Luna – The End Of A Sled Dog Era
It´s February now; the sun is back and casting long beams over our homestead in Swedish Lapland. Our huskies are howling, as Johanna and her small team of sled dogs have set off on a short tour across the snow-covered lake.
Only one voice in the choir is missing. Luna´s voice.
A few days ago, Johanna and Luna went together on the last trip. The destination was the local vet in Töre who put down Luna for her final sleep – calmly and respectfully.
During the last few weeks, when it slowly became clear that Lunas time was coming to an end, one sentence kept coming up repeated times: “With Luna, an era is coming to an end.”
And without us being able to grasp exactly what we meant by that; it is a circle that closes and begins anew.
A review about the beginning of 8SeasonsHuskies
I like to take you with me, take you on a journey through time. Maybe I will be able to describe this feeling that arises when I think about Luna’s era.
Everything started with Luna. And by “everything” I mean our life with sled dogs – my “everything”.
When Luna was born, it was in our second winter in Lapland, Johanna and I were working at a large sled dog camp for tourists. Luna was the only puppy of a bitch, who didn’t look after her very well.
Therefore, Luna acted very strangely from the start. She seemed troubled, her movements were uncoordinated, and she was acting very shy and disoriented. For example, when she looked for the entrance to her hut, she rarely found it, and we suspected that she might have problems with sight.
Johanna feared that little Luna would perish in a kennel with over 100 dogs. How was she supposed to survive here? The fact that she had learned almost nonsocial behavior from her mother also ruined her chances of becoming part of the pack.
Johanna’s decision was made quickly – Luna will be one of us.
Trailer turns into a big doghouse
I would certainly not have made up my mind then, to be responsible for a dog. Even as it was clear that we would stay in Lapland, a lot was still uncertain.
But well, I thought – if Luna moves in with us, we can even have a second puppy.
That seemed logical to me and so Jet came into our lives in addition to Luna. Jet and her siblings were born almost simultaneously with Luna.
At that time, we lived in a 10-square-meter trailer at the parking lot of the husky kennel. With two puppies, our home turned into a very large doghouse. Dog toys were lying around everywhere, and in the middle of it, Jet and Luna, raging wildly, and happy to see us.
Somehow the big change I expected did not take place – there were these two little dog kids who had all sorts of nonsense on their minds, but they fit into our lives naturally. We could easily take them with us to work. We just tucked them into our overalls to drive the 3 kilometers with the scooter from our trailer to the camp and back. At the kennel, they could happily play in one of the dog yards while we were working.
Luna had a difficult time as a puppy
The first weeks passed, and it was noticeable that, unlike Jet, Luna needed more time for everything. Lots of new things were quickly too much for her. She was often scared and started to hide under our trailer as soon as something new happened. Also, Luna and my relationship evolved very slowly, and I had to earn her trust over several months. Johanna was her reference person, but at me, she looked suspicious for a long time. In addition to that, in the first few months of her life, she regularly had enormous diarrhea. Even with the help of a vet, we could not get it under control for quite some time. At times she felt very bad, neither a diet with rice and chicken, fasting, or various medicines could help. Her condition changed for the better when getting older.
In summer we moved to a rented apartment in Porjus. It was clear to us: we are going to stay in northern Sweden. So, we wanted to learn the language too. At the husky camp, we mainly spoke German and English, as there were many international volunteers. I started working at a hotel in Porjus and Johanna at a mountain hostel in Stora Sjöfallet.
Two huskies in an appartment
And of course, Jet and Luna came with us. After their wild and free life in the trailer and is used to plenty of space in the kennel, moving into a rented apartment with those, made us regularly send prayers to heaven, that everything in the apartment would remain intact.
Taking the dogs with us to work became more difficult as well.
I often took them both with me to the hotel and tied them up outside on a long leash. The result was semi satisfying as they happily destroyed the entire garden around the hotel building, while I was working.
