Grandview

Why did he have to be right on this one?  I chose the shortest train ride available, on Saturday, to take my visiting parents on.  Steve was conflicted about leaving Pongo in the car, in Portage our departure depot to Grandview because “something could happen” that would delay us.  It was a four hour train ride out and back.  I assured him Pongo would be fine-in the hundred or so train rides I was on while serving and tour guiding for Princess Tours, we only were delayed a couple of times.  Everything was going to be fine.

We left Portage and made our way up to Spencer Glacier, our first stop.  The views were gorgeous despite the less than ideal weather.

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We dropped off about half the train load at Spencer Glacier and continued onward to Grandview.  All of a sudden we slowed to a crawl.  We overhear talk on the radio that there’s a black bear up ahead.  We plaster ourselves against the windows in hopes of catching a glimpse of the bear.  The train continues to creep around a corner and then stops.

Cue bear…

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DSC_0189 DSC_0186 DSC_0225We sit for quite awhile watching the bear and snapping pictures.  I thought, “How nice of them to give us so much time to bear watch.”  Steve then made the comment, “Something’s wrong.”  I retorted with, “No, nothing’s wrong.  They are just giving the tourists the ultimate Alaska experience.”

Cue conductor…

“Well, folks I’m going to be completely honest with you, and this has never happened before…we’ve run out of fuel.”

WHAT?!?  How can you run out of fuel? Ooohhhh…someone is going to be in big trouble for not doing his/her job!

We sit for awhile, continuing to watch the bear who is giving us quite the show while the railroad figures out what to do.  Their first idea was to drop one of the cars so our car could be pulled up to Grandview but they decided they didn’t have enough power with just one engine to do that.  So, back to Spencer Glacier we coasted.

Once we returned to Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop, we were told we had a couple hours to walk around while the railroad sent an engine from Anchorage.  Our directive was to be back by 5:00 PM.  I really hoped that they could get an engine to us quickly-our boy was sitting in the car, waiting for us!

We unloaded and began the 1.3 mile hike to Spencer Lake.  As we were walking we all realized that it felt good to get out, stretch our legs and walk to an absolutely gorgeous lake with front seat views of Spencer Glacier.

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Fortunately, the railroad was able to get an engine to us quickly and we were on our way to Portage.  We ended up being only an hour late and Pongo was just fine.  And even though we didn’t make it to our final destination, we all agreed that things worked out for the best as we were able to experience an amazing piece of Alaska.

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The Last Stand

This is it.  This is our last attempt at winning the fence wars that Pongo has been waging with the dogs in the back corner of our yard.  We’ve tried landscaping fabric.  We’ve tried plastic snow fencing.  He’s careened through both of these, tearing a Pongo-sized hole in the middle of each structure to get at the fence.  Nothing stops this little solider.

Until…

My Dad, Steve and I put our heads together and came up with a plan.  A plan that just might work once and for all.  I’m not expecting miracles.  I know he will probably not give up the thrill of running mach 2 at the fence but I am hoping he will realize it’s not as fun anymore, and focus back on what he was suppose to be doing: going potty, bringing the frisbee, etc.

While Pongo wasn’t much help, we may have created something that is going to bring Operation Squelch to a successful close.

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Winding Down and Gearing Up

If you listen closely enough, you may be able to hear the wails of a grieving school counselor.  Summer is coming to a close.  I can’t complain though because we were blessed with a summer like there’s been no other: sun and temperatures in the 70s, sometimes 80s.  And not just one or two days but day, after day, after day.  It was spectacular!

Besides celebrating an amazing summer, Steve and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary at the beginning of August.  To ring in our ten year anniversary, we thought it would be fun to pack up the camper, along with Pongo and hit the road for a 750 mile trip to Haines, Alaska and the Southeast State Fair.

We took our time getting to Haines, which is something very different for us because driving the Al-Can for us always seems to be a hurried death march with deadlines to meet.  Taking our time meant we could stop and explore places we had never explored, like Dezadeash Lake in the Yukon Territory.

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Pongo was more than happy to get out, stretch his legs and cool off with a swim in the lake.

