“Crazy Jack and Lana sitting in a tree, first comes love then comes marriage, then came…..THE HANDLER!”
Although owning your own kennel of multiple dogs has a million joys, there is also the cold, hard truth that it is hard work and it will encompass your entire life. It doesn’t take long before the mushing couple realizes that they can never go anywhere, they can never spend the day in bed doing nothing and it’s downright physically exhausting. It’s at this point that the couple decides they need help. Sounds attractive and very appealing; a live in helper that would allow freedom, a physical break and time to catch up on nothing.
“Jack, I’m flipping exhausted. I could really use a vacation.” whines Lana.
“Lana, you are living the ultimate vacation! Physical work is energizing!”
“Jack, I swear all the noxious dog odors are affecting your brain. A vacation is having nothing to do, nowhere to go and just relaxing; which is hardly our life. I just need a break or I’m gonna break. Look at me. I’ve lost weight. I’m wind burned. My hair looks like I haven’t had it cut since the eighties. I no longer own a nice pair of jeans. My hands are man hands. My body is covered in bruises. I constantly have a fat lip or scratches all over my face. I AM A WRECK.”
” I know Lana…” “You KNOW! So you agree I’m a wreck?” inquires Lana with a menacing look. Jack stammers, “That’s not what I meant. I understand, but you know we can’t go anywhere because we have no one to watch the dogs. However, I was thinking we should consider getting a handler. What do you think?”
“I’m game for anything, let’s start looking today!” exclaims Lana as she blissfully imagines the heaven a handler will create in her life. For those of us that know, we call that blissful ignorance.
So the search begins for the “perfect” person. The question is, “What is perfect?” Usually, this is where every mushing couple runs into trouble because it starts to get complicated. Allow me to demonstrate:
- They must be in good physical shape – however, they can’t be in such good shape that it would make one or both of the spouses feel threatened, insecure or jealous. We don’t want the mushing marriage to struggle because one of the spouses continues to ogle at the handler’s behind all snug in its ski bibs. So the couple must define what is acceptable…..imagine this conversation!
- They must be drug free – how do we tell? It’s not like we are going to pre-screen them or send them for random testing like big corporations do. Therefore, they must be able to pass the “Does the applicant look like a drug user?” test. The problem is that most mushers at a certain time of the year start to have that look from either lack of bathing, shaving and/or pure exhaustion so just go with your gut and pray.
- They must not drink excessively — showing up drunk for the interview or ordering beer on your very first meeting with the new hire is probably a good indicator that excessiveness might be an issue.
- They must love dogs – they have to love them, but we are not talking about the “dress them in an outfit and paint their nails” kind of love.
- They must like the outdoors – this means being outside more than inside. It is preferable to find someone that has actually worked in the outdoors otherwise you discover that they ALL love the outdoors. After all, the winter is enjoyable when you only go from your house to your car.
- They must like living alone in the woods – this is the dream of every handler. To live in a remote location, in the woods with the dogs. They read a few too many Jack London stories and have no clue that this actually means; no cell phones, no internet, no TV, NO HUMANS!!! Make sure they understand you’re not the entertainment committee.
- They must be personable as you’ll be spending a lot of time together – if they are social ingrates and can’t communicate there will be issues. Ask yourself, “Can I spend 2 days in a car, 2 days in the same motel room and every moment I’m in the kennel with this person?” Can I do it without hurting them?
- They must be trustworthy – your home and its contents are typically open for this person’s use. Will your handler and your TV still be there when you return from a race?
- They must be active – active means leaving the cabin and doing some form of physical exercise. Active does not mean heading back to the fridge 12 x during the game.
- They should preferably have experience mushing dogs – this means they have actually done it and not just read about it. Camel handlers need not apply.
- They must have common sense. On second thought scratch this, no one in mushing has common sense; we wouldn’t be able to identify it.
- They must love cold weather – if they don’t own winter gear, they don’t love cold weather.
- They cannot have dogs – you have 50, why would you want 10 of someone else’s?
- They must work for next to nothing – gotta find the guy/gal that wants to just have the experience.
- They must be responsible – do they do what they say they’ll do. If they don’t show up for the interview on time, that’s your first clue.
- They must have thick skin – when you are screaming at them above the roar of the dogs, they can’t break into a fit of tears. They can’t feel the need to have a discussion after every hurtful look or word there isn’t time.
- They must work for next to nothing – what do we look like a bank? Just because we feed 50 dogs doesn’t meant we have a dime, in most scenarios it means we’ve spent our last dime. If they start negotiating that they will only work for wages that will replace their current salary, which dictates a higher wage, this is not your person.
- The must be able to follow directions – 1 cup of food means 1 cup of food NOT 1 cup of food is the same as 1 cup plus some extra because you felt bad because he/she looked so skinny.
- They must not being leaving a husband/wife or kids to pursue their dream – do I need to explain further on this one.
- Did I mention they must work for next to nothing?
So Lana and Jack place their first ad. They have a hellacious fight over the wording as they only have so many words to work with and yet they must define the perfect handler. Not an easy task.
Months go by and not one single resume. They decide to renew the ad. Finally on the 4th month they get a resume from a Rocky Theodore Smalt. He has never run sled dogs in his life; however, he owns 5 pit bulls.
“Jack, did you read this resume we received?” asks Lana. “Yeah, doesn’t seem like a good fit, but I thought I’d call him anyway. Shoot, if he can handle 5 pit bulls he can handle a team of huskies, don’t ya think?”
“Whatever! Your dime.” Exclaims Lana in an exhausted tone.
Turns out that Rocky hails from Tennessee. He has read the book, “Winterdance” and has seen the movie, “Snow Dogs”. He shares with Crazy Jack, “Yep, read me that damn funny book “Winterdance”. You know the book?” “Oh yeah, I know the book well.” “Well, I tell ya Jack. After I read that book and then saw the movie, I knew that I just had to sled dog. Anything that can make ya laugh so hard your falsies almost pop out has got to be a hoot!” “Ya see, I live life looking for the next hoot. If you ain’t laughing at life, you just ain’t living; that’s my motto.” My ma always used to say, “Rock Star, that was her nick name for me, anyway she’d say, “Rock Star, Grab the moon by its tail, hold on tight and laugh your way through the entire ride.” “I figure that sled doggin is a lot like grabbing the moon by its tail. Get it….tail….Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!!”
“Anyway Jack, I’ve also been thinking that a pit bull x husky cross could make one helluv a sled dog, don’t ya think?”
“Well, Rocky I can certainly appreciate your enthusiasm and I’ll let you know our decision. Thanks for your time and have a great day!”
Jack hangs up the phone and runs to share the story with Lana who sits wide eyed and disbelieving. “Seriously?” she asks. “Yeah, seriously!” Jack laughs. The both look at each other wide eyed and you can suddenly see doubt wash across their faces. Will they ever find a handler?
The search continues………..