Meet Falcon and Pilgrim, the newest members to Ian’s kennel! Ian finally graduated from his pancake puppies, and has added his first real sled dogs to his fledgling team. It has been quite the ride to get to this point, and would have never happened without social media networking, and a lot of people who really support junior mushers.
Last fall Ian finally had the opportunity to hook Balto up on the gang line to run with real sled dogs, then Bonnie and Jim graciously offered Ian the use of their mushing rig for a long-term loan. But with a two hour drive between us and Scout as an aging Quest retiree, we soon realized that we need some younger stock to teach Ian as well and Balto and Jenna to mush. Bonnie set out on her goal to find Ian the right lead dog, and began searching for a younger retired dog who could still run through the woods of Tennessee. During this process, we vetted several options that we had to pass on. Some racing line Sibes from New York sounded hopeful, but these were serious working dogs who needed to go to a real race home with a knowledgeable musher. Bonnie explained that she was looking specifically for a solid gee haw leader who would also be a good pet as Ian’s not yet equipped to run a dog yard comprised of strictly working dogs. So more dogs came and went through Bonnie’s careful scrutiny.
In the middle of the search for Ian’s next dog, we took our trip to Wyoming. Not only did we plan the trip to enjoy a vacation out west, but we also intended to use this as a good opportunity to determine if Ian would enjoy mushing as much as he thinks he will. As we learned during his time with Annie the mushing guide, his tour simply strengthened his addiction, so Bonnie continued her search. Then finally in March, she sent us news of Falcon, and we began moving forward again in helping Ian towards his goal of mushing this fall.
Falcon comes from the Kenai peninsula, and one of his former handlers is good friends with the director of the August Foundation, a non-profit designed to help place retiring racing dogs into new homes for their second act in life. Falcon is not a rescue dog, but his past handler, Shantel, wanted to make sure that he would go to a good home after no longer racing in Alaska, so she worked with Julie, the director of the August Fund, to let the Foundation help make connections for a new home and coordinate transportation. Then Shantel suggested Pilgrim, a second dog retiring from the same kennel, might be another good addition to Ian’s green team, so suddenly we started making plans to bring home two boys from Alaska!
After countless text messages and phone calls between Julie, Shantel, Mr. Osmar, Bonnie, and very kind transport-volunteers, the boys were finally vetted and on the road for Anchorage! The migration from the great north to the southeast had begun. Sweet Thera was kind enough to text us pictures of the boys during her portion of the relay, so Ian was able to track their progress. Later Laura and her husband picked the fellers up from Julie and took them to Alaska Air Cargo, where Pilgrim tried to climb on the counter to speak for himself to the airline workers! Then Laura turned the boys over to Alaska Air and we were able to officially track their progress in the AA app! Brinn and I stayed up late to hear confirmation that the boys were transferred safely to the cargo staff, then we passed out for a few hours of sleep. Their flight departed Anchorage at 2:00 Alaska time…which was already 5:00 am in central time. We watched the status of the flight update as they left on time and headed to Seattle. A few hours later we dropped Ian off at school with promises that we would be back soon to pick him up early for the drive to Nashville. I came in to work for a few hours while keeping the flight tracker pulled up in the back ground. And I’m glad I did because the transfer in Seattle went extremely quickly and the flight to Nashville left ahead of schedule! So after just a few hours of work, I updated my annual leave hours and left to grab Brinn and Ian.
Bonnie and Jim met us at airport cargo, because they are wonderful friends and mentors who want to be present for every moment in Ian’s journey to become a musher. We all checked the app for updates diligently and cheered when the status changed to unloading! Ian had already gone inside several times to check on the status of the dogs, but finally the transport truck arrived with two dog crates! Vibrating with excitement, Ian sat in the office with Bonnie and me while Brinn and Jim moved into the cargo area to uncrate the boys. And then they were bringing Falcon and Pilgrim through to meet Ian!
After 9 months of considering, investigating, researching, hunting, and scheduling, Ian’s sled dogs were finally here. Pilgrim strolled out of his crate as if he owned the building, and announced that he has changed his name to Pilgrim Kiser and he’s ready to go home with Ian. Falcon definitely had more reservations about us, but he was still extremely mannerly for a working dog who just spent 12+ hours in a crate. We brought the boys to the car where we had water bowls ready and both got a good long drink, then each of them gave big stretches before moving over to the grassy area to take long pee breaks. While they went for round two of water, we disassembled the crates for the drive home, then got the boys situated in the car. Since Falcon seemed to be the less bold dog, we put him in the back seat with Ian, and let Pilgrim have the rear cargo area so he could stretch out. We exchanged final hugs with the Fosters, and started the last leg of the journey for Falcon and Pilgrim to reach their new home.
And we made it almost a quarter of a mile before Pilgrim rearranged the seating assignment. We pulled over for a quick game of musical chairs and Pilgrim instructed Falcon to move it to the back. Falcon instantly agreed, and Pilgrim crawled in Ian’s lap for an hour of snuggles. With the new configuration, we managed the rest of the drive without incident and Pilgrim told Ian all about his plans for becoming a southern husky.