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After a two and a half day journey, we finally made it to Haines, a.k.a Dog City.  We weren’t anticipating everybody in Southeast Alaska attending the state fair.  But, that appeared to be the case and low and behold, so did their dogs.  Why not bring your dog when it’s just a short ferry ride from where you live?

We camped at the Haines Hitch Up RV Park, which is a well-run and well-maintained RV Park but hell for a D.I.N.O.S.  Our space was right in front of the dog walk area, with no option to move.

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It was a test of patience managing our dog, who needs a very wide berth of space and clueless people who don’t understand, or maybe even know, that there are some dogs who need space.  I think Pongo probably gained about 5 pounds with all the treats we used to distract him while dogs walked by!

We tried to get out as much as possible-trying to find areas where Pongo could get out and play without running into other dogs.  This was very difficult as the population of Haines probably doubled in the two-legged population and positively tripled in the four-legged population because of the state fair.DSC_0079 DSC_0074 DSC_0082 DSC_0070

While down in Haines, we were also on the hunt for bears.  Haines has a lot of bears and Steve ran across two last year, while working on a job.  I wanted so desperately to see a bear (from the truck) and every day we would drive the route where Steve saw his two bears.

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Did we ever see a bear?  Nope.  And along with that, we didn’t see a single piece of wildlife the whole ten days we were out!  I was so disappointed!  Despite the lack of wildlife, we had a wonderful time camping and exploring Alaska, while celebrating ten incredible years together.

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Our extremely peaceful campsite, in comparison to our site in Haines, at the Sourdough Campground in Tok, Alaska.

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Pongo’s first taste of raspberries.

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Matanuska Glacier

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Now, it’s time to get back into school mode and get ourselves prepared for the Nose Work 2 trial coming up in September.  We’re hitting the nose work practice hard in order to redeem ourselves from the Nose Work 2 trial last May.  Pongo will by-pass the buttered wheat toast this time!

A Quiltmaker’s Gift

“Is there anything you want?” my Mom asks, as we walk through a quilt shop during our Seattle visit in May.

That is a dangerous question to be asking as we are surrounded by hundreds of beautiful fabrics.  Ideas start racing through my head and there it is…a quilt for the camper!

We’ve been using an alternative down comforter with a duvet the past two seasons.  I’ve come to realize what a pain-in-the-you-know-what it is to have to wash it every time we return from a trip because we have a very hairy dog, who insists he has to sleep on the 48×78 bed with Mama and Papa.  Having something easy to throw in the wash and place back on the bed would be heavenly!

Mom asks what kind of pattern I might like and what kind of color palettes I’m interested in. Now, the Libra comes out in me: I’m overwhelmed with all the decisions and the hundreds of fabrics to choose from.  I know I want to stick with oranges to match the pillow covers we already have but besides that, I have NO idea.  After looking around, it hit me that I knew exactly what I wanted.  I pulled up a picture on my phone and showed Mom; she laughed out loud but didn’t seem too surprised.  It was a picture of the quilt she had made for the upcoming Friends of Pets Quilt Auction in October.

IMG_0200This pattern was perfect!  Now, I only needed to find material in the color scheme I wanted for the trailer.  After spending several hours in the quilt shop, I think I had found material that would come together to make a fun and visually interesting quilt for the trailer.

I love that my Mom was willing to put the pedal to the metal in order to get the quilt done before Steve and I head out for our next trip to Haines.  She completed it in record time and when I opened the box that arrived yesterday, my heart filled with love and joy.  I knew a lot of love and hard work was put into this beautiful quilt.

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                                  Many, many thanks to my creative and generous Mom                                    because every Airstream needs a Cattle Dog quilt!

Belated Birthday Celebration

I admit it: Pongo is one spoiled dog.  Who in their right mind throws their dog a belated birthday celebration because Mama and Papa were out of town on his 4th birthday last Sunday?  We do.

Here’s Pongo doing what he loves to do when he sees presents–ripping into them!

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As you can tell, this was not his favorite present.