My attempt on a short shopping tour, to leave the two of them by themselves in our old Volvo – just for a moment – was not very successful either. When I came back from shopping, they had not only torn down the complete fabric roof of the car but also pulled out all the cables of the new radio and chewed on all safety belts. I still wonder how they could make this mess in such a short time. I have not been away for very long …
We realized; it could not go on like this – the four of us in a rented apartment.
So, we moved again. This time toward the east in an old house near the village Kainulasjärvi – with a large property surrounded by forest.
Before we even had unpacked our stuff, we already built our very first own dog yard. The two dogs always felt more comfortable outside than inside and as the property was close to a street, a kennel was a great idea.
Luna and Jet loved it. Playing, digging, and letting off steam, whenever they wanted!
At the same time, we founded our company, and I started my education to become a wilderness guide. Johanna took care of the development of our company and I started an internship in another husky kennel to deepen my knowledge of training and nutrition for sled dogs.
Whenever there was time, we went on excursions with Jet and Luna. We started with kick sled tours as soon as there was snow. Well, two dogs are not enough for sledding tours. With four dogs we could …
More fantastic sled dogs
So, the next sled dogs, Kesik and Sapun, moved in with us. We built dog yard number 2. All our four-legged friends got along great and with a borrowed sled we finally went on our first sled tour with our own 4 dogs.
Luna was a hard pulling dog right from the beginning and leaned into the harness naturally. Jet did somehow the same – at least on the first few kilometers – after that, she rather ran along than pull. When the tours started to become longer, like 30 km and more, Jet made it very clear by throwing herself on the ground: “I want to turn around! I want to go home!”
We tried for a while some things to make it more comfortable for her. Maybe the harness does not fit, right? Maybe she has some tension on her back? But at some point, it was clear. She just does not want to pull when going on a long run! It is as it is.
Luna, on the other hand, wanted always to run, always to pull. She maybe was not the fastest, but she was very consistent and 100% reliable!
Our favorite tour started right from our house in Kainulasjärvi. The trail went up on a forest path to a little mountain. Often, we could see black grouse on the right and left of the trail, causing somehow snow explosions when flying open. The view from the mountain over the swamps and the woods was every single time a special moment.
Our company started to grow slowly and very soon we offered our first own wilderness travels, with overnights in cozy wilderness camps.
It must have been at that time that Johanna and I went to a travel fair. We left Jet and Luna to a friend as a dog sitter for two weeks. It was the time of their first heat. When we came back, something had changed in their relationship, something had become difficult between them. We had little experience with this kind of problem, and it didn’t take long for the two of them to be in trouble.
Our only solution was to keep them separate once they were unattended. They quarreled very strongly and sometimes injured themselves in accordance. Neither of them wanted to surrender.
The kennel keeps on growing
So, we built kennel number three to have enough space for them.
At the same time, we expanded the kennel with the fifth dog, Kate.
As we lived two kilometers from the next neighbor, surrounded by forest, Johanna had made up her mind, that she would like to have a watchdog. She liked the idea of a dog keeping an eye on us and our home.
Up here in the north, however, there are only hunting dogs or Chihuahuas on sale, and so she found a guard dog in an animal shelter in southern Sweden. Johanna drove south for 14 hours, in the middle of the snowstorm, to fetch a dog she had never seen before, driving 14 hours back home again.
That way Leo came into our lives and shortly afterward, completely out of nowhere – we got an unexpected request. There is the dog Dino, looking for a new home. Suddenly we had 7 dogs and the fourth dog yard was built.
Guess who liked the new dogs?
Luna was totally in love with Dino. She never liked to be in the middle of the hustle and bustle, and she didn’t get along well with other bitches. The basis for good social behavior is formed in puppyhood, this knowledge was a lack in Luna’s life and unfortunately, these experiences cannot be made later in life. But Dino could do everything. Luna wanted to play with him all the time. He was even allowed to sleep in her hut – something she would not have never allowed to anyone else.
Luna never really learned how to deal with older dogs and therefore also not to surrender. She missed out on the learning experience that dogs stop arguing as soon as one has shown surrender. Luna acted differently. As soon as a new dog came around, her whole body tensed, and all hair was put up. That was often interpreted by the other dog as an attack signal and then led to an argument.
