Just A Typical Tuesday Morning…

Woof, woof, woof…woof!

Woof, woof, woof…woof!

Woof, woof, woof!

Woof, woof…howl..!

My eyes snapped open and although I was still mostly asleep I groggily rolled onto my back and once again heard:

Woof, woof, woof…woof!

Woof, woof, woof…woof!

Woof, woof, woof!

Woof, woof…howl..!

I now recognized the warning alert from my male German Shepherd Dog – Qanuk – who immediately ran down the stairs followed closely by my female Alaskan malamute, Anana.  I was now fully awake and could heard the dogs moving around the main floor based on the sound of their toe nails on the hard bamboo floor, the carpeting and then the vinyl flooring in the mud room.

Qanuk’s alert continued although it began to drop in terms of volume and frequency.  As Qanuk spent most of his life with Anana as his canine role model he has incorporated a pretty fair impression of the Malamute’s howl into his audio repertoire.  But when alerting he always delivers that deep, impressive sounding GSD bark.  Funny how we learn the sound, cadence and intensity of our canine companion’s vocalizations so well we can tell what the canine is thinking regarding the nature and severity of the ‘threat’; I had a very good idea from Qanuk’s vocalizations that something had disturbed his sleep and he remained vigilant regarding said disturbance.

My right hand slipped across the .40 caliber Beretta semi-automatic in its holster on the bed stand; I hesitated but given Qanuk’s barking was now decreasing in both volume and repetition I left the handgun where it was sitting.  I rolled to my left side and saw ‘01:44’ on my digital alarm clock.  What the heck was going on..?  I’ve been awakened before by my canine companions; sometimes I cannot locate the source but often it is wildlife like moose.  I arose from my bed into the chilly 54° F bedroom air and flipped on a dim light; at my arising both Qanuk and Anana came back upstairs and into my room.  I looked out a couple of windows but even with the snow being brightly illuminated by an almost full moon riding high in the clear sky I couldn’t see anything.  Given I was up I decided to hit the bathroom; while in that room I chanced to look out the one window.  I saw a large black blob – rather like an oval with flattened ends – where no such shape should be.  It was between a couple of spruce trees on the narrow patch of land between the north side of my house and East Barge Drive.

I finished my business and decided to get a better look at said ‘blob’ so I went back into the bedroom and found a flashlight.  I then walked back into the bathroom, pointed the flashlight outside and hit the power switch.  Sure enough, as I did so I saw the ‘twinkle’ of moose eyes and I also now recognized the snout of said mammal.  At the time it seemed large so I thought it was a bull; however, when I examined the spot later that morning I decided it was a cow.  I quickly deactivated the light as I did not want to disturb the moose.  Its presence meant the kidz were not getting outside for a potty break so I went back to bed.

Once it was light enough come morning I pulled on my break up boots and wandered out to see where the moose had being lying.  Sure enough, there was a depression in the snow as well as a load of moose droppings.  I briefly wondered if this was the equivalent of a human wetting their bed and also wondered if the need to go had forced the moose on to a new bed.  The images at the end of this piece better explain the geometry of this event as well as detail the moose’s bed.  I remain fascinated by how my canine companions, closed up in house, can sense a single moose outside.  In the late spring through early fall when the house is often open I can believe scent is what they detect; however, this was a -5.4° F early morning in a house sealed up against the cold so I have to believe it was sound they detected.

I know Qanuk is hyper alert and true to his breed in needing to identify and warn of any unusual noises or scents.  But it still boggles my mind that he could hear a moose walking through 14” of snow pack and then lying down from inside a sealed up dwelling!  Granted, it was a cold, clear and silent night but still..!?!  Regardless, he was doing exactly as he should and I praised him to high heaven for being so alert and willing to warn me of something unusual.  Anana has done the same thing other times but for some reason she was largely just following Qanuk’s lead this time.  Maybe she was sleeping too soundly..?

Living solo in semi-rural south central Alaska has so many pluses but one negative is if something should happen – say, a burglar tried to gain entry to my house – I’m on my own to handle the situation.  That’s why the loaded Beretta sits holstered by my bed.  My canine companions are my first line of defense; they awaken me when something is ‘different’.  I would never want then to become ‘involved’ with any two or four legged intruder; just alert me and then come back to me.  I will deal with whatever is ongoing.  I’ve often wondered if I shouldn’t have my Benelli rifled bore 12 gauge pump shotgun next to the bed as well; it currently rests in my gun rack on the main floor.  If a bear were to break into the house my Beretta would serve only to irritate it; that’s why I purchased the Benelli.  It provides protection for me and my canine companions from bears and moose.  However, I practice solid ‘bear awareness’ and have only seen grizzlies on my property once although their scat and markings are not uncommon in this area from May through October so they are around.  Under such circumstances I think the Benelli is fine where it resides.

