Kidron of Spirit Wind
KIDRON was born 1st December 1987, sired by Farkle of Sepp-Alta (by Uelen's Beowulf of Sepp-Alta ex Seppineau's Oka of Windigo) out of Holly of Sepp-Alta (by Ash of Markovo ex Alma of Sepp-Alta). She was rather a throwback to the Harry Wheeler dogs, a big long-coated bitch whose usual weight was around 53 pounds (24 Kg). Her size and coat limited her speed somewhat, but not her heart and determination! Allan Gagnon and Bill Shearer would have loved her.
When we returned to Canada in 1993 to settle in the Yukon Territory, the wild and rough trails of the bush between the Miners' Range and Lake Laberge came as a rude shock both to the dogs and their drivers Jeffrey and Isa. KIDRON proved a rock of strength and reassurance to us in those first difficult seasons of adjustment. No matter what happened, no matter where we went, KIDRON would always get us home safe and sound. Soon we developed faster, younger leaders like SEPALLEO, but KIDRON continued to lead the second string and to lead exploration teams in attempting unfamiliar or difficult trails. I took teams led by Kidron and Zirconia into steep mountain trails in the Range where I would never have dared to go with the first-string team.
KIDRON was also invaluable in training our youngsters. Her steady, unflappable nature and her honest working attitude (we called her "our Scotch Presbyterian leaddog" and nicknamed her "Kiddles MacFiddles") provided a strong good example for flighty green-broke pups and callow yearlings. Her ability to perform at single lead made her particularly useful with small tricycle wheel-rig puppy teams.
As well as being a staunchly honest and reliable utility leader, KIDRON was a cherished friend and sidekick of Seppala Kennels' owner J. Jeffrey Bragg. She was a beloved "girlfriend" second only to DREAMA in those early years. Kid died in 2001 and I still miss her greatly. For everything that you were and all that you gave us, thank you, KIDRON — I shall never forget you.
Zirconia of Sepp-Alta
ZIRCONIA was one of our cherished "Powder people." Sired by the immortal UELEN's BEOWULF OF SEPP-ALTA (by Surgut of Markovo ex Helen of Markovo) out of POWDER OF MARKOVO (by Nutok of Markovo ex S-A Athena of Markovo), born 21 March 1988, Zirc represented a strong and nostalgic connection for Isa and myself to the breedings of our Markovo Kennels days in the 1970s. Like KIDRON, she was a big bitch who usually weighed 53 pounds (24 Kg.) and she had the rough, rawboned appearance that was characteristic of her famous sire.
Zirc made her own decisions about trails and trail conditions. She was especially wary of overflow and when she saw standing water on the trail would just come haw with an apologetic but determined look that said, "Sorry, Boss, but that there's open water up ahead and it just ain't safe, so we better turn around and head back home. Hope you don't mind too much!"
ZIRCONIA joined forces with KIDRON to lead Jeffrey's slower second-string team in the Yukon. She was the quintessential utility leader: up to the toughest chores of exploring unfamiliar trails, leading excursions into the Miners' Range that demanded extreme caution and steadiness when the snow was deep, the trail unknown, or the descent from the mountains rocky and treacherous.
At the age of nearly ten in December of 1997, ZIRCONIA gave us her greatest gift, the P-litter sired by our Russian import SHAKAL IZ SOLOVYEV. She raised her pups with the same seriousness and dedication that she gave as a leader. The P-litter were very fine sleddogs and often made up around half of Jeffrey's first-string team in the closing years of the 20th century.
ZIRCONIA had an honest, strong, unshakeable personality all her own. She did things her own way, according to her own conscience. She could be annoying with her noisy barking in the kennel and her independent decisions on the trail, but when the chips were down, Zirc was one of the leaders you had to trust. For all that you did for us, those years of honest service, thank you, ZIRCONIA.
River View's Hurley
HURLEY was acquired by Seppala Kennels on Jeffrey's watershed visit to Carolyn Ritter's River View Kennels in 1991; he was just coming into full maturity then, and Carolyn was quite reluctant to part with him. HURLEY's sire was JAZZ OF WINDIGO (by Fast Fred of Sepp-Alta ex Dynamikos Badger of Windigo) out of POWDER OF MARKOVO (by Nutok of Markovo ex S-A Athena of Markovo).
As soon as we got HURLEY back to Spain, Jeffrey tried to make a leader out of him using the Fishback method of leader training. I mowed a small circuit of connected paths in the tall grass of our little olive orchard and worked the poor boy on foot with harness, ten-foot line and trekking belt! He was mentally too young for that kind of foolishness, I now believe. Perhaps it gave him some notions of gee and haw, but it also injected a lot of anxiety into the idea of following commands. HURLEY did become a reasonable leader, but he felt the strain of the position. Later on in the Yukon, he began to react against leading by looking for a way out -- sometimes taking unauthorised turns or trying to come haw and go back home. Big and strong as he was, he made an ideal wheel dog, so we began hooking him mostly in wheel position next to the sled, where he happily worked at full capacity. He remained useful as a leader in rig training or (especially) on the homeward leg of longer distance runs -- hooking HURLEY up front anytime after the turnaround point would give the main leader a rest and provide a strong drive in the latter part of the run.