She was not aggressive, but very insecure. This was also shown by the fact that the other dogs never were injured after an argument, but Luna had wounds now and then. Males never responded to that kind of signal and Luna was able to relax at some point. It stayed that way until she died. Only in the last few weeks, when she was weakened, she skipped that behavior, and even our cat was no longer interesting for her.
Luna´s first race and her best teacher
On my very first race, the 300-kilometer race Pasvik Trail, Luna was with and mastered it very well. At that time, she ran as a wheel dog in my team. When 2 years later, Loop, also a very special dog for me and a great lead dog, came to us, he taught Luna everything she needed to know to run in the lead position.
Loop transformed Luna into one of the best lead dogs. She could perfectly follow commands, even in deep snow without any trail was no problem for her. Just if there were too many dogs behind her, Luna became uncertain. And Jet needed to run in the back of the team, while Luna did her work in front, otherwise it would not work too well.
You would think there were just more and more dogs popping up, but that is not entirely true. Shortly before we moved to Miekojärvi, we were looking for new, good homes for the younger ones, Kate, Kesik, and Sapun. First, we prioritized creating a more solid financial basis, which demands lots of time and effort. The company developed in the right direction but was still at the very beginning. We did not have the heart to keep 3 young dogs who wanted and needed so much attention in that time being, which we could not give them.
We moved to the new home with fewer dogs (Jet, Luna, Dino, Loop, and Leo) and a lot of dogyards.
Time for a relocation
Luna loved the new place right away. Around our farm is not much going on. When five cars drive into the village and back again on one day, that is already a lot. In addition to that, just the mail comes. As we are very close to the lake and there is almost always a lite breeze, there are not so many mosquitoes in summer. And after we had fenced our new property, the dogs could run freely as they pleased and romp around. Luna truly blossomed.
When we moved here, there was a beautiful garden around the house. It was in very good condition and for any garden lover a real dream. We, mainly Johanna, fought to keep it that way for two years. But then we gave up. It was impossible to save the flower beds from the dogs and with smaller and larger barricades somehow protect everything from the furry noses.
Good-bye marvelous garden
It was just too much fun for the dogs plucking out the young potato plants, only to toss them joyful around so that they flew in all directions.
Luna was particularly enthusiastic about the strawberry field. She was perfect in finding the beautiful red ones that were ripe… She systematically went with the nose through the ranks and only picked the best. For us, if anything, the mushy ones remained.
While the dogs took care of our garden, we spend the most time developing the company. In addition to our online travel agency, we organized our active outdoor tours. We took our guest with us out in nature, staying in wilderness camps without electricity or running water to share our passion for the arctic north.
We intended to earn enough money so we could have a stable financial situation. And then, maybe, we could have more dogs.
The contagious sled dog virus
But already in the first winter, I noticed something is missing. Once you get infected with the sled dog virus, it is too late.
So, I started looking for new dogs again.
Rather dogs which are older and more experienced this time, so that I could learn from them. Taking responsibility for these dogs felt a lot easier at this point. They are mature, their character is fully developed, and their life span is some years shorter.
Falk, Riis, and Fausto came to us. Luna was thrilled from the first moment! All male dogs and in the playground she could do her favorite play: boss around all of them. The boys were relaxed, I would say, they ignored her. The perfect match!
Also the company expands sustainable
Our company kept developing and soon either Johanna or me, were always on the go. Whether a guided trip on the Lofoten Islands or a tour in the wilderness. The other one took care of the house, the yard, and the dogs. The dogs were very satisfied. Most important for them was, and still is, that one of us is there, filling their days with games, fun, and training. And of course, there is always enough time to lie around and chill.
On some tours, we could take with us a dog or two. Leo was with Johanna hiking on the Lofoten island, Falk and Dino followed with to the Swedish mountains and Luna went with, whenever we collected berries in the forest. She loved snacking blueberries, at least as much as she loved our strawberries.
Luna reminded us regularly how nice it is, to live by the lake. It was obvious when she started running back and forth between the lake and us, then stopped at the lake, turned wildly in circles, and finally looked up into the air. That meant something like: Go! Come on! Throw a toy! I want to go swimming! Of course, we were happy to do so – repeatedly.
