You guys, I have been holding out on you with some fun news….
Remember when I mentioned being in Alaska last month? Well, this is little lady is the reason. Meet Ruby!
Ruby is a 2.5 year old Alaskan Husky, and the newest member of our crazy family. Ruby was a racing sled dog in Alaska. One month ago, she lived in a dog yard with 18+ other dogs. Unless out training, she spent most of her day tied to a chain or in her dog house. Ruby had never been indoors, let alone slept on a cushy dog bed atop meticulously stashed dog toys in our bedroom.
The husband became obsessed with sled dogs on our previous trip to Alaska in January. While there, we visited a 4-time Iditarod champion’s team of dogs. In passing, someone mentioned an organization called the August Fund, which finds new homes for dogs who can no longer race. The August Fund’s dogs are either too old, injured, or for whatever reason cannot continue to train and race with their team (like Ruby). Most of the organization’s dogs are 8+ years old. Ruby’s young age is a bit of an anomaly, but keep in mind, an 8 year old husky accustomed to running thousands upon thousands of miles with their respective teams is still an active dog in need of a very active home! Ever since he learned about the organization, the hubs was constantly scoping their page to see what new dogs posted.
As winter turned into spring and yours truly had one too many sketchy encounters on my daily run, the hubs suggested a 4-legged running buddy for me. Initially, I dismissed the idea. We already have 2 dogs – who are very active but too small to run longer distances. I could come up with a million reasons why not to do it. June has a huge personality – plus, she’s older now and might not accept another dog. What if the new dog is mean to June or George? Walking 3 dogs is nuts. (By the way, I was right about that last one.) And on and on I went…
But, since it was about a dog, the hubs is both a total softy and annoyingly persistent. Combine his insistence with a few more sketchy running incidents, and my resolve started to waiver. I found myself browsing the August Fund’s Facebook page one night and noticed a cute new face was added. Ruby. Well, technically “Gopher.” Yup, Ruby was formerly named Gopher. No one seems to know why. She had the name when her previous owner acquired her. Sorry in advance to anyone with a dog named Gopher, but that is a terrible name for a dog. Without even running it by the hubs, I inquired.
Of course, the husband was practically doing cartwheels when he saw her picture and they wrote back with info that sounded promising. Among other things, we learned Gopher was a 2.5 year old Alaskan Husky in Wasilla, Alaska. A dozen emails and phone calls later, and we were booking flights, hotels, and renting an SUV for an early September trip to Alaska. It was official. We were going to meet a dog named Gopher!
I kept reiterating to the hubs that we were only going to meet her. If it wasn’t a good fit, I refused to do the square-peg-round-hole thing. I spent the month between our inquiry and travel researching all things alaskan husky, transitioning a sled-dog (also referred to as a team dog) to a household environment, leash training, etc. Except for a couple articles about small household animals making great squeaky toys, most of the articles were encouraging! Online, I kept seeing these intimidating dog harness contraptions with a back-brace for the human attached. Those concerned me. I figured the dog would pull – its what they were trained to do, after all. She’s a 45 lb. dog not an ox, I reminded myself! She’s still young, and we can train her, the husband kept saying. But, I’m a skeptic by nature.
I landed in Anchorage alone on Friday, Sept. 1. I got the rental car and started the 90 minute drive from Anchorage to an area outside of Wasilla known as Knik. Due to work schedules, the husband wouldn’t arrive until the middle of the night on Saturday. So I would be on my own the first couple days. I’m a weirdo who enjoys traveling solo, so this was fine by me.
First of all, this drive is ridiculously gorgeous – in every season. Every dang time it takes my breath away. There isn’t simply anything like Alaskan mountains.
Ruby was part of a sled dog team for a musher who ran the Junior Iditarod last year. Ruby also ran some longer races with the musher’s sister and cousin. In the sled dog world, “longer” equates to a few hundred miles longer. Ruby was having trouble getting along with more aggressive dogs – especially harnessed to the sled. So even though she can run-run-run, she does not have the sled dog mentality. She has the prey drive of a sea cucumber, and if given the choice between a belly rub and anything else in the world, would choose the former….even when she was harnessed up to run with her team. I.E. Even when extremely inconvenient! The musher contacted the August Fund to find a non-mushing home for her.
When I arrived, Ruby was on a chain next to her little dog house. I spent some time with Ruby and talked to her owner who passed along vet records. Over the course of an hour or so, I fell in love with this sweet dog who kept rolling over for a belly rub. I was also very relieved to find the name “Gopher” didn’t suit her in the least – even her previous owner agreed the name was strange.
The next day I moved forward with the veterinary flight clearances. This vet appointment was likely the first time Ruby was ever indoors, and she was terrified. Typically because mushers have so many dogs, the veterinarians make house calls. No amount of bribery would get Ruby through those doors. What is this smooth slippery floor and florescent lighting?? After a lot of coaxing and ultimately carrying her into the vet, we were finally on our way. I tested her leash skills on a mini-hike before dropping her off (our hotel wasn’t pet friendly) and driving back into Anchorage to pick up the husband, who was chomping at the bit to meet her.
He was so excited to meet Ruby! The guy who hates waking up early was ready to go before dawn. Of course, he fell as in love with her as I did, and we spent the next couple days hiking with her in Hatcher Pass and Denali!
I will always remember those 2 days of hiking. They were two of the most gorgeous days ever. Plus, the husband, our new 4-legged-addition, and I stayed in the most awesome cabin on a little salmon creek in Talkeetna (near Denali State and National Parks), which put the icing on the cake for all 3 of us!