Just another early winter morning in semi-rural south central Alaska!

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Moose bed with droppings

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Moose bed and bathroom window (small, square window in upper center of frame)

 

Yet Another One…

This posting is really a follow up to the previous one and many of my friends will have seen it in an email I sent out a few days back.  Unlike many people up here I still find summer to be my least favorite season followed closely by break up.  I’ve listed some reasons for my choice of which numbers 1, 3 and 4 were commented on in the previous posting:

  1. Complete lack of a dark night sky resulting in circadian rhythm upset
  2. Warmer temps
  3. Hordes of mosquitoes
  4. Ditto regarding tourists
  5. Inevitable road construction
But to this list I add the attached image which says it all!  Poor Anana blows her coat almost every year but this year has been particularly bad.  Every morning I awaken with her fur in my mouth, nose and eyes regardless of how much I brush her and vacuum; and unlike Qanuk she doesn’t sleep in the bed with me.  Good thing I love her so dearly!  She’s gonna be one svelte girl when she finally finishes which, sadly for both of us, is still a few weeks out..  The second image shows just how fur can come out using a typical ‘rake’ type brush and brushing my ‘little’ angel for around seven minutes.
Anana Blowing Coat
Poor Anana showing the remnants of her winter coat along with that so much cooler summer coat
7 Minutes of Brushing
Qanuk, my GSD, with his back to the results of brushing Anana for just seven minutes!

My Canine Companions

It is another rather warm morning here in south central Alaska with mostly cloudy skies and the promise of still more of the same in terms of warm temps and no precipitation across the next week. Given spring officially begins tomorrow mid-afternoon the odds of seeing any honest winter weather continues to dwindle. Sure, we could see a snow event or another few days of much below normal temps but as the sun continues to ride higher and higher in the sky every day all trends are towards the upcoming spring. 

Of late I’ve noticed my female Alaskan Malamute, Anana, has been ‘asking’ to remain outside in the back yard after being let out to take care of business. Her method of communicating this to me is to remain standing or lying down on the back porch after I open the door and allow her pal Qanuk, my male German Shepherd Dog, inside. She is such a good girl and will stay put as long as a moose or similar doesn’t enter her field of view so I often oblige her. Qanuk, being true to his breed, prefers to be close to me and will rarely remain outside longer than he needs to handle his business. Seeing a definite uptick in Anana’s requests while her routine remains largely the same – she, like most other canines, prefers routine in her existence – started me wondering if she was recognizing the winter was waning and with it would come the end of cold and snow. One wonders if there are ‘new’ odors that she now identifies with the coming of spring or is it the string of warmer days? This was her second ‘winter’ – such that it was – but she is plenty observant and smart enough to recognize such signs and remember them after just a year’s exposure. 

Raising both a Mal and a GSD I’ve had ample opportunity to compare and contrast the two breeds which are pretty close to being polar opposites in so many areas. Anana lives to be a member of our pack and the most effective means of disciplining her when she’s broken the rules – and since reaching adulthood at 2 years of age this hardly happens – is to quarantine her away from me and Qanuk when she’s inside. This really makes an impression on her and with her incredible memory the point is always remembered. Qanuk responds to the more conventional verbal dressing down; he lives to please me as well as run and play with mankind’s great creation – at least as far as he’s concerned – the tennis ball. He, too, is a wonderful companion and rarely causes me issues except when he gets excited about going outside. He literally turns into something akin to the Tasmanian Devil we all viewed in the Bugs Bunny cartoons; his excitement is that powerful. While generally a very careful boy inside when truly wound up his big tail will find many things to knock over. However, after almost six years of raising canines most everything that can be broken has either met that fate or has been placed such that they are impervious to doggy tails and hype. Indeed, he gets so excited if we’re going for a car ride I have to command him to ‘tinkle’ before we board; otherwise in his excitement he’ll forget and then he becomes very anxious once in the car. Never before have I seen a canine that has to be commanded to empty his bladder before car rides but then Qanuk is a unique canine in many respects. 