Time for the senior-team
Over time it became clearer that Luna did not feel comfortable in a larger growing team. Also, the longer training distances seem to cost her more energy than the other dogs. I decided to take her out of the racing team and from then on she was just running on smaller sled tours, soon with some of the other senior dogs.
Also, my very first own design was inspired by Luna. Her portrait became the first t-shirt and hoodie design, we made. We had it as a gift for friends, family, and helpers. And these unique t-shirt and hoodies are still held in honor in various places today. Among others in Trier, Bielefeld, Borgholzhausen, Paris, and Barcelona.
Luna was THE symbol for me of my passion for sled dogs and my life with dogs.
While Luna enjoyed hiking tours, snowshoe tours, small training runs, walks, and sniffing games, we financed our life with our organized tours and offers in summer and extra jobs in winter, most jobs in the tourism or hotel business. Our plan of a more stable income in the summer and more time for training with the dogs in the winter was slowly, slowly becoming a reality.
So finally, there was nothing to prevent us from expanding from 4 kennels and 5 dogs to 10 kennels with a total of 17 dogs within 5 years. Guess, who that put a big grin on the face …
In these years I drove the shorter, 550 kilometer Finnmarkslöpet three times. The plan to breed and train my young dogs, to start at the 1200 kilometer long Finnmarkslöpet, matured in me.
The dog team continues to grow
And as you probably know, we had two litters of puppies, with 16 puppies in total, and 7 more kennels in the last three years. And we launched our largest company project so far, the MI.EKO BASECAMP with many activities close to nature, a guesthouse, a restaurant, and more. Followed by the sudden corona-related bankruptcy and everything that happened in 2020…
But about that I have already told a lot on my blog – back to Luna:
Luna – the fittest senior in our kennel
Last autumn, I still remember exactly, we did a big dog check. We had just created a new index card system and all dogs were systematically examined. I remember, I said to our volunteer Svenja: “Luna is still in exceptional shape. She’s going to get very old!”
Of course, the senior dogs have their problems. Here a little bump under the skin, worn teeth, and so on. Jet’s nose is always dry, Sopin’s right leg is puffy due to an old muscle injury, Solan’s barking can be quite hoarse. Just Luna, except for a very small bump, was still perfectly fit.
This winter she came into heat, after almost 2 years without. After her daily walk, I let her play with Finn, as he is castrated. They might have played wilder than I thought they would. Luna sprained herself and was unfortunately in constant pain afterward.
At first, we thought she was limping, and it might be a dislocation, but then we noticed that the pain seemed to be located in the neck. As it got worse rather than better in the following days, we went to the vet. He found spondylosis on the x-rays and some other age-related ache. Combined with a herniated disc and osteoarthritis in her wrists, this caused her severe pain.
Yet, the vet was optimistic. From experience, he gave her a good chance that after two weeks of rest and pain killers, she could live well as a senior.
Luna´s last weeks
When we got back home, we cared for her extensively. We kept her inside in the warm and cozy cabin, so her back will stay warm. At night she slept with us in our cabin, she received her pain killer regularly and we hoped for improvement. However, it quickly became clear that this is not working. Over the phone, we discussed with the vet, what else we could do to relieve her from pain. He was kind of surprised that the treatment did not work out. He recommended increasing the dose and also treat her with an additional pain killer, that aims directly on the nerve tracks. We hoped that Luna finally could be pain-free.
We tried this way for five weeks. One of us always took care of Luna. The pills had to be given at precise intervals, so the alarm also went off in the middle of the night. The intervals helped to prevent, the pain from returning as badly. We put sleeping mats around her dog box to reflect the warm air in the night, covered her with a dog blanket against the cold when we went on short pee walks, and had a lot of patience with her when feeding and drinking. The care was an integral part of the day’s planning and kept at least one of us busy for almost 24 hours a day.
As soon as we were a little late with the pain killers, the pain came back immediately and Luna, full of fear of the pain, didn’t want to move for quite some time.
