Iditarod, The Hollywood Connection

Joe Redington’s friend Larry Brayton (our man in the boiler room of the Anchorage, Alaska, Snowshoe Inn and creator of Iditarod the Movie) had Hollywood connections, but before that Joe bred the dog that was used in the title role of the film Nikki Wild Dog of the North. The same dog was then used to establish a RCMP breeding kennel in Canada. More about Hollywood, Sarah Palin, Vladimir Putin, Angelina, Brad, another time. That’s how to generate views from search engines.

Trolling or trawling with tags

Is there mushing in the Olympics? The Olympic Range, the mountains in Washington State? Armen, Tonya and I took three dogs to Greece to go dog mushing on the snowfield atop Mt Olympus but it was Orthodox Easter, we did not get to the top because the ski area on the military reserve there was closed. We did take our dogs up trekking on the trail leading to the summit from the east side and encountered deep snow and recent avalanches.

About the Olympics, after ten years in an international sports federation, attending meetings with the IOC officials and Olympic sport bosses, seeing how it operates… it takes much of the pleasure out of watching the athletes perform, knowing about the pimps behind the scenes running the show at every level. We have them in corresponding positions in mushing, too, people who have no real understanding of our history, traditions and values, who have never themselves competed at the top level, using their positions to consolidate power and advance their cronies, but worse, don’t buy the token or minor but crucial sine qua non of the Olympic movement, the commitment to Sport for All and international development. Their only true sport is politics. Asinus asinum fricat is the MO of sports governing institutions and bodies.

Blogging about blogging, analyzing the statistics

I can see the number of views each day and from which country they came, along with other stats to determine what subjects appeal to more people. With this blog it appears that semi-technical posts related to nutrition and equipment for sled dogs have been more successful on both sides of the Atlantic.

OMG! How much does that weigh in kilometers??

A surprising finding from stats was that the previous post

had many views from Europe but unlike most others, none from the USA and Canada. Was it parochialism? How many Anglophones were turned away by the unpronounceable word Jukkasjarvi in the title? Or the lack of a thumbnail. Or were they all too busy watching the Olympics? I am gonna find out with this post.

What was she thinking? When you sweep the floor, sweep the floor

When you clean the kennel, clean the kennel. Is this a Zen Buddhist proscription of multitasking vs. compartmentalization? I prefer Josef Conrad’s “Swim in the element that surrounds you.” In any case, it is something dogs are often better at than people, ability to focus on the business at hand. Diogenes also recognized many admirable abilities of dogs. “He wrote, dogs and philosophers do the most good for the least reward.” The school of philosophy is called Cynic (related to dog in Greek) for these reasons not because of attributing viciousness to dogs or their admirers.

Our Man In Jukkasjarvi

A secret agent working for Joe Redington and the global musher mafia conspiracy; undercover in Pomiechowek, Zakopane, Courmayeur, and the boiler room of the Anchorage Snowshoe Inn. (Maybe it was Gallivare, but the original Swedish Ice Hotel would be the perfect setting with all the elements needed sto stage a James Bond episode with comings and goings by helicopter, Kenth Fjelborg’s sled dog teams, Prince Albert of Monaco, shadowy Arab Nabobs, naked women with enticing bodies exposed on reindeer skins or found frozen solid in the booby-trapped sauna that emitted evaporating dry ice CO2 instead of steam, and villains meeting their just demise in the bandsaw that slices slabs of ice to create bowls and cups to send to Ice Bars in Tokyo and Paris perhaps smuggling contraband dissolved in the ice or hidden in the packaging.)

I like to imagine a book or film based on Larry Brayton’s exciting life. It would be a mixture of Out of Africa and Our Man in Havana. It starts like this:

“I once had a homestead in Alaska along the Steese highway in the Caribou Hills at the foot of the White Mountains. On a cold winter morning I could look across the pooled ice fog in Fairbanks and beyond the Chena and Tanana River basin to the high peaks and rooster comb ridges of the Dalton Range, and farther to the right the familiar profile of McKinley. The view extended for hundreds of miles and what felt like thousands of years.”