Paired with XPACE OF SEPPALTA or with our Russian import SHAKAL IZ SOLOVYEV, HURLEY was the best wheeler we ever had. On rough, narrow, twisty-windy Yukon trails maintaining good control of the sled is essential. HURLEY's steady, strong reliable pulling was just what was needed to keep good sled steering and stay out of trouble.
HURLEY was a serious, good-hearted sleddog. He loved to run at wheel; he loved his people; he loved his food. In general he was a great big sweety, a real creampuff of a dog for all his impressive appearance. He was beautifully put together, and his standing side view photo was always the one we chose to represent the Seppala Siberian Sleddog as a breed. His colouring was the true, authentic "agouti," of which he was the most beautiful example we have ever known. All his life his one ambition was to be a house pet, but he lived the first nine years of his life in the kennel. Finally one day he gave up and quit eating; he looked very low and we thought he would be dead within 24 hours; Isa took him into the cabin. He didn't die that night. The next day he started eating again and was soon okay. We were never sure, but we suspected that once he got into the house he decided either that he couldn't die then, having just realised his ambition, or else that he had already died and this must be heaven! Anyway, HURLEY lived another five years as the happiest and most gentlemanly of house pets, despite a bleeding skin tumour that gave him trouble in his old age. His dear friend SEPALLUNA kept the tumour scrupulously clean for him and he never let it bother him.
River View's Sprite
SPRITE lost the next two winters to maternal duties, but later on we were very glad we had been able to spare her from the teams, as three leaders resulted from her two matings with XPACE OF SEPPALTA. We foolishly sold or gave away all the bitch pups from the first litter except for TONYA; probably two of them would have become leaders had they remained at Seppala Kennels. SPRITE was another of our "Powder people," sired by Carolyn's command leader PETER OF SEPP-ALTA (by Hercules of Sepp-Alta ex Uelen's Ali) out of POWDER OF MARKOVO (by Nutok of Markovo ex S-A Athena of Markovo).
Most of our photos of SPRITE at lead seem to be of small 3-wheeled tricycle rig teams. She was chosen to lead such teams very frequently, due to her strong, steady running style on dryland at shorter distances, her good behaviour and the dependability with which she took directional commands. I am sure that her daughter TONYA's skills as a command leader came from her mother; SPRITE seemed to have and to be able to transmit the perfect "head" for a command leader. Her abilities were also passed on to her daughter KOLYMA OF SEPPALA and from her to Spritely's granddaughter LIZAVETA OF SEPPALA. RIVER VIEW'S SPRITE was a powerful genetic engine driving leadership qualities in our bloodline.
SPRITE was a devoted "girlfriend" who loved nothing better than to be in the wall tent with Jeffrey; she raised two litters there, both whelped on my bed. SPRITE amazed more than one Siberian-Husky-oriented visitor with her ability to go outside off-leash and to remain within call without running off on a hunt. Her temperament was pure pet with a strong desire to please. I'm happy to say that her sweet nature was strongly inheritable and was passed along to her many descendants. We miss you still, Spritely-Go-Lightly, but all your inheritors remind us of you!
Xpace of Seppalta
As time went by we developed several good young leaders and XPACE gradually retired to wheel position where he usually ran with HURLEY, making a very powerful wheel pair. It was not without regret that I retired XPACE as a leader, because he was willing, strong and far from slow. Fortunately, in Yukon hinterland dog driving good wheel dogs are fully as important as good leaders, so XPACE always made a strong contribution to any team in which he was hooked. His one fault was that he had a tendency to give out through overexertion. I can recall many runs on which as soon as the team returned to the dogyard he would immediately lay down on his belly. Despite this ominous flaw, he sired some of our best sleddogs. XPACE was an outgoing dog, crazy about people and always an attention-getter with his unique appearance and rich agouti colouration.
Shakal iz Solovyev
We started our kennel in the Yukon with twenty-six dogs and a parcel of unimproved busy land, no buildings, no water, and no electricity. Jeffrey and the dogs arrived in June, Isa lingered in Spain to pack our belongings and wrap matters up there; she arrived in the Yukon in September with our two Bernese Mountain Dogs. Winter would be coming on fast. A kind neighbour loaned us a small travel trailer and we bought a big insulated wall tent. Then the overriding concern became winter firewood, our only way to keep warm through Yukon cold snaps of minus 40-45C! SHAKAL was put right to work with our firewood teams, since the distances were short and we were both there with the team, he could learn leader work "on the job" beside KIDRON and others.