As Talkeetna is known as a ‘dog village’ – witness no leash laws even in the village itself – my canine pals are in a great place and the fact that we’re surrounded by boreal forest and live semi-rural is generally a plus for them. I say ‘generally’ because Anana does miss being around so many different people; in Dearborn (MI) while I was caring for my folk’s place I fenced in the back yard and gave her the run of that area. She very quickly developed a string of neighbors whom during walks would stop by the fence and greet her often with treats. She was a true ‘rock star’ at the Northville (MI) Sunrise Assisted Living Facility and she owned the title ‘visiting therapy dog’ because she was so friendly and willing to interact with any of the residents. In general Anana loves anything on two legs and I’ve often said she would let any human into the house and probably help carry out any of my stuff if asked. It’s this love of humans that makes Mals ineffective watch dogs and Anana lives up to this breed trait in spades! Since relocating here she no longer has a neighborhood of folks to visit her and as there are no assisted living facilities at which I can volunteer she doesn’t have that means to greet new folks. In this sense she may not be all that pleased with our new home. Of course this is a dual edged sword as up here she can roam free and rarely has to deal with a lead. She has virtually endless acres of boreal forest to explore and handfuls of moose to chase. I do try to get her into the village fairly often and allow her to wait for me outside the PO where she eagerly greets the locals. 

Poor Anana cannot understand why every human doesn’t respond to her as she does to them with affection and love. She doesn’t understand that at 115 pounds she is a very big girl and although she is truly a teddy bear even I, with my love for and understanding of canines, would initially be wary of her if I didn’t know her. I’ve seen folks literally tremble with fear when she runs up and looks for attention; she just cannot believe any human wouldn’t love her like she does them. Qanuk, on the other hand, is very cautious around new people and remains to this day very nervous around adult males. The latter is completely my fault in terms of his socialization. I brought Qanuk into our pack while volunteering at Sunrise and once he was old enough to get control of his needs I started bringing him into the facility with Anana. Such facilities are staffed by almost entirely women. I never realized that because of this and Qanuk’s nature he became ‘okay’ with women but drew a very real line between the genders and hence never really came to know adult males outside myself and my brother. To this day he is very cautious around adult males and children; the latter I could understand as he saw very few while maturing. I do not want him to be so concerned about adult males and hence am beginning to introduce him to as many adult males as possible in the hopes I can socialize him a bit more towards males. He is fine with women but then in Sunrise that was almost all he saw. 

I expected Anana to really revel in her new Alaskan home especially during the winter but much to my surprise Qanuk has been the one to really take to pounding through the deep snow. Anana is smarter in that she allows Qanuk to cut a trail and then she will often follow. Given her height and build she fares better in the snow when the depth is over 18” but Qanuk is still the one I see pounding through the virgin snow. Some of Anana’s reticence to broach deep snow might be based on my poor ‘little’ angel suffering two major surgeries within 6 months of each other.  At the age of just two she blew out her right knee and required a TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) which is a serious surgery in which the tibia is broken and leveled and then reattached via a plate and screws. The injury is the equivalent to tearing an ACL in a human being. She required a full six weeks to recover from the worst effects of the operation and she really never completely recovered until we moved up here. Then, six months later she blew out her left knee and had the same procedure; this time I knew what to look for and caught it early so there was less damage but it was still six weeks of Hell for her. Luckily my vet recommended a fantastic surgeon and he really worked wonders. In all the two procedures cost me just over $8,000 but given it was my companion I would’ve paid many times that amount as the only other option would’ve been to put her down. I’d say she recovered maybe 95% of her original abilities which is incredible given the severity of the procedures. For anyone in SE Michigan needing a wonderful animal surgeon I cannot recommend Dr. Kyle Kerstetter (www.michvet.com) enough; he and his team were incredible! As I’ve often kidded thanks to him I own ‘The Eight Thousand Dollar Dog’! 

As we approach the seasonal shift I am once again looking forward to being able to get out with my canine companions. I’ve come to realize that my walks in this magnificent land are enhanced by my canine companions; they function as extensions to my ears and my nose. I love to see either or both of them stop suddenly and raise their muzzles skyward as their noses work overtime to identify a scent. They almost always see wildlife before I do and I suspect this is largely based upon their hearing coupled with their incredibly sensitive noses. More than once they’ve shown me scat, kill sites and similar I’d have never noticed without their help. They truly enhance my outdoor Alaskan experiences and it is just great to have a couple of pals along on outings. 

They are both indoor dogs so we spend lots of time inside; both have adapted wonderfully to living in a human’s ‘lair’ and they’ve had to learn a lot of rules. Anana has never raided the garbage can and Qanuk has only done so twice; he’s learned to steer clear of this by watching Anana. Never have I known canines who wouldn’t raid a garbage can when it smells of meat, fish or chicken. They have their favorite spots; for Anana it’s the coolest place while Qanuk just wants to be someplace he’s comfortable but can see me. Anana sleeps by my bed but Qanuk sleeps in it maybe half the night.  He’s actually very ‘civilized’ in that he doesn’t steal the blankets or take more than half the bed. I’ve never fed them from the table so they know not to bother me when I’m eating but I do give them infrequent table scraps as a treat. 