The extinct woolly mammoths found buried in the permafrost along the Tanana River and Larry Brayton would have enjoyed the same view, wandering about, hunting and foraging, bellowing and trumpeting their exuberance to resonate in that pristine primeval valley.

In the movie version Meryl Streep could play his Russian ex-Soviet ex-wife.

Larry is a film maker himself. Larry, when will you produce your own story on film? His last film was Pickpocket, Scam Dog of the North… right? Or something like that. Earlier he made two Iditarod films, Hotfoot and Iditarod the Movie. Before that he was a cameraman in big-time Hollywood productions. More recently he put together a DVD combining footage from those two Iditarod films he made plus highlights about the life of his friend Joe Redington. I believe Larry was a soldier in the US Army in Europe during the Second World War and traveled or studied there under the GI Bill after the war.

Any error will be corrected after reaching Larry’s computer in Knik, his current hideout.

To be honest, I did not remember seeing him along the trail filming the 1974 Iditarod when I met him again 14 years later in Europe.

My race preparations were delayed and disrupted because former Green Beret Vietnam veteran, dog musher Chicago Marathon director, bad-ass Bob Bright changed his plans and presumed I was going to bail out too, so I arrived in Milan Malpensa from Chicago with 13 dogs on an Alitalia flight with little time to drive to Val D’Aosta for the race start. But first there was a problem with the Italian customs official insisting the dogs would be impounded over the weekend until Monday because of import fees and there were no veterinary health inspectors on duty. Not by accident, Maurizio Pagliano, the horse broker hired to facilitate the Alpirod border crossing formalities, showed up with a folder full of papers and an attitude, then after a minute of shouting and threats we were clear to go. I know now that this had started off as a customs shakedown, similar to what we encountered other times at the Italian border with the initial authorities saying our papers had irregularities. While waiting for more information several friendly subordinates come over to chat about the dogs and what we’re doing, then dropping the hint, do you have any souvenirs? That was a subtle solicitation…

Finally at race headquarters in Courmayeur below the entrance of the tunnel, I checked in, then heard: your old friend Joe Redington is waiting to see you! It was a cheerful thought after a tiring day, but Joe’s delight to see me had another motive. I knocked on the door to his hotel room to be greeted with enthusiasm by Joe, Vi, and Larry, crowded with their luggage, dog equipment, and Larry’s camera gear in a room with no floor space left to move without stepping over something. “We heard you did not have a handler. Here is your good friend Larry Brayton. Remember Larry from the Iditarod?” So Larry moved over to my room and to my Iveco dog transport van.

We had both spent months and years in Europe at different times. Larry spoke several languages, often two or three in the same sentence. I spoke English and French; the German I learned in school in France and the Spanish learned in school in the Philippines, long time forgotten, the languages that fell by the way. Larry had knowledge of many things beyond my youthful experience in Europe. Wine, beer, criminal activities, sin and corruption, how to get by comfortably on a limited budget. Beer is good for that since in his early European adventures water was not safe to drink. He was cautious and protective for my dogs and his priceless camera and equipment. He called the dogs toads for the way they sat on their haunches waiting for food or attention. In what he judged to be perilous locations he slept with the dogs in the van between the sky kennels to guard against “gypsies.”

After one Alpirod stage in the valley above Courmayeur we went for pranzo, lunch, in a small baita or refugio. Nice place, nice atmosphere; in the Italian shadow of Monte Bianco. Larry ordered spaghetti. Spaghetti was served. WTF! We should have left the Europeans to clean up the mess of their own damn wars. What kind of cheap rip-off is this? It was explained. If you want carbonara or al ragu or con speck, that is what you should order. Anyway, there was olive oil and a hand grater loaded with cheese pieces to dress the spaghetti. Larry is unforgiving. I wonder though, is it American or also in the south of Italy that spaghetti on the menu always includes sauce? I brought home several of those grattugie and do like to eat spaghetti wet with oil and dried with cheese, though garlic is good too.

Subsequent years Larry leveraged his encounters with dog mushers Dodo Perri, whose wife owned a hotel in Courmayeur, and Taisto Thorneus from Kiruna, to spend more time with them in Europe before and after the Alpirod. When Alpirod dinner tickets were limited and he did not qualify under the handler provisions, he would give himself immediate press credentials at the door by bringing out his large prehistoric wind-up spring action camera to pose musher and organizer friends for staged interviews, although usually there was no film in the camera. By 1991 he was recognized as part of the Alpirod as much as the stages we revisited and the scenery in Livigno or San Moritz and Dobbiaco. That year he received an award created for him, Best Hydrated Handler.