"Jackie" (as we called him) quickly became a useful leader. But it didn't last. By the following season, both he and HURLEY decided that the lead dog bore too much heavy responsibility and caught too much flack when things went wrong. Jackie told us he had had enough of leader work: he would suddenly jump off the trail and sit down on the trail side, and nothing would induce him to return to his position and resume the run. I would move him to wheel just to get home.
Jackie was a natural wheel dog. He was both strong and steady. Soon he and HURLEY joined forces to become Jeffrey's favourite wheel pair. All of his misgivings disappeared and he became a trouble-free and dependable worker. He had no use for strangers; he would stand and bark at them endlessly. With Jeffrey and Isa, he was happy and humorous. His was a very distict individual personality and we loved him dearly. Due to our difficulties with the Canadian Kennel Club (who refused to register him or even his progeny) we had only two litters sired by SHAKAL, but both those litters became crucial to later SK breeding; they were fabulous dogs. Like Hurley he became a housepet in his hold age and died finally with Isa and Jack in winter 2008, four months short of sixteen. SHAKAL IZ SOLOVYEV was a one-in-a-lifetime experience. I remember everything about him vividly to this day and still miss him greatly.
Ninnis' Sabrina Two
Thereafter SABRINA was relegated to puppy training, where she was very useful as she was experienced, steady and assertive. She was, after all, a pretty good command leader as he had had a lot of individual training from her former owner. It wasn't Sabrina's fault that our Seppalas were simply too fast for her.
Unfortunately in deep winter of 1996 she had a silent heat during a spell of -40C weather; SEPALLOP, turned loose out of the wall tent briefly one morning in the hard cold, jumped the kennel fence and the first we knew of any of it was when we found the pair on her stakeout in coital lock. Of course she conceived from that single mating; we sold the pups locally. Again not SABRINA's fault, but the whole experience with Sabrina strongly reinforced our conviction that Seppalas and "Racing Siberian Huskies" just weren't a good mix. Two other Anadyr-strain racing Siberians from the same source proved totally useless (both were pathologically shy and completely unmanageable).
Sepallop and Sepalluna
The "double-L litter" were born in our farmhouse in Spain, Masía Maurí in the Prepirineo foothills. The sire of LLOP, LLUNA and the rest was Doug Willett's famous "Hank," HERCULES OF SEPP-ALTA (by Ash of Markovo ex Alma of Sepp-Alta) out of our foundation bitch KARCAJOU'S DREAMA OF WINDIGO (by Xephyr of Sepp-Alta ex Ali-Sons Vixen of Seppin). It was the enthusiasm and desire to run of these dogs that convinced us to return to Canada where they could better fulfil their destiny as sleddogs.
As we trained them as yearlings in the Yukon, it soon became apparent that we had three leaders out of the five we had kept! LLEO, LLOP and LLUNA each had his/her own distinct personality. Isa began running LLUNA and LLOP at double lead; on their bad days they became known as "Airhead and Bonehead"! LLUNA had a tendency to be dizzy and distracted, LLOP to be stubborn. Nonetheless, the pair established their credentials as fast, strong leaders in spite of minor personality issues.
LLOP became such a fine, fast leader that he was promoted to the job of leading Jeffrey's eight-dog strings, while LLUNA tended to stay with Isa's six-doggers. LLOP's speed and heart were soon matched with the rising young star of TONYA OF SEPPALA. Together they made an unbeatable lead pair, reinforcing one another's strengths. TONYA always loved to "race" the dog beside her and she specialised in connecting up the "places where we lope," thus improving our times. LLOP found that quite to his liking and seemed very happy to be paired with a young co-leader whose watchword seemed to be, "Hey, let's RUN!"
Unlike most of our leaders, LLOP was quite happy to lead alone without the psychological security of a co-leader. He regularly led five-dog teams of younger trainees.
Eventually as LLOP grew old his position beside TONYA was taken by her young daughters HAPPY and later (too briefly) MOKKA. LLOP went back to partnering his sister LLUNA on Isa's teams in the sunset years of his career. Finally he retired to housepet status, living in the log cabin with Isa. His sister LLUNA went before him over the Rainbow Bridge, but had only four months to await his arrival in the fields of gold.
LLOP was the most affectionate male Seppala I ever owned. The icing on the cake was that he sired a new young leader LIZAVETA OF SEPPALA who outshone most of her predecessors, along with. a strong group of her siblings who made up a fine team all by themselves! In retrospect I could wish we had used him more often in the breeding pen. Eventually we did try but I think rather too late in his life as the matings failed to take. For all you gave us, Lloppie old fellow, we give our heartfelt thanks to you! And to you, SEPALLUNA-Ji, bright star -- watch over us all until we shall be together again, blessed spirit.