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A new bobble-ball to replace the beat-up, chewed-to-pieces old one.

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And, a new bully-stick.

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I think the best part of the celebration though was Grandma Bev’s present, which I had never heard of before…Frosty Paws.

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Oh boy, was Pongo in doggie heaven!

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And 30 seconds later–it’s gone!  I wonder if dogs get brain-freeze?

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Pongo was one happy boy after his birthday treat and celebration!

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Off The Bed!

When it comes to Pongo following directions, I am usually pretty firm.  He does it or goes to time out.  I just couldn’t bring myself to pick him up and carry him to time out when he wasn’t listening to a word I was saying, as I was trying to make the bed.  He was totally cracking me up and being an overly-tired goofball!

Happy Belated Birthday, Sweet Boy!

Our now more adult looking, more mature (at times) Cattle Dog turned 4 yesterday.  It was the first birthday Steve and I were not with him to celebrate.  Instead, we were up in Fairbanks for Steve’s high school reunion, enjoying the Fairbanks’ midnight sun.  This picture was taken around 10:30 PM.

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This year, there was no crazy dog lady baking cookies or cupcakes for his daycare class. Instead, he spent a quiet birthday with the other love of his life, Miss Sue.  On the agenda for the birthday boy’s day:

1) Sleep in since the day before he had to get up at the ungodly hour of 6:00 AM; he was not happy about that at all!

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2) Take a nap because he had been up only a couple hours and it was needed.  I honestly think there are times when he is the laziest Cattle Dog around (not complaining though)!

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3) Take a walk with Miss Sue.

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4) Play a little frisbee.

Overall, I think he had a very good birthday despite Mama and Papa’s absence.

Happy Belated Birthday To Our Crazy Boy, Pongo!

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Summer Time!

Talk to any Alaskan and it’s bound to come up: the amazing weather we’ve been experiencing.  We went from this on May 17th…37 degrees and SNOWING!

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And, I’m not complaining one bit!  Summer has gotten off to a busy but incredible start!

It’s kind of bittersweet though that I am writing about our splendid summer on Summer Solstice, which arrived at 9:04 PM (Alaska Daylight Time) today but here’s a recap of what we’ve been up to since my last blog on May 5th (gulp!):

Immediately after school let out, I headed down to Seattle for a week.  I met my parents there and like always, we had to keep them busy.  So we worked on a few house projects (installed a shower and re-did a front porch) at my in-laws’ house.  It wasn’t all work and no play though.  We took some time to explore the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit which was absolutely breathtaking!

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Steve then came down to Seattle for a day and a half to visit his family before we jetted off to Las Vegas.  He attended a conference, while I sat by the pool catching up on my leisurely reading.

IMG_0075All of this travel and transition was tough on Pongo but thankfully, he was in good hands as Miss Sue was staying with him.  He was one lucky boy as she sure knows how to comfort him and dish out the love!

IMG_0070 IMG_0080Since we’ve returned, we’ve been out enjoying the heat and sunshine.

Dock-Jumping At Big Lake

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I think someone is finally pooped after an hour and a half of playing in the water!

IMG_0103Happy Summer Solstice!

Nose Work 2 Trial: A Learning Experience

With a deep breath and the mantra “Trust your dog” going through my mind, we step up to the Exterior search start line.  I bend down to Pongo telling him, “It’s time to do some Nose Work” and then asking him, “You ready to work?”  I knew even before we got to the start line, this dog was ready to work as he pulled me full throttle down to the search area from the staging area.  With the “Go find” command, we’re off.  He hits the first hide in probably less than 15 seconds.  ALERT!  I get the OK from the judge, reward him and we’re off again.  He checks out the area around the first hide and then moves to the other part of our L-shaped search area.  He’s on to something but can’t quite pinpoint where it’s coming from.  The wind was blowing through the area sending the odor down to the corner where our two search areas converge.  I knew there was no way they would have put the second hide so close to the first so I direct him back to where he was showing some interest.  Then I hear, “30 seconds.”  PANIC sets in.  I give one more, “Go find it, Pongo.”  He’s working so hard and I am just praying he find it in the few seconds we have left…

“Time!”

