Thursday, September 25, 2008


“Boy that was kind of weird.” Fran piped up before I could say it. “You’ve got that right.” I answered still feeling the shivers run up my spine. “If one was to believe those old “hocus-pocus Indian legends”, one could have said that it was a sign.”

It was late afternoon Sunday, September 21, 2008 and we were walking through the woods carrying a plastic traveling crate, my smelly dog shirt, Oumak’s harness and a pound of hamburger. We were 25 kms away from Baisley Lodges and were there to try to tame him. According to the people that owned the land, a gray wolf had been hanging around this area all week. I had talked to them and they had described the animal to a “T” right down the brass snap on his collar. So, a simple plan was hatched. We would make a temporary shelter for Oumak, provide him with food and hope for the best. After choosing an adequate spot and setting up, we were walking in the trail back to the “dog buggy”. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, this raven flew over, stopped in mid-flight and hovered over our heads. I don’t believe in this stuff but Fran was there to vouch for me. The bird had actually done that. He came so close that we could actually hear the sound of the wind through his powerful wings. I’m sure that it was just a coincidence or it had smelt the food but anyway, it was almost magical. It had been the second sign of that day that had been sent my way, telling me not to lose hope. At this stage of the game, I would have believed in Santa Claus if I would have known it would have made a difference. It had been one hell of roller-coaster ride of a week and I was kind of in the “dumps”.

It all started Tuesday September 16, 2008 when after dusting myself off, I decided to take the dogs out for some exercise. During the last few days, I had put some emphasis on finding Oumak so we hadn’t been out since the previous Saturday. “Come on Gino. Pick your socks up.” I scolded myself. “Give your head a shake. Your dogs are depending on you.” Taking a deep breath so to try and find an ounce of courage, I walked to the barn where I was met by a symphony of barking dogs. They didn’t know what was going through my mind at this moment. They were just happy to see me. “Allo, les guys” I almost sung out. “How’s everybody on this beautiful sunny morning?” From the smiles on all their faces, they were raring to go. “So, you guys want to go in the mountain?” I asked, knowing quite well that those were key words to them. From their jumping up and down and their back flips, I knew the answer. None of them would be left behind. One by one, I let them out. Without hesitation, they dashed to, found an opened door on the dog trailer and jumped right in. There was no time to waste. They knew where they were going and would do their “business” on the trail. “Oh that was a genuine ouch” I grimaced, while looking at “Mr Tibbs” jump up and slam his head against a closed door. “You alright, buddy?” I asked him while he sat there shaking the marbles out of his head. “Here, let me show you where your “hole” is.” I grabbed him by the collar, tapped on the opened dog box and showed him where to aim. Bang, he was in there in a second. “Poor guy,” I said to myself, “he’s still got the spirit but that’s about all.” Yeah, good old “Mr Tibbs”. “Why do you keep him?” was what most of my musher friends would say. “You’re wasting feed on him.” Yeah, they were probably right but then again somewhere deep inside; I knew I owed him a big one. The old dog was turning eleven years old this year and was not in the best of shape. He was completely blind in his left eye and the sight in his right one was probably also close to non-existent. The cataracts were apparently brought on by his diabetes and “Oh”, did I forget to mention that he has bad arthritis. So when last season finished, I knew quite well that “Tibbs” was over the hill and that his mushing career was mostly over. He had been a faithful member of my team and had pulled my ass around for five years. So out of loyalty, I had decided to give him some special benefits associated with retirement. Knowing that he would not leave the property, I let him loose and allowed him to visit on the customers in the cottages. Being a good looking and friendly dog, folks would give him all sorts of treats from hotdogs to sirloin steaks. For sure, it didn’t take him long to see a good thing when it came his way so he capitalized on all this extra attention and affection. So, for now, he was still coming out with us. He had put on the “beef” over the summer and I had to put an “oversized” harness on him but that was OK by me. He could still follow on the short runs and still had that “jump up and down and make all sorts of racket” attitude that motivated the rest of the “mob”. Hey, as far as I was concerned, all teams needed an experienced coach so for as long as he could handle it, the job was his.

While driving to the mountains, I could hear all the chattering going on in the dog trailer. It was as if they joking and teasing one another. Listening to them make all sorts of funny noises, I started smiling and laughing to myself. These dogs sure knew how to lift my spirits. To tell you the truth, some mornings they were simply the reason I’d get up in the morning. Having them in my corner gave me this sense of responsibility, a feeling that I had not had since my retirement from the military. This in my books was a “good thing”.

