The Yukon Quest 300 had just ended. I was grinning like a sleep deprived idiot as Steph drove the truck as we left the finish line in Central, AK. Our goals for the 2016 race season had been met as I crossed the finish line of arguably the hardest three hundred miles you can race in Alaska. And HARD it was! Giant mountains we climbed and descended, deep over flow we forded, long fifty below zero temperatures we marched under the dancing auroras. Tukaway’s young team prevailed once we crossed the finish line. The team was now full of confidence knowing they can pretty much complete any race trail which was our goal for the young dogs, and that was why I was grinning like a sleep deprived idiot! I was so proud of the dogs as I continued to push through the three days of sleep deprivation I was on. The bed at home was in the near future!
I was certainly joyous, but I was also slightly bummed that one of my key dogs, Comanche, had come up with a shoulder injury a few weeks before the race. She had stepped in a deep moose hole in training and strained a muscle which left her out of the Two Rivers 200 and the Quest 300. This dog is a true spark plug to the team and a great yearling leader. It was hard to not bring her in the race, but it would not have been fair to ask her to run with the team in such a demanding race after having about a month off. So she was left at home at our good friend’s kennel where she was being taking care of (and hopefully briefed on our race!) After getting a good night’s sleep, we would go pick her up the next day along with a few of our retired goofballs!
The next day had come, I think I slept for ten hours straight (which I never do) and woke up still in a race hangover. Racing takes a huge toll on the human body. Sure, we might not be running one hundred miles a day like the dogs, but we are pushing ourselves mentally and physically as well. Typical issues we mushers face after a race is dealing with a body that is completely dehydrated as well as exhausted. A three hundred mile race means maybe a musher gets two hours of miserable naps broken up over four rests throughout a twenty-four hour period. We are lucky if we can nap for half an hour at a time. This amount of sleep is just enough to allow our bodies to continue to function, but it certainly is not enough to recover. So once a race comes to an end, we are true space cadets! The dogs on the other hand, although are working extremely hard, get nearly equal rest to the time they run. So they get plenty of rest and sleep. In the end, they too need recovery days, but I am embarrassed when I see them the day after a race ready to run again while we mushers sometimes need a week to get our bearings somewhat in line!
Anyways, after a luxurious ten hours of sleep, I awoke. We went out and checked on the team and gave everybody a big well deserved breakfast. Then we went over to pick up Comanche and the other dogs. Now, I must warn you. The remainder of this story is not necessarily a fun one but we feel we as a kennel need to tell.. First thing I noticed when we got her back was some redness and goop in the eyes. From years of experience with working with dogs, my first thought was an allergy from different straw from our friend’s kennel. Another option was maybe she contracted pink eye from a different group of dogs she had been living with for the past few days. Both I have seen before, and although not common, this does happen. I began treating her for these two possible scenarios thinking it would clear up in a few days. Well, I was wrong... After a few days, Steph and I began to notice that our super leader with the recovering shoulder, had begun to shed her guard coat, which was really strange for it being early February in the interior of Alaska! She also had begun losing weight and protesting eating… Now for a sled dog to protest food, especially Comanche, we knew something was up more than pink eye! We took her temperature and she had a developing fever. It peaked over 105 degrees which for a dog is VERY high. A healthy temperature is around 101.5. We instantly put her on antibiotics due to her most likely having strong infection somewhere in the body and then we called our veterinarian. The next day the temperature had gone down but the fever was still there so we brought her in to have her checked out.
Our veterinarian was baffled. The symptoms did not make sense and her eye was getting worse. More discharge and more redness and now swelling! We tried some stronger antibiotics and special eye drops but nothing seemed to work. She continued to have a fever, lose hair, lose weight, and the eye continued to worsen. Our vet ended up calling around to other vets for ideas, even as far as Australia! The case of Comanche was on the minds of many veterinarians in the greater Fairbanks area as well as the world! WHAT WAS GOING ON WITH OUR DOG!!!!????
The remainder of this story was an extremely heart wrenching experience. I usually like to keep everything positive because 99% of the time it is, but this was not happy times. Things were becoming very serious. The prognosis was not good. No medicine was working and our dog was failing…
The swelling in her eye had become so severe and a glaze had begun to form over it, as well as the continuation of the goopy discharge. This was not good. After all of the medicine and vet visits we had given her, our sick dog was holding strong but we were pretty sure the eye was gone. Now Alaskan Huskies are a very old breed of dog. They have never been bred for their appearance, strictly for their abilities to run, and to be tough! This toughness is one of the hardest parts about this breed. They are incredible at burying pain and driving on. They are like a personal hero of mine, Mr. Brett Favre in the twilight of his career. They just keep wanting to play! Well, this is how Comanche was. Her tail was wagging, she was snuggled in our bed, and she would smile at us anytime we went in to say hi and cuddle with her. But this dog was in serious pain. We spend a lot of time with our dogs. We make sure to get on a personal level with every one of them. And this was not the normal Comanche. The next morning we brought her back into the veterinarian and they agreed, if this dog was going to survive, the eye had to go.
It was incredible, after the removal, it was night and day! The pressure building in her head has ceased and our happy Comanche was back again! Now this is where dogs amaze me and prove they are far superior to us humans… This dog, who still had a fever and was internally sick, and also had her eye removed, was as happy as could be! Any human I know, including myself would be miserable knowing if they survived this thing they would have to go on living the rest of their lives with only one eye, yet this little girl was smiling! Dogs are incredible, and if anyone needs a role model, go pet a dog!
