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How Dogs Ate us out of House and Home, part 4

January 22, 2015

Like a true addict, I wasn’t going to stop running dogs just because it was bad for me! Sure, I had a bad trip and swore I’d never do it again, but that memory faded quickly enough and the addiction got hold of me again. LJ, ever undaunted by little things like terrifying, life-threatening, out of control dog teams, never had to question her sanity – she knew this was her new passion and there would be no changing that!

Running in the dirt, or mud – which was more common for us – was fine. But when you think of mushing, you don’t conjure images of dogs and people covered from head to toe in mud; instead you picture a beautiful snow scene for the dogs to run through, serenely pulling a sled.

Snow did come, in the form of several wet inches in the Olympic Mountains, so we took a couple of dogs and that new sled of ours out for a test run. The sled had steel runners, which stuck horribly to that wet snow. It was not a very fun run, but at least not traumatic. Clearly we needed better snow and better runners!

We kept training on the cart, and going to the dirt races. Our conversations over dinner were almost always about the dogs; they were clearly taking over our life! I would find myself at work, daydreaming about running dogs, making lists of which dogs to run together, and planning out training schedules. My work performance definitely started to suffer!

Getting to run in the snow was becoming a constant desire. Becky and Joe got our sled fixed up with QCR runners – we just needed snow! Driving up to the mountains every weekend wasn’t really something we could afford, so we started dreaming of moving to the snow – and out of the constant rain.

Running a team with two sleds and two drivers is a great way to train.

Running a team with two sleds and two drivers is a great way to train.

A job came available in Cle Elum – it would be an advancement for me, and a move to snow. I was very comfortable in my job, and as I stated before, didn’t really care for chaos and change, but the opportunity was too great, so I applied and was hired to be the new computer geek for the Cle Elum Ranger District! The Forest Service paid for the move, but we would have to find a place, and that would prove to be one of the biggest challenges yet.

Moving with 20 some dogs and 5 horses was not an easy task. The Forest Service paid for the household move, but not the animals. We had to ferry them over the pass in our two horse trailer – pulled by our old ’68 ford pickup – in January – several times. We had chickens then too, but as fate would have it, when we drove over to check out the area before moving, Judy Blue got out and ate all the chickens – one problem solved!

A friend introduced us to another musher in the area that might be able to house our dogs for a bit. He was scary! Big, hairy and grumpy! And he didn’t really seem too excited about us keeping the dogs there. We didn’t like the idea of leaving our dogs so far away – we’d have to drive about 20 minutes one way to care for them, twice a day. The rest of the time they would be on their own, not in the most secure or comfortable of housing. It wasn’t a great situation and we felt like we needed to really push to get property.

The realtor we contacted to help us was really lousy, and there were not a lot of options out there that we could afford. A 25 acre piece of rock and scrub with a creek running through it came up and had a lot of potential. Trying to be nice new potential neighbors, we went over to the closest house and introduced ourselves. We explained to the folks that we had sleddogs – that they could be noisy at times, and that we were hoping to purchase the property right next to them. Their reaction was favorable – they seemed really interested in what we were doing and were welcoming. We asked them to call if they had any concerns – and then we waited for about a week.

We heard nothing from our new neighbors so went ahead and closed on the property. It was then that we discovered that the local land owners were going all out with the anti-welcome wagon! There was a petition against us! It was signed by a lot of people – some that lived more than 10 miles away from our property! Like a wildfire, this anti-sleddog sentiment spread through the county. Ridiculous! Crazy! These people were quite mad! They were afraid our dogs would eat their grandchildren, for crying out loud!

There was no going back. We had signed the deal and had no other recourse. Our county isn’t really that small, but it’s a ranching and farming community and folks stick together. It’s great when they are your friends, but it’s awful when you are the outsider. Public hearings were held and we witnessed new laws being arbitrarily decided by the county commission. It felt unreal – like a bad movie we were in the middle of. I was shocked that people could actually behave so ignorantly. Our attorney, the one that was getting every scrap of money we made, took the matter up with the superior court and the rulings were overturned, but the matter was far from over.

We moved onto that property with our horses and dogs and a travel trailer. The neighbors cut our fences and turned our horses loose. They called the sheriff and the county permit people – daily. Every time we left for work, we were afraid of what we’d find when we came home. LJ was about ready to start shooting people.

This was the worst year and a half of my life. The property was beautiful, but we were miserable because of the constant harassment and stress. The lawyer was getting all of our money, and we started to get to know the sheriff deputies on a first name basis. LJ took work as a wildland firefighter and was gone quite a lot. While she was gone, I got a notice from the county saying that I had to pay a $1,500 fine or would be arrested for the dogs barking!

LJ on the line fighting wildland fires

LJ on the line fighting wildland fires

It really was the straw that broke my back; I freaked. Liz called me from fire camp, tired and having stood in line for 45 minutes to get to a payphone (cell phones were large and expensive back then, we only had the one). I told her about the letter and what had happened and that we had to do something, anything! – to get out of this situation. She responded calmly that she’d give it thought and call me the next day. The next day she called with an idea that she was sure I wouldn’t like: Sell everything, quit my job, hit the road with the dogs. Two years ago, I would have laughed at her! All I said was, “okay.”

Selling the horses was the hardest thing. Nothing else really mattered that much. Those scary people that hosted our dogs when we first moved over had gotten to be great friends, and they let us move back over onto their property for the time being. I put in notice at my job, and when LJ’s work was done for the season, we started building a dog box for the truck suitable for hauling all of our dogs and housing them continually. We also built a utility trailer to haul our supplies in and to live in.

Living quarters for us and the dogs - pulled by the ever reliable "Sumbitch"

Living quarters for us and the dogs – pulled by the ever reliable “Sumbitch”

What still stands today as our most painful defeat in life, also gave us the courage to strike out on the best adventure of our lives. It would change us forever!

Living free and happy!

Living free and happy!

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