I’m a strong believer that variety is the spice of life, so I’ve brought into existence a circuit of over twelve different trails. This way the dogs don’t know where they’re going and it develops their sense of exploration. Today I had chosen to run from the “Quebec Alps” back to the staging area which gives a distance of just over five miles. Like usual, I let “JR” and “Sox” out so to do their business. This assured me that my lead dogs would not stop in the middle of the trail and cause a traffic jam. It was nice and quiet and I was minding my own business unrolling my gang line when I heard the sound of a vehicle coming down the road from behind. I called my dogs and they came to me. While holding them there so the vehicle could go by, my stomach started to churn when I saw who it was. I recognized who the driver was and he was bad news. In the last three years, I had met him on four separate occasions and every time it was the same. He’d constantly antagonize me, starting with how all people from New-Brunswick were a bunch of thieves and weren’t welcomed in this “Quebec Controlled Ecological Zone (ZEC).” The smell of the dogs scared the moose away and he paid good money to hunt and we were disturbing him. I had tried reasoning with him, explaining that I was also a member of the ZEC. Although I didn’t hunt, I paid the fees just to have the privilege of running my dogs in such a beautiful territory but this was to no avail. This individual with his ever harassing attitude wouldn’t listen to common sense and made my blood boil. Till now I had managed to tolerate his ignorant ways but the last encounter that him and I had had was a recent event. On that occasion, I had noticed that because I was not retaliating, he thought he could get away with bullying me around.

“Oh great,” I thought to myself, “just what I need, Beatrix Dumont!” I swallowed my spit and got ready for another tongue lashing. Sure as hell, it came as soon as he stepped out of the vehicle. “Maudit Tabarnach de Christ.” he exploded in French, swinging his arms in the air. “Your dogs are scaring the moose.”

If you want to wreck my day, just start chewing my ass off even before saying “Good Morning”. That really puts me in a sour mood… And this old fool, well let’s just say that he didn’t pick the right day to push me around. Still holding my two leaders by the collar, I let go of “JR”, raised my hand to stop him talking then told him in an exaggerated tone of voice that I wasn’t in the mood for his bullshit. Also, if he had anything to say about me and my dogs, he should go to the Main Gate and register a complaint. “I already did that and they say that you’re a paying member and that they won’t do anything about it.” He wouldn’t stop and just kept yelling at me and I just kept taking it. I was taking it all right but the sleeping volcano inside me was building serious pressure and this spelled “DANGER”. I could tell he was relishing this “power tripping” moment and probably thought he could say anything as he thought he would get away with it. At one point and I don’t know if he meant it or it just came out of the blues but it was said. “You know we’ve got good hiding spots out there and it would be too bad for your dogs if one of them would get hit by a stray bullet.” I just couldn’t believe my ears but when I looked at the smirk on his face, it made me explode. I let go of “JR” and “Sox” and commanded them to stay. From the tone of my voice, there was no hesitation on their part as they had never seen me in such a state. I walked towards his truck, punching the top of my dog trailer with a closed fist on my way by, just to make sure that when I got there I wasn’t going to rip his throat out. Adrenaline rushing, I approached him, maybe six inches away and proceeded to give him a piece of my mind. He tried backing off but was pined between his truck and myself. In a desperate attempt, he pushed me backwards, cocked his fist and yelled “Back off or else.” “Or else what?” I snickered at him. “Go for it and see what happens. Take your best shot because I guarantee you you’ll never get another chance.” While saying these last words, I was back in his face and I could see in his eyes that he had caught the message loud and clear. Today was the showdown and there was no turning back. Other than the sound of my pounding heart in my ears, there was dead silence. A foul smell started emitting from one of his orifices and it wasn’t coming from his mouth. My body shaking as it does when I get these “tunnel vision” episodes, I was happy for the old man that he had decided to retreat in his corner. God only knows, how he would have ended up. However, I knew that he had come awfully close to being the victim of some severe bodily harm. Knowing that the threat was gone, I stepped back. I knew I had his full attention so like civilized folks do, I explained to him that I knew that “Moose season” was starting in two weeks and I would give them a chance to “kill”. This seemed to satisfy the cause but deep inside, he just wanted to get out of there as he knew that had crossed the “bitch line” once too often. Showing him the door to his pick-up, I strongly recommended that he leave me alone from now on. Like a puppy that’s being reprimanded after pissing on the floor, he jumped behind the steering and started the engine. I assisted him and shut his door very slowly and very on purpose. “Oh, by the way Beatrix,” I said to him sarcastically, “may I suggest that once you get back to your camp, you change your pants. Wanting to crawl under a rock, he simply put it in gear and drove off very cautiously.

