Growing Up Alaska: Sleeping in the Dog House

For a few years I raised and trained sled dogs. Most of my dogs belonged to other mushers who’s kennels were too large for them to adequately run and train all their dogs. I typically got the cast offs or those born out of season so they were too old or too young to train with the other litters.

It was fun and I learned a lot about dogs and myself. It took a lot of work and discipline just to take care of my little more than a dozen dogs. Feeding, care, running and training them sometimes meant multiple runs a day before or after school and sometimes even to school.

We kept the dogs on a lot across the creek from our house so they were close enough to keep an eye on, but far enough away that the barking and the howling wouldn’t keep my mom awake. The window of my bedroom faced that way, so if they did make a racket, I could see if anything was bothering them.

We’d had a moose in the area and it was coming into the area to feed off the trees that grew along the creek. It usually skirted the dogs, but it would set them off and we were worried that it might try to stomp on the dogs, so I had to be extra wary.

It was early morning, around 2, when the dogs started barking and growling. Fearing the moose, I quickly grabbed my flashlight and headed out to check on my team. I didn’t spot the moose, but something in the woods on the far side of the lot had the team riled up.

There were a lot of wild animals that it could be, but after a brief search, I didn’t find anything. I went around and pet each dog to calm them down despite the fact that the wind was blowing and it was about zero and all I was wearing was my long johns, boots and a jacket.

I hurried back across the footbridge and clambered along the porch until I reached the door. Locked. Puzzled I tried again, then went and tried the front door. Locked.

Figuring someone must be up and not wanting to wake everyone, I lightly knocked on the door.

Nothing.

I tried again and again, nothing.

Knowing my dad wouldn’t have locked the door, I figured it had to be one of my brothers playing a prank on me. I tried to make snowballs to throw at their windows, but the snow was too dry and they never made it, so I threw small sticks.

After a couple of solid hits on both windows, neither brother got up.

The wind was cutting through my clothes and I could tell my legs were growing numb, along with my hands who could no longer hold the flashlight. I pounded on the door and still, no one woke up!

Both my mom and my dad were light sleepers and I was sure that one of them would have gotten up.

The wind raced up my back and I knew I was in trouble. I needed to get out of the wind first and then get warm.

I stomped back across the creek to the dog yard. Selecting a bail of straw, I marched over to Lady, my lead dog’s house. I put the extra straw down, unchained two of my dogs and brought them, along with lady into the doghouse. I had designed my dog houses to be slightly submerged into the ground and were made out of old loader tires. I partitioned them off so that four dogs shared warm in the tire but were still apart.

Knocking down one partition, I curled along the inside of the dog house and had one dog on each side and one at my feet. Out of the wind and from the heat of the dogs, I warmed up and fell asleep.

In the morning, I woke up and fed the dogs before heading back across the creek. I discovered that one of my brothers had woken up shortly after I’d gone out to check on the dogs and found the back door open. Thinking the wind had blown it open, which it did if it wasn’t latched properly, he’d locked it and gone back to bed.

My mother was upset that I should have woken someone and after showing them the piles of sticks in the snow around their windows, my mother was appalled that no one had heard. “You could’ve died!” she said over and over as she made breakfast.

She then tried to ground my brother for locking me out, but dad pointed out that it wasn’t done on purpose and no one was to blame. To calm her down, dad took the blame and suggested that they hide a key in his workshop in case of emergencies.

This seemed to placate her and I could see a twinkle in my dad’s eye. When she went upstairs to change, dad chuckled and leaned across the table and said, “Next time, use the keys hanging in my workshop.”

I placed my forehead on the table to keep from showing my embarrassment of forgetting about the keys as dad continued, “And go take a shower. You smell like a dog.”

Author: matthewlasley

I am a school teacher and an author. I like to write picture books, middle grade, science fiction and short stories. I live in Alaska and I love history, so those two things often influence my creative writing.

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