Just when you thought I was done adding dogs—aw shit! Meet Hubble. Okay, yes, I know. I’ve been working towards a solid 4-dog team and Blitz filled Dexter’s spot. The team is doing great and I’m very happy with all the progress we’ve made.
Except… two things have been on my mind.
The first is planning for the future—maintaining this hobby (obsession) for the years to come. I don’t know where the years have gone, but Denali will be 7-years-old in March. Knox will hit seven six months after that. While I’m confident Denali will run into her double-digits, I’m not sure Knox will keep up. As a structurally weird rescue dog, I’m thankful for every day he runs. Still, this means I have roughly three more years with the current team. If I’m lucky, Denali and Knox will keep running into their teens, but it’s hard to know for sure. In order to keep running a full team, there will need to be new dogs to take their place upon retirement.
Second is a goal that I’ve mostly kept to myself since I started mushing, because it sounded crazy. Before I even got my first husky, I asked a friend how many dogs were needed to successfully carry a passenger on a cart or sled. She recommended at least six and that number has stayed in the back of my mind ever since. As I added dogs, the thought of having six seemed wild, so I kept that goal a secret. It became a dream for later, when I was “grown up” enough to manage it and to afford it.
Several years into this sport, I find myself wondering what I’m waiting for. I’ve adjusted my entire life around these dogs. I found a remote job so that I can care for them fulltime. I’m moving to a cabin near a trail system with colder temperatures and less humidity year round. I’m getting paid well enough to follow the dreams I set almost a decade ago. I find myself thinking, “Oh shit, am I grown up?"
As I mentioned in thought #1, the window for my current team is closing. If I want to run a 6-dog team, it’s time to get moving. Denali and Knox have three or four seasons left. Willow and Blitzen are young and (hopefully) have a decade ahead of them. Hubble (and whatever dog I add next) will also have around a decade to run. When Denali and Knox retire, I’ll still have a solid 4-dog team for awhile.
I know, I know. This all sounds like an elaborate scheme to have a ton of dogs, but really, that’s what I’m trying to avoid while still pursuing my dreams. As a recreational musher, I want to cap at six dogs, with at least four in harness. That way, when the oldies retire, I can still keep up my hobby. And when they eventually pass away, I’ll introduce new dogs to the team and fluctuate between four and six actively running.
This mushing algorithm sounds pretty cold, but it comes out of love—for these dogs and for the sport. I don’t intend to go large-scale. My dogs are pets first, sled dogs second. While many are perfectly happy living outdoors, I want my team small enough to live inside and travel with me. I also can’t bear to adopt dogs out to retirement homes—they’re with me until the end.