While hitching the team, I felt alive again. It had been a while since I had such a rush and this one would keep me going for a couple of days, at least. When we were ready to move, I went up the line patting each dog on the head asking them if they were ready. Once I got past my lead dogs, I turned around and looked at their smiling excited faces. “Remember you guys, nobody and I mean nobody “fucks around” with the “Baisley Mob.” On that note, I climbed in the “Dog Buggy” and called for the “uptrail”.

You know you’re a fool when you push the envelope and go looking for trouble. That’s what happened Wednesday. We had just finished a beautiful training session when we came upon the logging road. Common sense dictated that I stay off it as it was being used by eighteen wheelers during the week but I didn’t want to quit while I was ahead so I turned left and proceeded on it. Things were going smoothly but my “JR” was still adamant about traveling on the left hand side. I stopped the team at the bottom of a gully but this time I was too late. I heard the sound of “Jacob” brakes and saw him come down the hill. Lucky for me, I knew the individual and he had time to stop the empty truck and talk to me, so I thought. “Hey Gino,” he belted out over the sound of his diesel engine. You sure picked a lousy place to park your dogs. We usually stop here so to let the loaded truck go by. You know you can’t stop these things on a dime.” He got on his “CB” and radioed ahead that I was in the middle of the road and there wasn’t much room to pass. I could hear some muttering coming from his speakers but couldn’t make out what was being said. I didn’t have to. From the sound I was hearing behind me, I knew he was on his way down the steep incline. Brake all you want, he was only slowing down. What a scary sight. This mastodon, fully loaded with tons of wood was rocking from side to side and trying to aim on the right side of us. Here I was, hanging on to my two lead dogs just standing there in the middle of the road and praying that he was going to be able to squeeze by. Trying to convince them to stay, the dogs not knowing what was going on, started to try to wiggle their way to security and it took all my strength to restrain them. The driver managed to go by us and after eating ten pounds of dust, we were finally safe. You don’t know how small you feel till you’re facing this type of danger. Oh sure, I could have easily jumped out of the way but what about the poor dogs tied to my buggy. They would have been crushed like pancakes.

On the drive back home, I had figured that I had had enough stir for a few days and convinced myself that the dogs and I would take the next day off. “What about Alaska?” I asked myself. “She’s still available. Maybe she could fill the spot left vacant by Oumak. I didn’t know about this prospect as the girl was six years old and hadn’t run for the last two years. Then again apparently she had been a great leader at one time and right now I needed something in front of the team with some experience. I reviewed the other things I knew about her. She was “Mr Tibbs” daughter and the half sister to my “JR”. These were factors that weighed a lot in her favor. Also the fact that she was probably one of the last Seppala Siberian Sleddog available in this part of the world was further tipping the balance on her side. Also, Gaétan knew how fond I was about “Tibbs” so had not hesitated in rescuing her for me. “Not so fast,” I slowed myself down. “Do I need another headache right at this moment?” Not too sure what to do, I decided to sleep on it. I needed to think this thing out a bit more before jumping the gun.

The night had come and the night had gone and still I hadn’t made up my mind when I walked to the “Bunkhouse that Thursday, September 18, 2008. There was no harm in going over there and checking her out so I made an appointment to go to Gaétan’s place. He wasn’t there but his wife told to come anyway.

I walked in the dog yard and saw the poor thing just lying there at the end of a three foot chain with this totally depressed look on her face. Although she was supposed to be “snow white”, her fur was dirty blonde from lying in the gravel all the time. When I approached, she got up and tried to run away from me. “Wow, what a champion.” I said to myself, half disgusted. I had seen some overweight dogs before but this was ridiculous. She looked like a “Bologna” on four legs. This was supposed to be “the one” that was going to save the farm? Not bloody likely was my first impression. So I stood there for about an hour, looking at those icy blue eyes and juggled the idea of what to do with her. “What do you think girl?” I eventually asked her. “Do you think you’d be happy in Baisley?” She seemed to be very interested as to what I was saying and then it happened - She stole my heart. She started smiling and ever so gently, came to me. I kneeled down and she put her head on my lap and sighed. “OK Girl, I get the hint. Let’s go home.” We could make room for her and the price was right. For $150.00, I would take the chance. If nothing else, I could maybe eventually breed her…