Now our dogs to us are obviously dogs, but they really are our family. We love our crew. Each and every one of them are very special to us. As I write this, we have more than any sane person would have in a small cabin and one dog (Laredo Larry the Brute) is currently curled up between my legs on the couch. So even though the eye issue was resolved with the removal, Comanche was still sick and nobody had any idea how to fix her… Things were becoming very scary and the inevitable was actually beginning to be a reality. The thought of losing our little girl Comanche was a hard one to swallow. Especially after how hard she fought. Both Steph and I had lots of late nights discussing what to do from our veterinarian advice. They were all simply baffled! We even had a few costly emergency visit in the middle of the night and they were running out of ideas. At some point every dog owner has to think about what is right for the dog, and we certainly did not want to watch Comanche waste away in a slow agonizing death. This was a great dog and deserved dignity to the end.
Then something happened… Steph said to our veterinarian something along the lines of, “how it was only a few months ago we were traveling across the continent with our dogs..” Our vet stopped her right there. She asked where we had traveled. We explained we travelled from New Hampshire to Alaska across the northern tier states. One of which was Minnesota which is where Steph is originally from. There, we stopped at her camp up north and we ran the team on a crisp fall Minnesota morning.
This sparked an idea in our veterinarian’s mind. “FUNGUS!” Now in Alaska, we do not have fungal infections so it was not even considered, but as we learned, fungal infections although are not common in the Midwest, they do happen and can be contracted around wetland areas. So in a matter of seconds the idea was to treat our dying dog for a fungal infection that had begun to attack her entire body. There all of a sudden was a glimmer of hope and a very small chance of success! All the literature we read on blastomycosis (which is the fungal infection we thought she may have contracted in the Midwest) says that once symptoms begin to show, it is usually too late, and if the symptoms had attacked the eye then it was a near death sentence. Our awesome veterinarian staff from multiple offices in the Fairbanks and beyond all informed us that we can start her on anti-fungal medication right away while we await her test results to see if it was in fact an infection. They informed us that if she does have a fungal infection the chances are not in her favor to survive even with the medicine. This was not a few pills folks… This was six months’ worth of EXPENSIVE medicine. Well, we had already gone bankrupt trying to save our little buddy so why not a little more! It was our last bit of hope that our one eyed pirate of a dog named Comanche might survive. It was our Hail Mary pass!
After a few weeks of medicine, our little girl drastically improved! Her hair stopped falling out, her good eye cleared up, and she began putting weight back on! We were ecstatic that it seemed like it was working. Buuuut….. The thing with fungal infections is they can be remedied with medication but once they had attacked her body at the level this one had, they can be nearly impossible to cure… In other words, we would not know for six months if all of this was for nothing. At the least it gave our girl six healthy months where she could run and play in the Alaskan summer sun with her other jeep siblings and us before the inevitable would finally manifest. Like I said, our dogs are VERY important to us. Every day we saw Comanche smiling, this past summer, well, we smiled! But deep down inside we knew that there was still a possibility that dumb fungus might be in there waiting to attack her at any moment…
Now, I will be honest, we hid this story from our followers. We did not want to bring awareness to her situation for it being so grave. We certainly did inform those who were closest to her, but we wanted to present all the facts when we finally did have them to all of you. And having a sick dog holding on by some magical pills she had to take every day was not the story we wanted to present to our followers. Now to get to the point. Back in the late summer we had Comanche tested to see if the medicine had worked. If it did not, well this would not be a happy story. But like I said, I ONLY like to write about happy times! We recently got the results back, and guess what people…. SHE IS CLEAR OF THAT DAMN BLASTOMYCOSIS!!!!!! Our little girl will survive! Although, she is missing one eye, she will surive! And get this people, she is stronger than ever! Our one eyed wonder is still leading the team around Two Rivers in training and is kicking butt doing it! This is one tough dog and we could not be happier that we will have MANY MANY more years of happy Comanche and her aggressive couch and bed snuggling!
Now, I have to get on my soap box for a minute. This was an amazing feet for our little girl. I have to admit there were times we did not think she was going to make it. It was a very dismal experience for all. But I must give credit to our amazing Alaskan Huskies and to all of the generations of them before Comanche. As I stated earlier, this is a breed that has never been bred for its appearance. Strictly for its abilities as a sled dog. Now, I am fine with pure breeds and our modern dogs, and yes a unique appearance of a breed can be nice, but there is something to be said about this old line of dog. For thousands of years, our Alaskan Huskies have been bred to be tough. That means minimal chance of injuries, illness, and incredibly fast abilities to recover. This has created a breed of dog that rarely ever gets sick or has any health problem whatsoever. They are a long lived breed that at times can be big dogs, they still tend to live into their late teens on average and be VERY healthy into their later years. What I am getting at is, our little girl obviously got sick. Nearly deathly sick. But I do believe her ability to kick this fungus with the help of modern medicine was strongly due to the fact that for all the generations of people breeding the toughest with the toughest dogs going back thousands of years is a true reason our little Comanche is still around. Many modern breeds are prone to certain illness’s but our Alaskan sled dogs although at times have their behavioral quirks, (don’t get me started on Tuk Dog) their health is incredible! I am proud to work with such an amazing breed of dog, and am even more proud to have to honor to continue working with our amazing little ONE EYED Comanche to the end of her days, which we hope will be FAR down the road!
Last but not least, I have to thank Steph for all of her loving and caring for our little girl. She was instrumental in finding a cure for Comanche and would not take death for an answer. Also, a huge thanks to our veterinarian staff of TRose Vet Clinic, North Pole Vet Clinic, the Emergency Clinic in Fairbanks, and whoever the veterinarians were in Australia who helped us out! This race season when Comanche is leading the team with her one eye and charging down the trail, I will be thinking of all of you as our little girl continues to drive on!