The Alpirod ended in 1995. Larry and I were touring on different circuits that did not intersect after that. What a surprise ten years later to arrive at the airport in Warsaw and Isa Szmurlo said, your old friend Larry is waiting to see you! He was there with Dodo.

Dodo was delegated to snap the photo since he was already upstaging us in the picture on the side of his dog truck. Larry was working undercover as a chef in the kitchen. In this photo: Isa Szmurlo, Laszlo Both, Drahos Istvan (no, not Muammar Gaddafi’s younger Hungarian brother), Gosca Szmurlo…

Sadly, Dodo died a few years later, victim of a swimming/diving accident on the Amalfi Coast. It was a Hemingway scene: retrieving a piece of diving equipment, his foremost thought must have been embarrassment to die in such a trivial way without heroism.

*Our Man in Havana is a book and a film based on the novel by Graham Greene. The plot comes across as a parody of the Ian Fleming James Bond spy novels of the same period. The main character is an English vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana paid by MI6 to gather intelligence on the many conspiracies in Cuba. His biggest scoop is a diagram of a vacuum cleaner he sends that is deduced to be a mysterious top secret nuclear device or missile installation.

**For the first time I have used tags on a blog posting. When I googled Larry Brayton and his movies I came up with nada, niente, meiyou… so I tagged them along with James Bond, Joe Redington, Graham Greene, Isak Dinesen. He deserves to be in such illustrious and eclectic company.

Joe Redington, Son Of Iditarod

Not Lance Mackey or one of the second or third generation Seavey clan. I mean Joe Redington Sr, I mean the father of the Iditarod in the same sense that Sigmund Freud meant “the child is father to the man.”

I met Joe in 1974 before the start of the second Iditarod Trail race to Nome, and I am sure already in the early years of the event his character and persona had changed and grown, changes fathered by the race he fathered. Even more in the following years.

He did not lose his imagination and optimism. If he had been a completely practical person he would never have risked as much as he did to create, support and promote this world changing race which took over his life.

Since the death of Joe Redington Sr, his contribution to the sport is commemorated on a regular schedule at each meeting of the Iditarod Trail Committee directors. As a lifetime member and one of the founders of the ITC his name is called with the roll of current directors. There is no answer. After a short silence someone in the room calls out, “Joe’s on the Trail, his absence is excused.”

When I first heard this at one of the meetings I attended around 2000, I began to think about the many other times I had been on the trail myself with Joe. We were there during the first years of the Alpirod in Europe, a race he encouraged and participated in from the beginning. (Though meat-and-potatoes Joe truly disliked the fancy European dinners most of the rest of us enjoyed as part of the social reunions each evening).

He had a positive influence there. Too often copycat races forget about the dogs and mushers. The race organizers have vast ambition but only half-vast experience and knowledge of the sport, distrusting any suggestions or advice, and unable to properly weigh the conflicting interests among mushers, sponsors,  the media, and the public. They take disagreement as license to do whatever is convenient. Only a major disaster proves the need or forces them to adapt. (As happened with ITC when Rick Swenson’s dog Ariele died and RS was peremptorily disqualified ignoring all normal due-process.) When Joe came across the finish line in one Alpirod stage, broken and bloody from crashes on the trail, it was a wake-up call.

The race management finally began to suspect that the ski-jorer trail boss and the has-been or wannabe dog mushers engaged as race marshal and judges could say the trail was safe but that did not make it so. What was safe for a slow team of Siberian Huskies might not be safe for a fired up competitive team of Alaskan racing dogs (a level far beyond the officials’ understanding), it was not just a question of having well trained leaders. They began to suspect; they were never fully convinced. As said about the Olympics, the only professionals were the competitors on the field supposed to be amateurs, not the organizers. Note also the common European use of the word professional can be more related to proficiency than to wage earning.