It was now Friday morning and after checking that “Alaska” had had a first good night with us, I got the rest of the “mob” organized and off we went training. This was to be a very short session as a matter of fact, it was a non-starter. As usual, “JR” and “Sox” were running loose around the truck while I was unrolling my gang line. I soon came to realize that I had forgotten “JR’s” collar at the barn. You see, over the summer, collars had become a serious issue with the young lad. He just couldn’t stand having them around his neck and it didn’t matter how tight it was, he’d always find away to get it off and chew it to rat shit. I would estimate that he had gone through seven of them through the off-season so better to leave it off when not needed. So not being myself this morning, I had left it behind. No big deal, I thought to myself. I’ll use Mosqua’s. Sitting there in the passenger seat, my faithful shepard was simply waiting for us to move out. He no longer pulled but sure enjoyed being pulled. “Hey Buds.” I said to him while grabbing his big beautiful head in my hands through the opened window, “Can I borrow your collar?” Like everything, this was OK by him. While undoing it, “Sox” jumped on the side of the truck so to say “Good Morning to the “Big Guy”. Suddenly he started moaning then panicking. Looking at him, I initially couldn’t see what was happening but there was something wrong with him as by now he was screaming in pain. Then I saw it. What a freakish once in a life time accident. He had managed to slide his left paw between the cab and the box where it was stuck. In a panic he was trying to pull his paw out of there and in the process was ripping the back side of it on the aluminum edge. “Hold on buddy, hold on” I told him while grabbing him and calming him down. He let me help him and I lifted his leg upwards to safety. Safe yes but not without consequences. Within seconds, his white paw turned red. He had just inflicted one mother of a “V” shape gouge to himself and it was spewing blood. “Holy Shit, Buddy. That’s a nasty one.” I told him. “911, 911”. I grabbed his paw with my left hand and applied direct pressure. “OK, let’s not panic here” I said to myself trying to calm down. “We’ve seen worst.” “Yeah, we’ve seen worst but we were better prepared.” Just thinking about it made me mad. Here I was in the middle of the woods with an injured dog and no First-Aid Kit. Of course, I had a First-Aid Kit but the “bloody” thing was sitting on a shelf in the shed at the “Bunkhouse”. “OK, OK, get a grip here Gino. I wonder if?” And with that thought, I reached up and ripped my quilted shirt pocket. As it had been made in China, the thing came without hesitation and complete. “That was simple enough”, so I ripped the other one off. “Great, now I’ve got the gauze and bandages now something to secure it. Oh, I’ve got something in the truck.” Hopping towards it still holding “Sox” between my legs, I reached in the cab and grabbed the roll of yellow electric tape. Telling the poor thing to stay quiet and that everything was going to be fine, I released my grip from his paw and it definitely was a bad cut and it would need medical attention. I put the pockets directly on the wound then taped it nice and secure. It did the trick and the blood stopped. Hopefully it wasn’t too tight but right now the priority was to get my patient to the veterinarian. I released “Sox” who was standing there, paw in the air, not impressed with this makeshift mitten. I don’t think it was because it hurt but rather because it looked odd. “What?” I told him. “It’s just temporary till we get you to the doctor. Besides, look at us. We’ve got matching outfits.” He didn’t have a clue as to what I was rambling on about but it made me laugh. I scurried to pack up the gear and away we went, bypassing the lodges and straight to the clinic. Nineteen stitches later and a medical bill worth $146.00, they patched him up and said that he’d live to race another day. However, the “Vet” was adamant in telling me that he had to rest for ten days. “Don’t tell me that,” I pointed to “Sox”, “Tell him.” Securing him back in his dog box, I told the rest of the crew that we were going home for lunch.

While lying in bed that night I was evaluating where and how my week had gone. The prognostics were very bleak and I was questioning myself as to why I bothered with all this dog stuff. Being mentally drained, I didn’t have a hard time falling asleep and dreamt about “happy fluffy white puppies playing with each other.”

