A Mushing Marriage

“Do you Crazy Jack Bernard take Lana LaPalle as your handler, wife, competitor and kennel partner for as long as you both shall have dogs?” “I Poo, oops I mean I do, “ grunted Crazy Jack. “Do you Lana Lapalle take Crazy Jack Bernard as your handler, husband, competitor and kennel partner for as long as you both shall have dogs?” “I doooooo Whoooo Hoooo Hooooo!”, howled Lana.

Sounds romantic doesn’t it? Well, it always starts that way. “Let’s own a bunch of dogs honey, live in the woods and run dogs under the moonlight.” “Oooooh my love, you are such a romantic. I cannot wait to begin this journey with you.”

Flash forward 5 years into this romantic journey and the romance is gone. It left as fast as an unlimited sprint team on a hard fast trail. Where did it all go wrong you ask? Well, at the first dog, of course! The first dog is the true measure of how well partners will agree on the raising, training and rearing of future dogs. No different than the first kid, except there are probably 20 or more in your future; which means you definitely better be on the same page. It begins with naming the first dog. Hours of deliberation only to discover you married the most stubborn, pain in the ars on planet earth. Sadly, if the first one is difficult, the couple should just end it there because there are hundreds of future names to be decided. Personally, I think the first dog(s) should always have names like “Bliss”, “Love”, “Hope” and “Forever” because you will need those reminders later in the mushing marriage. As a matter of fact, maybe it would be a good idea to name a whole litter; I, LOVE, MY, HUSBAND or I, LOVE, MY, WIFE. That way you can call the pups daily and practice positive affirmations at the same time. “I LOVE MY HUSBAND!” “LOVE HUSBAND” “MY HUSBAND LOVE!” I am confident this would have positive results. Mushing couples should definitely avoid names such as Pre-nup, Single, Divorce etc. it only spells disaster.

If the mushing couple can get through the naming process, they must then tackle the rearing of the dog. This is when we identify fundamental differences between partners that can lead to major problems later. Lana wants Fido to sleep in the bed, but Jack says, “Hell No, he’s not sleeping in our bed.” Crazy Jack winds up getting called names far worse than crazy and finds himself giving in. As each new dog is acquired, the marital bed suddenly exceeds capacity and Crazy Jack now finds he is the one calling someone names. Meanwhile, that thing called romance is being quickly chipped away. When Lana finally has to give in and all the dogs are assigned a home in the kennel she blames Crazy Jack. Poor Jack must live with this burden now for the rest of their lives. He is the reason for her unhappiness. The marital bed is now a cold, lonely place for both Jack and Lana.

“I , Crazy Jack Bernard, promise to love, honor and protect you, Lana LaPalle, through the wins, losses, financial poverty and predictable decline in appearance and aroma for as long as be both shall have dogs.”

I often wonder how June Cleaver would have handled being married to a musher. How on earth would she have maintained her perfectly coiffed image with 50 dogs? I imagine it would have required a custom made pink Carhartt dress with matching pink muck boots. She would have kept the pearls, but they would have had to be re-strung with heavy duty fishing line so the dogs didn’t rip them off at every chance. Lord help her if the pearls broke and a dog swallowed one causing a blockage; Ward would have a cow. “June, I’ve told you time and time again dear, the pearls are NOT for the dog yard. If you must string something around your damn neck try a string of beef jerky.” It makes June wonder about Ward’s intentions as she envisions the dogs attacking her pale, lily neck in pursuit of the beef jerky. Chip, chip, CHINK…..more romance falling to the floor.

When mushers first get married the partners are generally on their best behavior and that includes grooming. However, it’s truly not realistic to keep up this crazy charade. So the romance is put to another big test when one or the other quits the charade. Your wife’s hair goes from shiny, fragrant and flowing to dull, odorous and matted to the head. This is provided you ever see it because she is constantly donning some form of head gear. You’ve forgotten she has a figure because from behind she looks like the construction guy next door in her Carhartts and mud and poo covered jacket with her big man gloves. The change also happens to the men and ladies start wondering what happened to their well groomed man that used to dress well and smelled great too. The beard is usually the first sign that things are about to change. It comes with a whole host of excuses, “It keeps me warm.” “I was too tired.” In reality this just means that he has become comfortable in the marriage and believes that you will stick around despite the fact you are now faced with smooching a brillo pad. It could also mean that after seeing you in your full mushing regalia he doesn’t believe anyone in their right mind would steal you away from him. So we endure the stinky, prickly beard that catches food, snot, hay and other dog diddies and we embrace it! CACHINK!!!!!!!!!

Then there comes a point when the line between what we wear in the kennel and what we wear in public becomes blurred. You find yourself going out to dinner and your husband has dressed up for the occasion by selecting some article of clothing that only belongs in the kennel. I recall going out to dinner one night and the hubby appeared ready to go in a pair of torn sweat pants, muck shoes with dirty tube socks, an oversized t-shirt covered in stains and holes and a pathetically dirty kennel jacket. Why would anyone do that? Well, kennel clothes are comfortable, of course! We smile and endure the fact that our spouse looks like he’s been living on the street. We remind ourselves, “……for as long as we both shall have dogs”.