Before that I remember the Beargrease, another race he traveled to join in and support during its infancy beginning in 1985. We were trying to reestablish distance mushing here in Minnesota, an area with as much proud history of sled dogs as Alaska. And of course, I recall my first encounters with Joe (and Joee, Orville Lake, Dick Tozier, Dave Olson, Dick Mackey, Dorothy Page, and many other Iditarod and mushing pioneers) in Alaska, and on the Iditarod Trail in 1974. None of us knew then what distance racing was or would become. Larry Brayton, I am going to write about you one day too.

On and off the trail with Joe, Sr.

We were approaching Ptarmigan Pass on a bright afternoon that did not hide the ache of cold grasping at your bones. We passed George Attla, Rudi Demoski, Ken Chase and Carl Huntington (the eventual winner that year) who were taking a tea break around a fire. A little later Joe stopped to tell me we should continue on to make it through the Pass to more hospitable camping places, even if it meant running late into the night. I said I was with him for now but would go at my own pace later if it was better for my team.

Half an hour later as my team followed his, I could see him bent over the handle bars rummaging in his sled bag. The wind was picking up. A candy wrapper blew away in a gust of wind. Then his mitts blew off, landing beside the trail. Joe continued on. I stopped to pick them up. We ran for another half hour before he stopped. I put in my snow hook. (So I write by habit. It seems a natural thing to do now, but in fact I did not put in my snow hook because in that era my sled did not have a snow hook or a brake!) Joe thanked me for his mitts. I said, “You’re going to need them.”

I stopped later, after dark in a small creek bed out of the wind. Joe continued on. I thought I might not see him again before Nome, 800 miles ahead, if his break-away strategy could work so early in this game. Ten-o-clock the next morning as I headed on my way I was surprised to see a team coming on toward the trail at an angle through the low willow scrub brush.

“Where have you been, Joe?”

“All up and down the side of this mountain. I didn’t know where I was but it was so cold I was afraid to stop. The thermometer on my sled read -50 or worse, it was down to the bottom. That is the coldest I’ve been in my life!”

Later it was calculated and published in the newspapers that the wind chill in the open in Ptarmigan Pass that night was -100 or colder.

We made it! We made it to Nome. We made it to many other goals and finish lines, each in our own way, in many races and over many trails. He was buried in his dog sled but Joe is on the trail now; I can sense his spirit nearby with every mushing project I take up. Cutting brush, building bridges, training teams, raising puppies, investigating every new idea to benefit the dogs and promote our sport.

”A new scientific truth is not usually presented in a way to convince its opponents. Rather, they die off, and a rising generation is familiarized with the truth from the start.” Max Planck


What’s in a name; plus unrelated amenities, technologies, trials and tribulations.

A radio program I heard last week about the praying clockwork monkbot commissioned by Philip  II of Spain on the ‘miraculous’ recovery of his son and heir Carlos from what appeared to be certain death after he fell down the stairs in a state of drunkenness and banged his head was what suggested indirectly the previous post, SH!T.

Santiago is a common place name and given name in Spanish-speaking countries. The original Santo Diego was Saint James,  patron saint of Spain, brother of the Apostle John.

Santi is a nickname for Santiago. The confusion is manifold in other languages. Jaime, Jacob, Iago, Hakkon, Diego, Didac, Seamus: all equivalents/cognates.

On our tour of the cordillera east of Santiago de Chile, before the era of smartphones and google searches, I would come back to the same subject of conversation with Marcelo; since I never got a satisfactory answer there were endless opportunities to practice Spanish referring often to a small dictionary in my pocket; who was Santo Iago? Which particular historical person Jaime or Diego or James was he, and how did he become a saint? Marcelo insisted that Santiago was Santiago. If he had known about Gertrude Stein’s axiom he could have trumped or admonished my curiosity with “a rose is a rose is a rose,” or Shakespeare’s “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Quien es Santiago?

La Ciudad, Santiago?

La persona Santiago, Santo Iago, Santo Diego

Como la persona? Santiago la ciudad

Si, pero, su nombre Santiago venga de qual persona?