One might have thought that the dog would never be worth much after enduring a winter in which he nearly succumbed to his exotic systemic infection. But his great heart and determination helped him to overcome his illness almost entirely. The following season of 1994/95, SEPALLEO rapidly became a first-string leader for Jeffrey, tackled our hardest 20 and 30-mile trails, and ended the season logging over 1000 miles in harness. Lleo never faltered thereafter, until finally in his advancing age he began to experience some moderate joint swelling due to the aftereffects of the parasitic infection. In the summer of 2006 he was still with us at 14 1/2, somewhat crippled now but still able to go in and out on his own and to enjoy his privileged house-pet status with Isa. He died in the Yukon with Isa and Jack on 22 October 2007 only a month short of sixteen years old.
SEPALLEO proved his worth in that initial 94/95 season as a reliable leader on long and difficult Yukon trails. He was always a useful and versatile leader, like MARKOBOSCO with whom he frequently ran double lead. He contributed hugely towards the education of TONYA OF SEPPALA in her formative period, before she began to run exclusively with SEPALLOP. He would run with a variety of other leaders and would also run single lead. Isa enjoyed Lleo's tractable, sweet nature and frequently chose him as her leader as I took over his brother Llop for an ideal running mate to Tonya.
SEPALLEO was always a wonderful all-round dog: first-string leader, affectionate and gentle companion, and a good sire. His last litter sired (our M-litter) was raised not only with their dam TONYA OF SEPPALA kept with them for as long as possible, but their sire as well. Lleo proved himself to be gentle and forbearing with mischievous young puppies. Finally they became too much for him and he begged to go back to his place in the kennel, but he never so much as curled a lip at a puppy no matter how they plagued him. Lleo was a male of striking beauty, with his luminous dark brown eyes and his flashy jet black patches on a snow-white ground -- he knew he was sexy and beautiful . . . we called him our "Mick Jagger Dog."
MARKOBOSCO was bred in Spain, born on Christmas day in 1992, the son of RIVER VIEW'S HURLEY (by Jazz of Windigo ex Powder of Markovo) and NORDE OF SEPP-ALTA (by Hercules of Sepp-Alta ex Uelen's Ali). Parvovirus was rife in northern Spain at that time, and three of the males in his litter fell ill despite a good vaccination schedule. Boz pulled through with hydration therapy, although the virus killed a brother, a lovely brown- eyed white male that looked so much like his sire we had called him "the white Hurley."
We never expected Bosco to be a lead dog! In early training he was started at wheel, where he showed himself to be strong and enthusiastic. One September day in 1994 on a 4-dog tricycle rig run Isa "promoted" him halfway through the run to lead position, where he did quite nicely. His next chance came a month later, with another run at lead on snow about a month after that. But that 1994-95 season he was mostly run at wheel paired with XPACE OF SEPPALTA, usually on Isa's 6-dog team which was the fastest of our teams that season. Boz seemed set for a career as a wheel dog.
The next season (1995-96) began with BOSCO at wheel on Isa's team as before. But soon she ran him a couple of times at double lead with SPRITE; he seemed bewildered at first, but performed well enough. His big break came on 13 February 1996, when Jeffrey hooked him at lead with SEPALLEO in an 8-dog team. LLEO had previously been paired with SABRINA (an Anadyr leader we had bought that season). LLEO and BOSCO ran the 8-mile course in 37 minutes (13 mph), 4 or 5 minutes less than the same team had been doing it with the LLEO/SABRINA pair — Jeffrey commented, "Didn't realise just how badly SABRINA was holding us back!"
MARKOBOSCO ran double lead with SEPALLEO routinely from that day forward. The Anadyr leader was relegated to puppy training where her slow pace was an asset. BOSCO and LLEO were excellent together and Boz gradually learned his directional commands through "on the job training"!
Thereafter BOSCO became an all-purpose leader. He would work happily with any other running mate, and quietly accepted the responsibility of command leadership. As I look through stacks of old photos I see Boz's distinctive dark face and blaze at the head of many different teams. He was a trouble-free standby for us, a dog we could put at lead wherever and whenever we needed him, any time there was a front-end vacancy to be filled. Isa and I both miss his quiet dependability and his unfailing friendliness and cooperative nature. Thank you, Bosco — may you romp in fields of gold forever, beyond the Rainbow Bridge!
'Lara was a willing and eager co-leader for 6-dog teams and she saw a lot of use in the mid-90s particularly on Isa Boucher's teams. Although we had no litters from her and no one outside of SK has ever heard of her, she was an integral and valuable part of the whole SK training operation and deserves her full share of credit for her contribution.
Tonya of Seppala
TONYA was a Seppala Kennels homebred, sired by XPACE OF SEPPALTA (by Uelen's Ebony of Sepp-Alta ex Dynamikos Ruby) out of RIVER VIEW'S SPRITE (by Peter of Sepp-Alta ex Powder of Markovo). She was born the 1st November in 1995. She developed rather strangely; at three or four months she was so stocky and compact that I called her "my little show puppy;" then as a yearling she became super-skinny,and was called "Tonner the Twig." Throughout all the changes she maintained a terrifyingly strong attitude: as a youngster she felt compelled both to run and to make her way to the pinnacle of the kennel's social hierarchy.