All told I couldn’t ask for two better canine companions and my new life in Alaska has been immensely enriched by their presence. They are truly my family now that my sister and brother live thousands of miles to the south. Up here everyone has at least one dog so they helped me integrate into the community by meeting other people and their dogs.  And I rely on their incredible senses while outdoors as they can sense natural events and wildlife much sooner than me.  We’re all aging and our needs are shifting but to this day all they ask of me is shelter, food, a bit of attention and some play; I get back endless unconditional love, the very definition of ‘agape love’, and the companionship generated by another organism who truly does love to just be around me! Talk about a ‘win-win’ situation…

Anana and Qanuk playing in fresh snow early in January, 2015

Anana and Qanuk playing in fresh snow early in January, 2015

Anana at around twelve weeks of age.  Even then I could see the mischievous glint in her eyes!

Anana at around twelve weeks of age. Even then I could see the mischievous glint in her eyes!

Qanuk at around eight weeks of age

Qanuk at around eight weeks of age

Anana and Qanuk playing; Anana was always very gentle with him until he reached puberty

Anana and Qanuk playing; Anana was always very gentle with him until he reached puberty

Qanuk and Anana on East Barge Drive in early September

Qanuk and Anana on East Barge Drive in early September

'The Kidz' are playing tough!

‘The Kidz’ are playing tough!

Qanuk and Anana braving 16" of fresh snow; they really love Alaskan winters!

Qanuk and Anana braving 16″ of fresh snow; they really love Alaskan winters!

My poor 'little' angel finding some comfort in my bed after returning home from her second TPLO surgery

My poor ‘little’ angel finding some comfort in my bed after returning home from her second TPLO surgery

An incredible adaptation to Arctic cold, the Mals grow thick fur that sprouts from between their pads when it begins to cool down.  This remains all winter and then disappears with warming temps.  I'm sure this gives the pads protection against ice and very cold temps.

An incredible adaptation to Arctic cold, the Mals grow thick fur that sprouts from between their pads when it begins to cool down. This remains all winter and then disappears with warming temps. I’m sure this gives the pads protection against ice and very cold temps. Nature is just so awesome..!

Probability and the Angry Moose

This was bound to eventually happen although I must admit that up until an hour ago I still viewed it as an abstract event; one of those things people think about and reflect upon but somehow never actually expect to see it become reality.  I had a run in with an angry cow moose when solo backpacking in Kachemak Bay State Park in June of 2000 but she was just protecting her spring calf which was hidden in some waist deep grass in a forest clearing.  In this sense her protective reaction was entirely expected and even normal but then what just transpired maybe half a mile from my place also falls into that category.

As it looks like rain I decided to get the ‘kidz’ – as I jokingly refer to my 120 pound female Alaskan Malamute ‘Anana’ and my 86 pound male German Shepherd Dog ‘Qanuk’ – out for some exercise such that I might spare my home of the mud and gravel they track in when wet.  We started off heading east down East Barge Drive towards the Riven cut off; in the past year we’ve walked this road more times than I care to remember.  In typical fashion the dogs were ranging out in front of me by 15 to 75 feet and making many side trips into the boreal forest which surrounds this area.  I had passed John and Ruth’s driveway and was most of the way across the swampy muskeg area to the north of East Barge Drive and starting up the hill when I saw both dogs freeze.  In perfect harmony they raised their noses almost straight up into the air and then swiveled their heads to the west which is boreal forest.  Qanuk was continuing to sniff the air but Anana had dropped her nose and was scanning the forest with real intensity.  She has the best eyesight of any canine I’ve seen and she was definitely employing it at that moment.

Suddenly she shot into the forest like a rocket with Qanuk in pursuit.  I was looking but couldn’t see anything although given it was overcast and rather gray anything under the forest canopy was in deep shadow.  I started fumbling for my Canon SX-260 PowerShot ‘point and shoot’ camera which I often carry with me because it is so very portable and takes great images.  I started extracting it from my jacket pocket when I heard Anana yelp and then a loud conundrum broke out within the forest.  Anana came running from the forest onto the road with a wild look in her eyes and she was heading straight for me.  A few seconds later I saw a large brown cow moose break the cover of the forest and take to the road in hot pursuit of Anana.  Time immediately slowed to that adrenaline enhanced crawl and I can now remember distinctly what transpired over the next maybe 20 seconds which seemed like an eternity.

