Staff column: Dog politics not that different from ours
As many people in the community know I raise Siberian Huskies and I use them to pull a sled during the winter.
Consequently when the weather starts to get cold, as it finally has in the last couple of weeks, my son, who also raises sled dogs, start to train them. With no snow having fallen in the local area yet we must resort to what is called "dry land" training in which the dogs pull a cart or a four wheeler.
Thus this past Sunday morning at about 7 a.m. I found myself standing on a dirt road in Clarks Valley watching as my son pulled away with a 10 dog team as I hooked up six of my pups to head in the same direction.
It had already been a morning of mishaps. With some new equipment, a new dog box I built earlier this fall on my truck and with two new dogs I had purchased from a musher in Wyoming early last summer, a number of things had already gone wrong when I began to hook them up. They had great enthusiasm as I started to slip on their harnesses. The new dogs I had been told were already harness broken and had done some miles on a sled, so supposedly everyone of the animals on the team had some experience on what we were doing. Unfortunately what I was told and what the actuality was seemed far apart the farther I got along in the process. Both the new dogs resisted the harnesses, telling me that they were not used to them. Because of that it took a few more minutes to hook them up than I anticipated.
Once all were hooked to the tug line correctly (that is always a chore to do alone when dogs are excited) I took the brake off the four wheeler and away we went.
But only about 100 yards down the road.
Suddenly my lead dog stopped, and as she did the two wheel dogs behind her, which included one of the new females, ran right into their back end. I braked quickly to avoid a total pile up, but by that time all the dogs on the team were checking each other out in the normal way that dogs do.
As most of you know, they do not shake paws, but instead use their noses to see who is who. Within this bunch of dogs, one of my older females decided she didn't like the one of the new ones and they got into it right in the middle of the team. Like an idiot I stuck my hand in between them trying to break up the fight and ended up with a finger that was bleeding profusely. But I did get the fight stopped. By that point however, every neck line and lead line was tangled beyond recognition. Worse, however was that now no dog on the team was in the mood to run; all were more interested in other things.
Try as I could, I couldn't get them straightened out correctly without unhooking the entire team and walking each of them back to the truck where they could be connected to picket lines there. So I began the process of disengaging them and leading each to their tie lines connected to the vehicle. And of course as I did this I had to keep my eyes open for new excitement coming from the dogs still tied to the four wheeler a football field away.
While doing this I began watch them from a distance, and realized the pecking order was just as it was when I have social hour for them in the dog yard at home a number of times a week. The new dogs, which I found to be inexperienced, and not as able as I had expected, were being treated poorly by my older dogs. I watched as my oldest Siberian, Caile, tried to get the new male to pull, even though the break on the four wheeler was locked up tight. But the new dog just looked at him, and Caile obviously quit in disgust chewing him out with various noises. He even turned around and threw dirt on him with his back paws.
It occurred to me that the dog politics that were going on, from the bickering to the out and out fighting, is so much like what we see in our government that it is frightening. Newly elected politicians are almost always tested by those who have been around for years. Arguments about inconsequential items turn into hard fought fights that never go away. And when the public tries to straighten out one of those fights, they get their hand bit in a variety of ways.
I finally got all the dogs hooked back up to the truck, brought the four wheeler back, strung out the tug line again and hoped for a better outcome. But as I looked at my team, such as they were, it was obvious this was not going to be a running day. Instead it would be one in which while I spent some time waiting for my son to return, and in the meantime I did some bonding with my dogs. The sport is like all others; there will always be another game or another season or another contest. For me, I just look at it knowing we will run on another day and it will be soon.
By January, when there is good snow to run on, most of these problems will be worked out. The first run of the season is often filled with pitfalls. But I can train problems with dogs out; we can work on routines and get dogs who have largely laid around since April back into shape and into the proper mental state. The good thing about dogs is that they can change their ways because they are simple beings: they have the great qualities of being loyal, loving and they want to please their master.
But by January, in Washington D.C. and Salt Lake, will our newly elected officials be that able? Or will we just see partisanship and bickering once again, even though there are new people in our national government and at some levels of our state government. Will they solve problems or spend time trying to get back at people who have "done them wrong" during many years when others were in control. Will they solve problems or just make them worse? Will they be in the shape, like my animals, to wander down a trail relatively trouble free and to act as a team, or will they split their efforts in the myopic way thinking that theirs is the best, and only, way? Will government once again be tied up with ropes and tethers, with no one being able to move one way or another, while outside influences destroy the very fabric of our country?
I have hope that things will get better in our nation; I have hope that new leadership and more cooperation will bring us back to where we once were.
But optimism and high hopes would mean little if I were a betting man.
So I would put my money on the dogs.