As she came quickly into her prime, TONYA ran with our best leaders, SEPALLEO and SEPALLOP. Particularly when paired with LLOP, we found that putting Tonner at lead in any given team would probably cut an average of five minutes off the total time of an eight-mile run. It was TONYA who first proved to us that the Russian-cross Z-litter could run as fast as our pure Markovo-Seppalas if they were hooked with a high-attitude front end. (Previously we had mostly run them with our slower utility leaders.)
TONYA grew in trustworthiness and reliability as she matured. Unlike her frequent running-mate SEPALLOP who was stubborn and sometimes persistent in his refusal to correct an error, Tonner proved compliant and cooperative, always trying to do a better job. Her training was not without problems, however; she was so fast and impetuous that in her early years she was not easy to control. There were times I dreaded running the first-string team, because sometimes Tonya was frightening to drive on a primitive, winding trail.
Tonya was as fine a mother as she was a leader. She had three litter (the Alaskan-cross H-litter, the M-litter by SEPALLEO, and her last Russian-cross F2 litter by PYOTR OF SEPPALA. Tonya did not abandon her pups when they were weaned; she was always willing to be with them, to play with them, to help train them to harness, to run with them.
TONYA knew heavy responsibilities all her life. As her career slowly drew to a close, her main focus was training her successors and enjoying her unquestioned status as Queen Bitch of Seppala Kennels. She did a final stint in the whelping box at ten years of age, giving us a pair of "Russian Princes" (Prince Ivan and Prince Igor) sired by Shakal's fantastic son PYOTR OF SEPPALA and finished by training a new leader in LIZAVETA OF SEPPALA who could in time have been every bit her equal. Our move to Rossburn, Manitoba in fall of 2007 brought her career as a leader to a natural close at an appropriate age and she spent her days in Manitoba as a pampered house pet and beloved personal companion. Tonya died on 2 August 2011 a few months short of sixteen. Her loss was crippling for Jeffrey and marked the final closure of the Seppala Siberian Sleddog Project — actually she outlived the Project itself by several months. For all you did for us, Ton-Tonamera, Noble Lady, Gorgeosa, your old Bossie thanks you from the bottom of his heart! My life hasn't been the same since you left to explore the undiscovered country.
Excerpts from the Seppala Kennels training log:
- "TONYA's name should be "Straight Arrow" these days, just total attention to running, head down and straight ahead." (19 March 1995)
- "TONYA as usual frantic to go, wild at hookup." (21 March 1995)
Kolyma and Korek of Seppala
Neither of these two (though they were full sibs to TONYA via a repeat breeding) was truly first-string lead dog material. KOLYMA, although very reliable, tended towards a let's-don't-get-in-a-hurry attitude, while KOREK was all too ready to bring the team to a stop at the nearest brush pile or squirrel tree to hunt critters. Occasionally Isa would succeed in shifting their gears up into speed mode (as in the coming-home photo above) but it seldom lasted for very long.
KOLYMA, though, was without doubt a stellar utility leader in the "Scotty" tradition. Although she was basically a trotting leader, she was tireless and honest, always a pleasure to drive. KOREK perhaps took a bit of putting up with, but generally XPACE's male progeny were less satisfactory than his daughters. KOLYMA was above all a top-drawer brood bitch — they don't come any finer — her contribution to the Seppala Siberian Sleddog heritage through her many fine progeny puts her in the same category as such bitches as SIGRID III OF FOXSTAND, FOXSTAND'S GEORGIA and POWDER OF MARKOVO. Kolyma survived to the age of seventeen years one and a half months (our longest-lived Seppala. She is sorely missed to this day by Susan and myself.
Yolanda of Seppala
YOLANDA's career reached its pinnacle in the 2001/02 season when she served as a very strong partner and backup to half-Alaskan HOPPY OF SEPPALA, easily keeping pace with a very eager and impulsive younger leader, serving as a calming and steadying influence on him in a demanding and difficult series of 20 and 30-mile runs through our chain of hinterland lakes and portages. In those runs with a strong young leader who didn't always have his commands down pat, YOLANDA not only had to put her thinking cap on, but also proved that she could handle sustained speed pressure.
In winter of 2007 at the close of her career, YOLANDA triumphed by birthing a brand new Seppala dog-driver. Jacob Heigers came to the Yukon for a six- weeks initiation course in Seppala driving and handling. Landy, backed up by the indefatigable KOLYMA OF SEPPALA, kept everything cool on Jacob's white-knuckled novice runs — especially his first attempt at a full-scale training run with a six-dog team on a very dark and overcast 18th of January.