My heart drops.  I can’t believe we just timed out-something Pongo rarely does.  The judge shows me where the hide was so I can reward Pongo at source.  As soon as I saw where it was, I was kicking myself-it was the one place we passed by several times, without really getting down and dirty with the area.  It was a total handler error.  I was beyond disappointed.  I knew that we were out of contention for our Nose Work 2 title on the very first element.  As much as I tried to reframe it: well, the pressure is off rest of the day, I just couldn’t accept my mistake.  We’ve always let Pongo choose where to go when searching…

Lesson #1: Keep track of where we’ve been and where we haven’t.  Make sure we hit the whole area even if you have to give him some guidance.

I had some time to reset myself and get back into the game before we needed to head to the Interior search.  I needed to be on for Pongo despite my disappointment.  We get to the start line and he is ready and rearing to go.  I think the Interior searches are his favorite; mine, too.  “Pongo, go find” and he’s off.  He quickly moves to a table pushed up against something big and black (I’m not too sure what it was as I wasn’t paying attention to anything but Pongo).  He ducks under the table, nose working 50 miles a minute.  He goes back and forth along the table a couple of times and hits it-ALERT!  Yes!  Pongo gets his reward and is already off, with the “1 more. Go find it” command, before he probably even swallows his piece of cheese.  He starts checking the perimeter of the room working counter-clockwise.  He zips past the judge and videographer making his way back to the start line.  I see him starting to cross the start line, thinking maybe he’s caught the scent coming under the door from our second search room.  There’s no penalty going out of “bounds” but I didn’t want him focusing on that second room yet.  I remind him once more, “Go find it” and he swerves back into our search area.  He starts heading back toward the first hide but makes it only a couple feet before I get this beautiful head turn-he’s caught the odor.  He whips around, sniffs a trash can then starts to move along the baseboards. He stops about 6 inches from the start line and starts pawing and then sits-ALERT!  Yes! He’s found the second hide, stuffed into a small hole in the wall.  Good Boy, Pongo!

The judge asks me to hold Pongo as they open the door to the second search area.  The judge and videographer walk in to the tiny room and let me know I can move to the start line.  I get Pongo set-up, his nose already working and give him the command.  He runs into the room and immediately becomes interested in a table to our right.  He checks out on top of the table and moves down along the edge of the table.  That’s when I notice the tall garbage can under the table.  Oh, please don’t let him start dumpster diving!  Pongo is really working the garbage can and sticks his nose under the edge of the top lip and immediately sits.  This is where “trust your dog” comes into play…ALERT!  The judge acknowledges his correct find and he gets the biggest piece of cheese I had in my pocket. What a smart boy!  I was so proud of him!  He rocked the Interior search: 1:37.25!

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We even earned a “Pronounced” on this element, which means the judge thought we demonstrated exceptional technique and teamwork.

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The success was bittersweet but after hearing how many people were not able to find all three hides on the Interior search, I knew we had something to be very proud of.  Pongo and one other dog were the only ones to find all three hides in the Interior search!

After a lunch break, our next element was the Container search.  This was the one element I was expecting some difficulty.  We had only one hide to find but it’s a mixture of boxes and luggage AND food and/or toy distractions.  I wasn’t worried if they had toy distractions because Pongo has shown no interest in the toy distractions in our practice runs.  It was the food I was worried about.  In practice, he was about 50/50 when it came to ignoring food distractions: sometimes he would totally leave it alone and other times, he was all over it, especially when cheese was used.