 

Qanuk on East Barge Drive

Qanuk on East Barge Drive

My first thought was; “Oh Shit, this isn’t good!” as I saw Anana closing on me with the moose in hot pursuit.  My second thought was; “Damn, I didn’t bring the pepper spray!” and my third thought was; “Time to run…NOW!”.  Thankfully there are lots of sizable spruces and birch trees right along the side of the road and I immediately tried to put one of these between me and the charging moose.  I remembered from my experience in Kachemak Bay State Park that moose are incredibly fast when they want and they appear about the size of a freight train locomotive when they are bearing down on you.  Anana ran to me and the moose followed but Anana only waited by me for a few seconds before she realized I wasn’t going to be much help and headed further into the forest.  The moose snorted as she raced by me but thankfully kept going after Anana.  At this point I saw a brown/gray blur whiz past me and into the forest after the moose; it was Qanuk.  With his appearance I breathed a sigh of relief because he obviously wasn’t injured and he was going to help his buddy Anana.

I heard the sounds of a lot of breaking branches and heavy breathing in the direction the ‘kidz’ and the moose had disappeared; within maybe a minute Anana popped out on the road perhaps 50 feet west of me and Qanuk was right with her.  I briefly saw the moose pop out of the tree line but I think she figured she made her point and she probably rethought the wisdom of messing with two large dogs so she just stopped, gave the dog’s one last look as if to say; “Take That..!” and then reversed direction and headed back into the forest.  To my surprise Anana looked like she was going to follow but I immediately intervened.  I called both of them back to me and checked them over; thankfully no cuts were in evidence and they had all four limbs, both ears and a tail to boot!  I then hustled them the final third of a mile or so to our driveway and put them in the house.

Just the previous week I’d shared a story with a college buddy via e-mail involving the kidz chasing a local moose; in doing so I said I’d confirmed Anana would run back to me if frightened and remarked this would not be good if she’d irritated a grizzly.  In addition I’d mused I should probably start carrying the pepper spray once again as I’d become lax in doing so across the summer.  I hadn’t heeded my own advice and almost ended up paying a nasty price for my negligence.  There’s no need for people just walking or biking around this area to carry pepper spray but because I have two dogs with me and I allow them largely free reign I need to be better prepared.  I knew this yet I allowed my ‘comfort’ with the area to get the better of me.  In true Alaskan fashion I was just reminded that this area is home to many large mammals and because I’m invading their home I’d best be prepared!!

Moose cow in my 'back yard' last October

Moose cow in my ‘back yard’ last October

Gorgeous Late Winter Weather!

Although in the grand scheme this winter has been a huge disappointment with it being largely absent during January – the warmest January on record for this area – and present in terms of temps but sans snow in February at least March has brought a change in these conditions.  Our snow event across March 4th and 5th deposited 15.4″ of new snow here at Mile 7.1 just east of the Spur and we’ve seen below zero morning temps across the past three days with afternoon highs rising into the middle twenties thanks to the clear skies and rapidly increasing sunlight.  Yesterday I walked the dogs in the middle afternoon prior to my evening newscast and found the conditions to be perfect!  The sky was that deep cobalt blue which I still associate with Canadian High Pressure in the lower 48 but has no such linkage up here; indeed, the pressure was falling rapidly across Friday afternoon and is all the way down to 29.20″ Hg (988.83 Mb) as I write this at 09:52 AKST on a clear Saturday morning.  There was a slight northerly breeze which was unusual but produced a beautiful sound passing through the snow covered pine trees and the air temp was around 25 F.  When in the sun I could really feel its warm and immediately recognized the implication that within just a few more weeks it will be strong enough to begin melting snow on clear afternoons even though the air temps remain below freezing.

The dogs were loving every minute of the walk with Qanuk racing well out in front of me only to turn and charge right back at me running full tilt only to turn away at the last second.  I saw a multitude of moose tracks and even some scat on the freshly cleared roads but the moose themselves remained out of sight.  Even Anana had a puppy-like spring in her step and she regularly tried to keep up with Qanuk but while she’s still the alpha dog when it comes to running Qanuk can literally run circles around her.  All in all it was a glorious day for a walk in rural Talkeetna and this time of year is rapidly becoming a real favorite of mine.  Sadly its unlikely I’ll get to experience -30 F this winter or see that 36 inches plus of snow pack but there’s always next year!

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Qanuk and Anana on Riven Street with the Alaska Range in the distance

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Anana looking north up Riven Street