Unfortunately the strong command leaders are the ones who get the lion's share of the respect and attention both from the driver and from the world outside. The truth is, though, that steady, reliable trail leaders and backup leaders like Landy, even if they don't know commands or have the fortitude for up-front decision making, are indispensable to a smoothly functioning training routine. Yolanda did yeoman's service at Seppala Kennels, both at lead and as a very strong and reliable point dog. She did all that we asked of her from training puppies to initiating novice mushers to backing Tonya on critically important runs like the one pictured at the top of this page. I remain forever grateful to modest Yolanda for her many years of uncomplaining steady work in the front ends of our teams.
Surgut of Seppala 2nd and Splash of Seppala
Splash was a small, fairly compact female and we used her at lead only with her brother Surgut. We made no effort to make anything of her other than a trail leader to hook with Surgut. In fact it would probably be fair to say that neither of these dogs were given a full and fair opportunity to develop their talents as leaders, as we were spread a little too thinly to have unlimited time and energy for leader training.
When Agriculture Canada sent a local Whitehorse dog driver to conduct an informal onsite survey of the newly-fledged SSSD Project (that would have been late in 1996 or early 1997), I sent the young chap (accustomed to Alaskan husky teams) out on a 6-mile trail with the S-litter 6-dogger. When he returned to the kennel less than a half-hour later, he had just one comment: "That team runs like it was all the same dog — I never saw anything quite like it."
Surgut was never quite as speedy or ambitions as our LL-litter leaders or Markobosco, so we didn't use him very often at lead except with his sibling team. More often he was hooked at point. But he was always a calm, trouble-free dog in harness, one of those that the driver never has to worry about. He passed his nice temperament and mentality on to the all-female C-litter of 2005 and that was his major legacy. Splash led quite nicely hooked with her brother but died relatively young from cancer and had no litters, though we did try to breed her once.
Hoppy of Seppala (A Tragedy)
Tragedy struck in his second year. One day he began to experience grand-mal seizures in in a very serious and ominous form: he would have two or three in quick succession and continue having more at roughly hourly intervals through the day. He was put on the usual phenobarbital tablet medication and seemed to recover. But as we resumed training runs with him, something strange became apparent: HOPPY appeared not to remember the familiar trails he had trained on, taking wrong turns and missing turnoffs. Our veterinarian had given us a few Valium suppositories to be used if HOPPY began cluster-seizuring again. About a month after the first episode, he had another cluster series one morning in the kennel. We administered a Valium suppository and he went in his doghouse and lay down. A fifteen-minute check found him unconscious, and fifteen minutes after that he was dead.
We never learned the real cause of his death. Our vets told us they would be unable to determine much from an autopsy at their clinic, and recommended courier-shipping the cadaver to Vancouver for specialist neurological work. We couldn't begin to afford it, so we never knew if he had a brain tumour, a reaction to the heavy Valium dose, or something else. (Epilepsy isn't ordinarily a fatal disease as long as cluster episodes are controlled by medication.)
HOPPY had the makings of an exceptional leader. We were sad indeed to lose him. The whole H-litter seemed fraught with problems. HIPPY could have been a great leader had she not been obsessively concerned about dogs in the team behind her — we ran her exclusively at wheel (where she was stellar). HAAKON could not run peaceably in a team without picking quarrels with his teammates. HOLLY died from ingesting gravel. HELEN hated going out and was back on her neckline for the first two or three miles of any run; though very small, she was an incredible worker going home — until a turn of the trail took it in a direction that was not directly homeward, when she'd immediately be back on her neckline again. Only HAPPY was truly a fine leader, and only as long as she ran beside TONYA. But above all, HOPPY's death was a tragedy that deeply influenced us. We never took the AH-cross experiment any further; the entire litter had no descendants, for we never mated any of them.
Happy of Seppala
Unfortunately HAPPY had mental issues that made her unsuitable as a main leader. She was apprehensive about ice, overflow, heavy trails and similar tricky situations, and a little truculent with other females, apart from her dam TONYA. Running beside her mother seemed to give her enough confidence to do a good job, but she was less satisfactory with other running mates.
HAPPY was very affectionate with her owners, a sweet dog, and quite intelligent. She was the best of the Alaskan-cross H-litter. (I felt that this litter was a big disappointment, given the hype that surrounded "Hop" and his progeny among the open-class racing fraternity. The entire litter had mental quirks that prevented them from being first-class dogs, and I am reasonably certain that the quirks did not come from the Seppala side of the mating. The experience of this litter proved to me that breeding for speed alone while ignoring issues of mentality does not produce the kind of sleddogs that I am interested in.) Happy often travelled and camped with me in the truck, along with Tonya; she was a pleasant companion dog and, truth to tell, I was very fond of that little sable girl.