Like the American baseball comic routine Who’s On First or the Chinese American update Hu’s Calling Obama:

President Hu is calling

How should I know

Hu is calling, the President of China

You tell me

Hu wants to arrange a meeting

When was that

Wen is the Premier

Wen is the Premier what

Wen is the Premier, Hu is the President

I am the President, When will you stop asking stupid questions

Now thanks to clues on the radio I know that Santiago de Chile and many other cities like San Diego, California, are not named for original Saint James but for Saint Didacus/Diego of Alcala.

By the way, where is the Santi of Baqueira Beret, the dog musher who treated us to such delicious pata negra ham at the stage of Pirena held next to his touring sled dog kennel?

Other Subjects:

If you enjoy reading some of these articles you can subscribe and be notified when a new page is posted. What started me on this blog was that I was asked the same questions over a period of decades. When Pep Pares reprimanded Monique Bene and me for discussing for so long, half an hour, something related to disqualifications and rules in sled dog racing at the finish line of  Pirena 10 years ago in Baqueira Beret, we replied that we had been discussing that subject for years! Now I think that we can discuss or answer many things better without repetition on a blog, the state of the art for special interest communication. Feedback is welcome; you can comment on the wordpress blog or message on facebook.

I Go Retro

Do not buy into the state of the art or the latest most recent and most expensive generation of technology. More likely a retro or post-modern device and method is cheaper and equally effective under prevailing conditions.

In my case, I have dialup Internet at home and strongly resent the 15 year long toll of time and money paid to Microsoft and their arrogant and bloated software near-monopoly. (Call out the oxymoron Microsoft Works.) How many dollars and days spent trying to recover data, solve software problems, call for customer support to India. The software gets bigger and bigger, memory is in the terabytes, yet many operations are slower and take more time than 10 years ago. And before that we used computers with software and OS on 52 KB floppies that worked quite well.

What would you say to free software that is simpler to use, faster and better? There are bugs and hiccups in all software, but how nice not to pay MS for the privilege to have them give you the shaft. You would not pay to stand in line for a slap in the face or be victimized by a pickpocket, would you? I don’t have any solution for dealing with US banks except to have my money in a credit union.

#1. You can download several different operating system (OS) implementations of Lucid Puppy Linux 5.2.8 the size varying from about 125MB to 360MB depending on the additional Office function software you want. (Ubuntu and similar Linux OS are much bigger, are not easily configured to do dialup, and IMO no better performing overall.) The basic LUPU already has word processor, video viewers, spreadsheet, simple browser Dillo and most software you would need.

Download the version you want to try and then burn it to a CD. You can boot your computer off this CD, even if the Windows OS you were using has crashed or is corrupted and dysfunctional pain in the ass. As a precaution you can leave the Windows OS and files intact unless or until you are convinced you don’t need Windows. The so-called live CD loads into RAM (takes 15-30 seconds to load and open; many BIOS have the CD drive as the first boot device otherwise you must interrupt with F2 or escape according to the very quick message onscreen as the bios loads, then set/change your boot options) and will usually run even if the primary Hard Disk is FUBAR. When the Windows OS is corrupted and messed up you will still typically be able to access the documents on the hard disk with the live CD running the show. If you want Chrome or Firefox browser you need to download them, they are 20-30 MB but that can be done with the Dillo browser on the live CD. That leads to…

#2. Most websites are bloated with ads and features that waste your time and distract you from the content you want to read or view. Dillo, the simple browser packaged with Puppy, works almost like TIVO. Skip the crap! Dillo displays the webpage html text and photos in a linear form without frames or Flash and other bandwidth gobbling features. There is a version of Dillo for Windows called D+. On 22 kbps dialup Windows or Linux versions opened Yahoo homepage in a few seconds, faster than Chrome on a WiFi high speed Internet connection. (Heads-up! On these download sites be sure to click on the download button for the software you want, not the deliberately misleading ads.)

If you are stuck with Windows but don’t have an satisfactory word processor you can try the portable software abiword. Again, like D+ it is a small download that you could copy to a USB memory stick to install on different computers and/or save the document files you create on the same memory device. Saves by default .abw format but when you <save as> there will be a drop-down menu with other file format choices.


