thank you for the honor, privilege and great pleasure of knowing you.