In many ways the teams led by HAPPY and TONYA during the period 2001-2003 were really "to die for." Fast, powerful and steady, with very few problems for the driver (as long as the trail was not bad enough to arouse apprehension in Happy). In those years we usually had the half-Russian P-litter males and SURGUT OF SEPPALA in the team, all powerful, steady, tireless team dogs. In 2003 I did an entire photo series of over twenty images taken from the runners in the course of a 30-mile excursion with eight dogs, something that could be contemplated only with an exceptionally steady and trouble-free team. Those teams were composed of Markovo-Seppalas, Russian/Markovo crosses, and Alaskan/Markovo crosses; the combination was compatible and there was little to choose among the three genetic groups, all of them could work together well with no problems of pace or gait.
HAPPY worked to the last at Seppala Kennels. She was a valuable co-leader when paired with her dam. I only wish that TONYA's daughter HAPPY had been able fully to replace her, but the experience with Hap and the rest of her litter proved to me that "racing performance" is far from the last word in sleddog efficiency, and may indeed prove less than satisfactory in terms of general sleddog ability and versatility. The simple-minded speed criterion has relatively little to do with all that we should expect nowadays from Seppalas in their capacity as versatile working sleddogs that are a sheer pleasure to drive. Serious racing competition these days is best left to specialist dogs. It isn't that Seppalas are particularly slow — it has been proven often enough that they are not — rather it is that we expect a great deal more of Seppalas than just speed.
Lizaveta of Seppala
Born 2 November 2002, sired by SEPALLOP (by Hercules of Sepp-Alta ex Karcajou's Dreama of Windigo) out of KOLYMA OF SEPPALA (by Xpace of Seppalta ex River View's Sprite), Lizzy was not harness-broken until she was a yearling in the 2003-04 training season. Her litter was trained together as a team with TONYA presiding as command leader, and by the time the L-litter team had accumulated their first sixty miles in short-distance training runs on snow, they were working together as a team as smoothly as if they had two full seasons of training. Never have I seen a team integrate so quickly.
In spring of 2005 she did mountain bike runs in a local complex of community horse trails and proved conclusively that she knew her directional commands quite well already. Liz could gee-haw as much as you liked in solo mode, without another leader to help out. She was still rather a youngster, but what a gal!
LIZAVETA was, like her mentor TONYA, a product of J. Jeffrey Bragg's "girlfriends system" of leader selection and training. As did TONYA, she goes everywhere with the Boss, sleeps in his bed, becoming very closely bonded. Her affection for and trust in her driver are both very strong, as is her motivation to please. For some people that probably wouldn't work (and maybe people of that sort should consider some sleddog variety other than Seppalas), but this hands-on, intensive and emotional way of producing lead dogs gave us our very finest leaders. Had we been able to carry on training and running dog teams in the years 2008 and thereafter, Lizard probably would eventually have surpassed even her aunt Tonya as a first-string command leader.
Lara of Seppala
Lara had long been a trouble-free performer at point, steady and reliable. Moved up to the position of co-leader with her sister or TONYA, she displayed the same steadiness and reliability. We have more than once found that older Seppala females mature mentally to a point at which they can handle lead work even though it may have been a bit beyond them as younger dogs.
It became obvious that LARA could serve as an excellent backup to the ageing TONYA and to her litter-sister LIZAVETA. In the final years of Seppala Kennels' sojourn in the Yukon, little LARA became a mainstay. Sometimes I suspect that perhaps there are relatively few Seppalas that cannot run at lead if properly managed. LARA is fourteen now as I write this, long since retired from service. But I deeply appreciate the support she gave our teams in the final years, and I am starkly reminded of that every time I view the brief video clip taken by Jacob Heigers in 2006 that is still viewable from my Facebook account.
Zaki of Seppala 2nd
Especially with green-broke trainee teams, his steady drive and trouble-free nature made for a pleasant training experience. He was even able to lend the necessary strong reassurance and support to enable HAPPY OF SEPPALA to lead successfully without her dam TONYA.
ZAKI was, in the end, unquestionably one of SHAKAL's two finest sons (the other being PYOTR). He gave us some stupendous progeny and made us very proud when he decided that his final contribution to the SSSD Project would be to lead and to help train our young stock.
Mokka of Seppala (Another Tragedy)
She did so well that soon we were trying her out with HAPPY as co-leader! It was starting to appear that MOKKA might become a major leader, perhaps as good or even better than TONYA. Inebriated with that possibility, we were ripe for the fates' sport. She had always looked like a "big-eyed chick," but one day we had to admit that those big brown eyes really were getting bigger and bigger. It soon became evident that MOKKA had bilateral glaucoma.
We put her on Latanoprost (Xalatan) opthalmic solution drops, but in her case the drops failed utterly to control the situation. Her eyeballs continued to swell and she lost her sight. When we asked the new Alpine Vet Clinic in Whitehorse about surgery, they told us that a bilateral enucleation would cost "in excess of $1200" (~15 years ago) but they would give no firm estimate. At that time it was beyond our reach. Xalatan would not even halt the increase of the swelling; her eyes became engorged and inflamed, protruding from the sockets. There was nothing we could do but put her down.