Saturday, after waking up refreshed, I decided that this was the morning that “Alaska” was going to show us her stuff. We went to the mountain immediately in front of the lodges where I hitched four dogs. “JR” and “Snooky” would be in the lead while “Maggie” and “Alaska” would follow. As soon as she saw the harness, I saw a spark light up in her eyes. Without hesitation, she let me put the harness on her and was happy to be led to her spot. “Maggie”, being the “Omega” female of the pack saw this “new girl” as an opportunity to climb up the corporate ladder and snapped at “Alaska”. The old dog just wouldn’t stand for that crap and let it be known. She reached over and took a bite out of “Maggie’s right cheek and shook her good. The other one backed off immediately and the challenge was over. We uptrailed and I watched her work. She knew what she had to do and did it with enthusiasm. Stride for stride, she kept up with other ones. Of course, the pace wasn’t fast and furious but still, she was showing good potential. With “Sox” on the sideline, this might give me an occasion to modify the training program a bit. I would rotate them through four to six dog configurations, thus giving all contenders a chance to try out different spots in the team and time for “Alaska” to get in some sort of shape. Seeing her there, gasping for air after a short two mile run said it all. It was going to be a long drawn out process. “Then again,” I encouraged myself. I had gone through a similar experience last year with another “reject of a dog” and today, Irving was one of the best members of my team. Therefore, we would wait for her to catch up. Let’s face it we were in this to have fun. Suddenly, I had just realized that I was getting ahead of myself with this competition stuff. I didn’t like where the “dark side” was taking me so I decided to ease off a bit.

So this takes us back to Sunday, September 21, 2008. Isn’t it amazing that when you take the time to sit down and think things out, you seem to be able to find a solution. As it turns out and why it slipped my mind, I’ll never know, the mountain in front of Baisley Lodges has over nine miles of roads and trails circumventing the area. What a great place to teach the “Gee” and “Haw” commands. After feeding, I told Fran where I was going and headed out, exploring. The place had all I needed to get through the hunting season and I could log good mileage right in my own front yard. I was fixing a bridge when my wife showed up, huffing and puffing after her long climb on foot. “Hurry, Hurry,” she was yelling, “they want to shoot him.” Out of breath and trying to pass the message at the same time just didn’t work but from the hysteria, I could tell that it had to do with Oumak. “Hop on,” I told her showing the back seat of my ATV. “You can tell me on the way down once you’ve caught your breath.

Once back at the lodges, she told me what the story was all about. Oscar, the owner of the local zoo, had just received a phone call from his niece asking if he had lost a wolf. “No,” he said, “but the guy in Baisley is missing a sleddog. He was now at the place in question and wanted me to hurry as these folks wanted to shoot the thing. I phoned and a woman answered basically relating the same information. She told me where they were so I went out there. The place wasn’t hard to find as fifteen men were standing there, a rifle in one hand and a beer in the other. Add to that the five “six foot” towers, complete with armchairs (for observation purposes, of course) in the boxes of the pick-ups and this smelled like trouble. The owner of the campsite was an acquaintance of mine and smiled when he saw the “Dog Buggy” approach. “So you lost a dog.” he questioned. “Yeah, and he’s pretty valuable to me, you know.” I answered. Oscar interjected and said, “I told you guys the dog was worth $5000.00 and you can’t go out there and just shoot it. Give Gino a chance to try and get it back.” The money value had nothing to do with this and it was a definite exaggeration on his part but at the moment it seemed to keep these “Lets go out there and shoot something” hillbillies at bay. Unfortunately, these boys had a few beers in them and were getting impatient. Armand the owner of the camp site, was kind of stuck as he had invited them for an afternoon of fun. They were arguing back and forth and it was decided. They were going wolf hunting. I was just about to start defending Oumak when the door of the cottage opened and the “wife” came out. “Armand,” she belted out, knowing that she wore the pants in the family, “there won’t be any hunting done here today and that’s final. As for you guys, put those guns away and go home. The party’s over.” At the same time, this cute little blond girl came up to me and grabbed my hand. “Don’t worry Mister,” she said, “my daddy won’t hurt your dog.” I guess that was the “cherry on the Sundae”. Everybody realized that they were taking this to the extreme and put their weapons away.

I talked to Armand and his wife Solange who informed me that the dog had been seen on many instances during the week on their track of land. He might be hard to find on this vast property of 740 acres but suspected that he might be hanging around a certain area, eating old bones left in barrels for “bear bait”.

After asking permission, I explained what I proposed to do and headed out back home to get the necessary gear. “Holy Shit,” I asked myself. “Could it be true? Was this a ray of hope? Was this an answer to “Linda’s” prayers? And to think that although I appreciated the thought, I never believed in this religious stuff. But, there it was staring me in the face. The sign was there. After a week, he was still alive and there was still a chance to catch him.

And now, after setting up his shelter, this raven flies over our heads. Now what was that all about, I wonder? All I can say about this is that according to North American Native Legends – “Raven is the protector of man and he’s the one that makes things right. Later Folks…

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