The next day, we boarded the plane and headed back to Seattle! I was hesitant about the introduction to June and George, but after some initial hesitation, and uncertainty on behalf of all 3 pups, things are going amazingly well!
For a dog who has never been indoors, we had absolutely zero issues with house training aside from a few destroyed magazines. Ruby loving having a bed, toys, cuddles, and has integrated herself into our routines seamlessly. Both the husband and I are a bit in awe of how perfectly she fits in.
One thing hasn’t changed. Ruby lives to run. Her morning run is a ritual she loves. Although I think she wishes my endurance levels matched her own, since she seems to get warmed up around mile 8 or 9…a.k.a. when I am about to drop dead. We also seem to have found the only sled dog who doesn’t pull when on a leash! Well, unless she sees a squirrel. 😉
Having two dogs who already get family life in the city has been extremely helpful with helping Ruby acclimate to routines and house-rules. Ruby picked up almost instantly that June is the top-dog around the house and began taking June’s cues for what to do and when. As for George, he is pretty thrilled to have a playmate! Ruby and he run around the house teasing one another with toys all day long. The floor perpetually looks like it was hit by a snow storm of dog toy stuffing.
Husky’s are known for being fiercely independent and stubborn. Lots of people warned us about them being backyard escape artists and prone to running off. Instead of an independent husky, I have a shadow. Or, maybe I should say another shadow, since I already had 2 sweet little four-legged shadows. Anytime I walk from room to room, I feel like the elementary school line-leader with 3 dogs in-tow.
I am giving June and George all of he credit for helping Ruby acclimate and identify her little crew so quickly! She has only been home for a month and already does amazing off-leash when hiking or going from the car to the house leash-less!
Thats not to say there haven’t been a few challenges. Ruby is extremely easily startled. She practically jumped to high heaven when a leaf fell on the path in front of her on one of her first days home. Not only are common indoor noises like the furnace turning on, espresso machine, television (she once growled at a dog in a movie), mirrors (she growled at her own reflection, too), and a whistling teakettle very startling, but she had always lived way out in the sticks. So, city noises and stimuli like traffic, trains, and curbside garbage pick-up were all new and scary too. She has grown a lot more comfortable over the past month. With that said, she still gets startled easily and sometimes, by the things I would least expect. So, we are careful to provide lots of reassurance and keep her on a leash in new and unfamiliar scenarios.
I have to say the most surprising thing has been her fear of unknown leashed dogs. She will practically cross the street to avoid a 3 pound chihuaha. But, June – our social butterfly – is helping her learn to say “hello” to other dogs on walks. At this point, Ruby skeptically observes rather than participating, but at least when her big protector June is around, Ruby at least won’t tear my arm from its socket trying to cross the street. She is slowly learning that not every new noise, garbage can, or dog is something to fear. Each day she gains confidence and becomes more comfortable with her new life. She is an awesome, sweetheart of a dog, and we feel super lucky to have her in our family!
If you are interested in learning more about dogs like Ruby, our Alaska trip, or any of our favorite Alaska stops, the links are below.
I’ve gotten a number of questions about Ruby from a couple Instagram story posts, and I hope I addressed those questions here, but post your questions in the comments below!
Read more about our previous trip to Alaska.
Glacier Brewhouse – Great atmosphere for some fun Alaskan seafood, and I hear they have great beers. If you can, save room for dessert. Order the peanut butter pie or the bread pudding.
Kaladi Brother’s Coffee – An anchorage chain and probably the best coffee roaster and chain in Alaska. They have many cafe locations (including one in Seattle). Their Wasilla location was super convenient for us on this trip since it was on our way from our hotel to Ruby each day (or because its me and coffee pulses through my veins, multiple times a day).
Vagabond Blues – A cafe that bakes amazing bread for sandwiches, makes awesome breakfast burritos, and delicious giant cookies! They are a great place to stop for breakfast or lunch on the way to or from Hatcher Pass! If its coffee you want, they serve Kaladi Brother’s Coffee and are definitely the best coffee shop in Palmer.
The Roadhouse – This restaurant is famous for its Alaska sized breakfasts and baked goods. Be sure to try the birch syrup and apple butter on their sourdough pancakes! Or order a cinnamon roll from their bakery! Oh, and they’ll make you eggs anyway you like: “So long as you like them scrambled!” Ha!
Conscious Coffee – Tiny, adorable, and the best coffee in Alaska. Grab it to go and take a walk around the town or down to the Mat-Su river! On a clear day, you’ll have a view of Mt. McKinley!
Twister Creek Restaurant / Denali Brewing Company – I hear the beer is legit although I’m not much of a beer gal. But I’ve noticed the brewery showing up in a few magazines lately. If you go for dinner, order the sweet potato fries and anything else, but definitely the sweet potato fries!
Hatcher Pass – Located in the Talkeetna Mountains, outside of Palmer and Willow Alaska, Hatcher Pass is more than just a scenic drive! Breathtaking views of the valley, river, and Chugach mountains! In the summer, its known for excellent blueberry picking, wildflowers, and hiking with panoramic views. In the winter, you can snow shoe or ski to your heart’s content.
Denali State Park – Not everyone knows that Denali is both the name of a state and national park. The benefit of visiting the state park – aside from the lack of crowds and tour buses – are the views of Mt. McKinley. I highly suggest any of the routes that take you along Kesugi Ridge! There are multiple routes with different pros and cons to each. And if you can build a little overnight backpacking into your trip, make it this one!! (Just be sure to read about bear safety before heading out.) The views of the Alaska Range including Mt. McKinley are spectacular on a clear day!