MOKKA from puppyhood had lived in the little shack with Jeffrey and Tonya; she was a "girlfriend." I was terribly broken up by all this, so that it became a part of the growing mass of pain, disappointment, mistrust and misgiving that in the end put an end to my dog-breeding and dog-driving career. Perhaps I should have quit then; it might have spared me a lot more suffering.
TONYA was gonioscoped and cleared when she was a youngster. Yet she developed glaucoma in one eye when she was an old dog, and produced two affected progeny in the M litter (both females). This disorder is endemic in northern dog populations. Some persons claim Seppala strain is peculiarly at risk; maybe so, but Eva B. Seeley's founder female Cheeak of Alyeska did the same thing as Tonya — produced two early-onset severely affected progeny. I think it is more fair to blame the purebred dog-breeding system itself. The genetic load (including things like glaucoma, epilepsy, etc.) was present from the beginning in the landrace population. But purebred methods bring it out and make it into a major problem. I don't know any easy answers for all this, and the answers I think come close are unacceptable to purebred dog people. So in the end, like so many others, I'm a disillusioned ex-breeder. MOKKA, dear little Moke, so eager, so full of promise — you deserved better. To this day I mourn you.
Prince Ivan of Seppala
But our timing and the force of circumstance were against Vanni. Economic pressures forced us to move out of the Yukon to farming country in Manitoba where feed prices were dramatically cheaper and fresh beef abattoir scrap plentifully available. Jeffrey and new wife Susan moved in October 2007 and looked after the Chinooks and a handful of Seppalas, including the newborn T-litter; Isa and new husband Jack remained in the Yukon over winter with the bulk of the Seppalas, including Ivan. All the dogs were reunited the following summer, but before summer's end we lost half our work force — Isa and Jack headed for first Alberta and then the Yukon again, leaving all the dogs, Seppalas and Chinooks alike, behind. With "catch-up" Seppala litters to care for, plus the entire dog population of two big kennels, there was no way Susan and I could manage sleddog training as well.
It was General Quarters at SK — emergency mode — for the next seven years. It also proved that the Manitoba parkland was poorly-suited to sleddog training. The constant winter winds wiped out a trail overnight, invariably. The only groomed trails were very dangerous high-speed snowmobile trails on which it would be suicidal to run a dog team. So Vanya never got to become a lead dog. Just another small tragedy, I suppose, in the inevitable long list of small tragedies that are part and parcel of the dog game. I wish I could have given Prince Ivan the opportunity he deserved to become another great name among Seppalas. Perhaps he doesn't even know or think about what he missed. We haven't even had progeny from him — nobody has been interested in stud services, in the way that seems typical of purebred sleddog fanciers. But for me PRINCE IVAN OF SEPPALA will forever be the last of the great Seppala leaders, no matter the circumstances. Let's just say that he is symbolic of the final extinction, after an entire century, of the Leonhard Seppala sleddog strain. It hasn't quite happened yet. Each year a litter or two is still whelped. Yet the Seppala rate of replacement seems insufficient to afford much security for their survival. Finally, after a century, the end appears clearly in sight.
Xapka of Seppala
He was barely harness-broken in the Yukon. Now in Manitoba he has gone only for a couple of bike runs. When he did, though, he impressed me as no novice sleddog has done since 1996 when TONYA was started. My log entry for his first Manitoba run in 2010 reads: "I haven't seen anything like this since Tonya was a youngster! (...) A natural leader — how do I know? Because he listened to me every step of the way, and he tried to do what I asked of him!"
To my shame I have to admit that I've done nothing to fulfil XAPKA's huge potential. For one thing, small though he is, he's rather too strong for me to manage comfortably at age 72. When I try to take him for a long-line walk, I often wind up prostrate on the earth just hanging on, that being the only way to restrain him when he's excited. I suspect that he's another dog that could have been fully the equal of TONYA — but I'll never know for sure. Like IVAN, he doesn't even have any progeny.
These tales of wasted potential may seem an ignominious end for such a promising sleddog breeding enterprise as we maintained in the Yukon for 15 years. That, however, seems to have been the Seppala story more often than not; it has happened repeatedly in their history. In fact it seems to have happened to most of the major Seppala kennels — the Seppala/Ricker Poland Spring operation, the Belford kennel, Cold River Kennels, the Harry Wheeler kennel, the McFaul kennel, the Markovo rescue operation, Sepp-Alta. Sooner or later grievous loss and wastage occured in every case. Perhaps that's just the dog game for you. Bloodlines arise, see their glory days, and mostly achieve extinction. I now tend to think there's really no way of ever truly getting it right.
End of story. Finis. That's all she wrote. Of the above described Seppala Kennels leaders, all now are dead save Lizaveta of Seppala, Lara of Seppala, Prince Ivan of Seppala, and Xapka of Seppala. May all of them — and all departed Seppalas — rest in peace. Whatever their owners and breeders did or failed to do, the Seppalas themselves did their job and did it well.