I have heard that money is the number one thing that married couples fight about. I have also heard that the US divorce rate is somewhere in the 40% range. Based on these statistics, I can confidently predict that mushing marriages must have a failure rate in the 80% range. The big difference is that we don’t fight over money because there is none and what little there might be is unquestionably going to the dogs. However, there are so many more things that we manage to fight about.

Let’s take racing for example. To be married to a musher you must have thick skin, especially if you race. You learn to smile and not react because it’s not the person you married talking, it’s the “Racing Musher” talking and that guy/gal is WACKED. Something about racing brings out strange personality quirks. The quiet, mild mannered musher can turn into a raging idiot or the talkative, social musher suddenly clams up and utters only single word responses. Fortunately, the person you married will return immediately after the race; provided you stay married through the race. I believe races that last for 9 days or more, like the Iditarod, keep handlers, who are often spouses, out of there solely for the sake of saving marriages. Imagine the racing musher completely sleep deprived, cold and hungry chatting with their significant other at a checkpoint after 9 days of racing. “You forgot to hook up almost half the dogs dammit. Now, I have to try and compete with only 12.” “Honey, you dropped 4 dogs at the last 2 checkpoints.” Can you picture the chaos? Chink, chink, chink, chink chink!!!

Racing also causes memory failure and there isn’t a couple that hasn’t fought about some item that cannot be found or wasn’t brought because someone can’t or didn’t’ remember! We have our annual fight about packing the truck. How many non-mushing couples regularly fight about packing the car? Mushers have 3 or 4 months in their lives when they are living out of that truck and it is inevitable there will be an argument. “Where is the poop scooper?” “I don’t know; you packed it.” “Noooooo, you packed it. I had nothing to do with it.” “Yeah, you never have anything to do with it.” Silence……………you walk around the truck……..there’s the poop scooper right next to your beloved. You say nothing because this is just the first of many conversations like this.

In non-mushing families you don’t hear about couples fighting over who gets to take the kids somewhere. More often you hear about them fighting about who HAS to take the kids somewhere. In a mushing marriage there is the battle over who gets the main team. It would seem insane in a non-mushing marriage. Can you hear June Cleaver, “Ward, I get to take the smart kids to the science center. You had them on the last outing. I always get stuck with the non-performers. It’s your turn to take Beaver.” Then she would prance off in her muck boots and pink Carhartt slamming doors; they would be slammed gently so she didn’t ruin the paint, but it would be slamming nonetheless.

How about the booty dilemma. Do we booty or not booty? How many married couples do you know that fight over whether their kids should wear socks to school or not.

Are the dogs too fat or too skinny? “June, Beaver is getting fat and will never win his relay coming up if you keep over feeding him.” “Ward, that poor boy looks anorexic. I feel bad. He’s not fat!” “Gee dad, I’m not fat. Mom’s been feeding me exactly what you said. I’ve just been eating Wally’s leftovers when she’s not looking. ”

Then there is the grueling training season when many of us are ready to give it all up including the marriage if racing doesn’t start soon. We all start with a training plan and we all hate the spouse who must stick to it. We know in our heart that it must be carried out in rain, sleet, hail, snow or bitter cold, but we always secretly hope the significant other may want a reprieve and when they don’t it’s their fault that you are now miserably sitting on your ATV in pouring rain and 28 degrees freezing your bajeevies off. If only she’d have said, “Wow, it’s really crappy today. One day off won’t hurt.” However, she didn’t and as you suffer along you envision running her over with your ATV.

It seems in most mushing marriages there is the practical one and the one that must be constantly reigned in. “No, I don’t think having 6 litters is a good idea. I realize we have a ton of great breeding opportunities, but potentially having 30 puppies is CRAZY.” “Yeah, you’re probably right. Let’s just do 5 litters.” Oh my God, no wonder they call him Crazy Jack.

So if all these little fights aren’t enough to test a marriage, there is still one more that we must address; gift giving. We cannot talk about mushing marriages without discussing this subject. Throughout the year, I witness friends, co-workers and family getting gifts from their beloved that just ooze romance. A trip to the spa, diamond earrings, a romantic vacation for two in Hawaii and lingerie etc. This is generally not the case in a mushing marriage. I have learned to find humor in the shocked faces when I confess the gifts I received; a dog shopping trip, a new jack knife, a headlamp and, of course, long underwear. I try to explain that the long under wear is the really good stuff and the jack knife could save my life; AND that is romantic! They just look at me with mouths open and shake their heads.

So why do we do it? Why do we add this additional stress to our marriage? I guess because there is no greater reward than the unconditional love from the dogs and the bonds that you develop with them. When you can share that with a partner, life seems full.

“Lana, we did it. We raised this team of pups and managed to win a race. You are the best kennel partner in the world.” Ok, so that’s not what he said. It was more like this, “High 5 Babe, these dogs rock!” then he smacked her on her ass. If she could have felt it through the thick padding of the insulated Carhartts she might have confused it with romance.

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