If our timing was right, she had a good time with us. Yes, she was totally “on drugs”, but she was in a good mood, almost high-spirited. Unfortunately, if she overdid it and walked more than 50 meters at a time, it took revenge. We had to realize that there was no improvement and there was no question of reducing the treatment.
When is it time to say good-bye?
When is the moment we must let go? When is it time to say goodbye to a dog? How long shall we try and wait for improvement?
Our experience is, that it is mostly ourselves, who do not want to part with a dog, who does not want to let go. And in a case like Lunas, guilt comes on top of that. If I had not left her playing with Finn, she might not have had fall in pain and she could have lived a little longer? These thoughts do make it even worse.
Johanna usually knows it at some point. She feels the moment when it is time for her, to let go. Then everything insight her locks itself against this feeling and a great fear spreads. Fear of the present or coming suffering and pain of the dog. No animal should suffer. Our claim to ourselves to always know, how our dogs are doing, also brings many reproaches. Should we have done something differently? Did we miss out on something?
Johanna then tries to make the best decision, based on the premise of the dog. In the case of Luna: What does she still enjoy? Is she still eating and drinking? How much joy of life does she still have?
It is time
And at some point, she saw this tiredness in Luna’s eyes, and knew: Now the times has come! Now we can make an appointment and go together to the vet. Our last trip together.
For me, the end, at least the age-related one, is somehow part of the whole thing. It is part of the natural cycle. Somehow it just keeps going, it must! At the same time, I keep hoping for “a miracle”. Hoping for improvement. And then, the sadness of saying goodbye, gets to me, too. And yet my gratitude for the time together, for all the experiences we were able to share and the trust that we had in each other, outweighs it.
Luna´s last trip
I made an appointment with the vet. Johanna and her Luna set off together when the time came. Johanna prefers to drive alone, not to make a “big thing” out of it. The calmer and more relaxed she is, the more natural the situation is, the calmer the dog is. And when it is the right moment and it feels right inside, she can set off on this last travel in a positive, easy, and relaxed manner.
Luna and some of the other dogs that we had to say goodbye to, generally liked to go to the vet. Well, there in the treatment room the dogs have enough time to sniff around and slowly relax. When it comes to the first tranquilizer injection, which makes them sleep, the dog has already laid down on the floor, enjoying getting caressed.
What comes next is more difficult for us humans than for the dog. Luna has on this point already fallen asleep, with her head on Johanna’s arm when she received the final injection.
It is never nice to say goodbye, but it’s easier without feeling any fear and in a peaceful surrounding.
The dog’s final sleeping place is of course at home on our farm, where we have a grave for them.
R.I.P. – our memory wall
After a few days after their death, we take the dog’s name tag from the dog’s dog yard and hang it up on our cabin wall, our memory wall. They are all there: Bamse, Goethe, Loop, Dino, Leo, Fausto, Riis, and Falk. Soon we will be ready to hang Luna’s sign there too.
Luna has been with us for almost 13 years. She was the beginning of our life with sled dogs. She taught us so much: How much patience it takes to gain trust. How personalities can change but still somehow remain the same. How a new environment can have such a positive effect on one. And how quickly it can sometimes end. In one moment, you think you still have a lot of time together and then, suddenly it is over.
We tried everything to have more time with her, fought for Luna, and had to realize that it is time to say goodbye …
… and nevertheless, to look ahead.
Johanna is back from her training tour. Eight satisfied huskies jump back into their dog yards. And then they howl together, as they always do. We miss Luna’s voice.
Farewells are difficult. But if we have learned one thing in the last few months, there is always a before, and after, and a now.
A wonderful era is going to an end
And there will be a new.
The last few weeks of slowly becoming aware of Luna’s end have been like a journey through time. A journey through the history of our life in the north. A story of new beginnings, changes, and farewells.
I am grateful for every howling I heard from Luna, I will carry her deep in my heart and remember her as a great teacher and life companion.
I think I will soon take Luna’s name tag and hang it on the memory wall …
And look forward to everything new I yet not know about!