Twenty years ago, you would have said I had the world’s strangest dog-sled team. I have ten dogs, only one of them a Husky. Several are breeds wholly unsuited for dogsledding and a couple of them, in actual competition, do me more good just riding on the sled with me, as they can’t run in deep snow. You should see them, just bouncing along happily, their tongues out. One, a Pekingese, doesn’t even pretend to get ready to harness up anymore. She just jumps on board.
Oh. And that Husky I mentioned? The law says I have to keep him at the back of the pack at all times.
It goes without saying that I don’t do well in the Iditarod anymore.
But let me back up. A few years ago, I was a winner, a real magazine-cover Iditarod champion. You know, the kind with frozen beard and windburn? You’ve seen us; we smoke pipes and wear real fur.
Anyway, I was pretty good at putting together strong teams, populated by the biggest, fastest, strongest, toughest, most focused, most intelligent Huskies or Malamutes that modern breeding can make possible. I’d pick the right mix of alphas and betas and bitches and I ‘d train them to feel each other’s pain, to fill in for each other’s weaknesses, to push each other past the point of canine—or human—endurance. I’d look for the right combination of will and personality to assemble A Team. A Capital-T Team. That’s why our team logo is the Capital T.
And you may find this hard to believe, but a top-bred dog can become impatient with a human who isn’t giving his all, and will drive that human to excel. I have seen it. In fact, I have been pushed just like that. And when you have ten or twelve champs literally killing themselves to win and dominate, you can lose the distinction between yourself and them; you begin to hear words in the barks. Words you can understand. Truly. You come to see the world a little more like an animal, and they become a little more human. It’s almost mystical. Love is what it is, I think.
But those days are over. A few years ago, somehow, it got on the government’s radar that this is a sport dominated by certain breeds and that some other breeds are necessarily excluded by the nature of dog-sledding. They call it “Husky Privilege.” As the government has spent the last 50 years turning over every rock to prove that nurture always trumps nature—and making it illegal to say otherwise—dog-sledding the way we used to do it is a no-no. Just last year, the director of the Department of Equal Outcomes gave a speech at the starting line congratulating us for cooperating in the government’s efforts to “eradicate proxy racism.” I clapped, but it was just to get the snow off my gloves.
“Proxy racism”, by the way, is what the government calls anything that might hint that a racist’s arguments hold any water whatsoever. That’s why they’ve put together the experimental monitor lizard team, with help from the Dr. Frankensteins in the Department of Agriculture. It’s a dog-sled team pulled by monitor lizards wearing parkas and heated snow suits. They give them steroids and vitamins and have even tried genetically modifying them so they grow fur. Last I heard, they were scraping up against $340 million dollars with the effort. Team still came in dead last the last two years, though. It took ‘em 12 hours just to get out of sight of the finish line last year. But the DEO insists that their work proves that any being can be made to excel just like any other being with enough attention and empathy and compassion. And money, of course.
Sure, it’s ridiculous, but the lizards are kind of cute in those furry hoods.
But back to my team.
I’ve got a boxer named Bruno who hates his feet to get wet, a Pekingese named Shonda who, as I said, can’t pull without special PVC stilts that don’t work very well, a Chihuahua named Chihuahua because every name I thought of would get me arrested for racism, a German Shepherd named Doug who likes to dig, a Pointer named Stiffy who humps everything , an Afghan Hound named Cher because she reminds me of Cher, a Cocker Spaniel named Hops because she likes beer and a mutt the government sent me I named Hershey because he’s chocolate brown.
Those nine, when I hitch them up, have an average speed of six miles per hour on their best day. Their top range per day is about fifteen miles. I try not to think about it. The other boys in the race are hobbled the same way, so it’s fair.
And, in the back row (by law) is my Alaskan Husky, complete with beautiful blue eyes, the hulking, sleek genetic distillation of eleven generations of champions. I call him Freki, after one of Odin’s dogs. That fact would probably land me a stint in Sensitivity Camp, but nobody I’ve met seems culturally or mythologically literate enough to pick up on it. They think I’m saying “Freaky” like “Freaky Deke.” The hell with ‘em. Their ignorance is my umbrella, I guess.
Anyway, sometimes I take Freki out for walks late at night when the other dogs are sleeping or humping the firewood pile or chewing their asses and I let him run. I time him with a stopwatch and marvel at his speed. According to my math, he can sprint—unhitched, of course–from the edge of the barn to the tree line in 40 seconds when there’s no snow, which works out to 26.59 miles per hour. Judging from my experience, that would make him a champion for the history books.
He knows I know it, too. I can tell by how he looks me in the eyes. While he’s back there trotting along easily behind that mixed crew of yapping, pulling, snapping, yiping, panting misfits, he sometimes looks back over his shoulder at me and gives me a wink. And I wink back.
“Someday, Freki,” I tell him. “Someday. Truth trumps bullshit, boy. Truth with a Capital T.”