I reviewed in my mind what Pongo’s alerts on food look like compared to his source (odor) alerts: he’s all over the food hide and it’s almost impossible to get him off of it.  We can do this!  I just need to be observant to what he’s interested in, note which containers we’ve searched, and make sure we hit all the corner containers.  We get settled at the start line and I give Pongo the command.  He starts by checking out a few of the first containers we pass and then moves toward a corner container.  He checks out the interior facing side of the piece of luggage but then quickly moves on.  He moves toward the middle of the search area and I think to myself, “How am I going to keep track of what we’ve checked with all this randomness?!?”  Breathe, Jen breathe.  Pongo then beelines for a luggage container on the edge of the search area.  He sniffs very interested, paws at it lightly, then gives me this beautiful sit and looks at me with eyes saying, “This is it, Mama.  I found it.” ALERT!  It seems like forever before I heard the judge say, “No.”  What?!?  Did you not see the absolutely textbook, beautifully gentle alert my dog just gave???  You can’t tell me he gave me that kind of alert for a food distraction!  I was dumbfounded.  The judge walked us over to that corner luggage container he checked out in the beginning, took us to the exterior side of that piece of luggage and had me reward Pongo at the source down in the bottom corner where the wheel meets the bag.  And once I found out what he actually alerted on, all I could do was laugh to myself; I guess he was really in the mood for buttered, wheat toast that day!

Lesson #2: Work both the interior and the exterior of your perimeter containers.  

After talking with a friend who was videographer for the container search, she said that I didn’t give Pongo enough longline and it would have helped if I had walked to the exterior of the search area.  For some reason, my mind went to “boundaries” when we hit the edge of the search area.  There are no boundaries-you can walk out of the search area; I knew that.  I also knew to pay attention to corner containers–I just didn’t pay attention to the outside facing side of that corner container.  It was interesting because ALL the big dogs missed the container with the true hide and almost all of them alerted on the food containers (the other food distraction was Doritos, which we had practiced with and he ignored).

We had one more element to go: the vehicles.  We really have not practiced much on vehicles so I had no expectations for this element.  There were two hides we had to find on a total of four vehicles.  I knew we needed to be meticulous about this search and make sure we search every side of every single vehicle.  The plan was to let Pongo choose which vehicle to start with and then I would be sure we hit all sides before moving on to the next vehicle.  When I gave Pongo the “go find” command, he headed straight for a snow bank that was pushed up against a dumpster.  I couldn’t quite figure out if he was distracted, mentally tired or catching the scent over there.  I let him move that direction before reminding him of what he needed to do: go find it.  He got back on track and moved to the vehicle closest to the start line.  He sniffed the hub cap we came upon first and sat.  Really?!?  I wasn’t even too sure I saw where his nose touched before he sat so I prayed the judge wouldn’t ask me, “Where?” when I called ALERT!  Pongo had hit source correctly!  I rewarded him and it was time to move on.

We walked around another car and once again, he moved out onto a snow bank.  I again couldn’t tell if he was distracted or using it as a way to clear his nose and reset but I went with it.  After giving him another “go find it” command he quickly moved to a blue Toyota 4Runner.  I knew he was on odor but just had to work it out.  Once he gets scent of the odor, I trust he will work it until he is right on source and that is exactly what he did.  He hit source within seconds of catching the odor and gave me a strong alert by trying to get at the source with his mouth (VERY BAD habit we’re trying to break!).  I immediately called ALERT! in hopes he would sit down and stop trying to get to the source.  He did exactly what I was hoping and the judge gave us a “yes.”  Pongo rocked the vehicle search with a time of 1:02.56!  AND, we were also awarded a “Pronounced” on this element!  I was one proud Mama and I think Pongo was one proud boy, too.

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We were DONE!  A sigh of relief and a big hug and kiss to Pongo for all of his hard work!  I knew we didn’t title but also knew that out of the fourteen dogs entered in the Nose Work 2 trial, no titles were going to be awarded that day.  I didn’t expect to place overall because of our one missed element (Exterior) and one false alert in the Containers element but I was hoping that he would place in the Interior and Vehicle individual elements.  Pongo did place in both of the elements: 1st Place Interior and 2nd Place Vehicles!

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At the end of the day, I knew Pongo had done his very best and loved every minute of it.  It was an incredible learning experience for all of us participating in the Nose Work 2 trial for our first time, and it will only get us better prepared for the next Nose Work 2 trial in September.  Click here to view the complete trial results.

I absolutely love this sport, and love the bond and sense of teamwork it instills between us.  Congratulations to Pongo for a job well done!

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