Marcelo dog trailer

Marcelo Riquelme Rio Gallegos

It was July, the middle of winter. Above 8,000 feet Marcelo Riquelme’s aging Jeep Wagoneer would shudder, balk and buck like a raw horse then stall on any steep upgrade if he had not shifted down to first gear fast enough. There were many such slopes on the roads around Aconcagua, Los Penitentes, Puenta del Inca, Los Colorados, Portillo, and Las Lenas on the border between Chile and Argentina where we were prospecting for mushing terrain on a new continent.

We had the routine established: Marcelo Riquelme, Veterinario Medico and the first musher in Chile in the semi-modern era, stomped on the brake and shifted into neutral while I jumped out to find a rock the right size to block one of the rear wheels. He could then crank the starter and have one foot on the clutch and the other on the accelerator pedal. Without the rock to block the wheel he would have needed a third foot to step on the brake and could not pump the accelerator at the right moment.

I recall my 1941 Chevy pickup, a tarnished beauty but still functioning in many ways better than newer technology. It had a starter button and a pull cable for the throttle, another for the choke. They would have been very useful in 1998 with Marcelo’s Wagoneer.

It required skill and foresight to drive vehicles like those. Park facing downhill to be able to roll, then pop the clutch after any long stop. Pour water on the gas line if the weather was hot and the fuel system vapor locked. If syncromesh was shot or did not exist into low gear, it required the venerable double clutch maneuver to shift gears. No antifreeze and at high altitude the radiator lost a lot of water so we needed to cautiously and frequently add more before the engine fried.

That reminds me of my own experience twenty years before that of having a similar toolbox of tricks for winter driving with old vehicles. No electricity for an engine block heater meant that I would drain most of the antifreeze coolant mix into jugs and bring them into the house overnight to warm up on the wood stove in the morning. Failing that I would shovel coals from the wood stove into a metal pan then slide that under the motor to preheat the engine. But that was much slower than draining, heating the water/antifreeze mix, and refilling the radiator.

Gas line antifreeze and windshield scrapers were apparently unknown in those regions of South America, an unfortunate deficit especially a few weeks later and a thousand miles farther south in the year of the Terremoto Blanco, the white earthquake as they called it when they had unexpected record snowfall and devastating cold in Patagonia. (100,000 sheep died in the disaster.) Until I brought my own scrapers on other trips the best substitute I had was a credit card. The cost of ethanol without the extra taxes we pay in the Northern Hemisphere would have made that a good gas line antifreeze except for the low proof. What good to add vodka that is already half water?

The dogs were in sky kennels in the back of the Wagoneer and a few more in the funky little trailer. How many dogs? A dozen I think it was… enough for two teams, one for each of us to race in Ushuaia, Puerto Natales and the other projected stages in the new event, Integracion Patagonica.

Despite the conditions in the far south, some of the ski areas in the cordillera, the Andes to the east of Santiago had too little or no snow. Global climate change was already showing its ugly head. At Portillo, the first ski resort in South America existing since the 1950s was not very active when we were there. Across the road there was enough snow to keep the Chilean mountain troops busy in their training and drilling beside the main highway between Santiago and Buenos Aires. We had made initial contact with them on the way over to explore in Argentina, so when we came back we spent a day demonstrating dog mushing to the troops.

Marcelo’s degree and title, and our combined oddity gave us officer equivalent status, but some of the low ranking soldiers were the most fascinated by the sled dogs. When we did anything with the dogs outside the formal organized demonstration periods we were surrounded by GIs in their olive green uniforms chatting with us and among themselves, asking questions about the dogs, offering to help in any way. It was not the usual system but for everyones benefit I got out a few leashes to let the dogs be escorted by soldiers on short walks around the parking lot.  They were astonished but delighted how the dogs tried to pull them off their feet. The enthusiasm and curiosity of the young enlisted men was no different from school children not embarrassed to show it.

One of the soldiers picked up a dog turd nugget in his bare hand and said to me, muy bueno. La mierda, I said, wondering if he knew what he was holding. (The Eukanuba regional sales chief had staked us food for the trip.) Of course! The soldier explained that he was a farm boy accustomed to judging the quality of feed and the health of animals by their shit.

This has been traditional wisdom for centuries. Three simple and obvious criteria for judging an animal’s health: appetite, coat, shit.

Another trip to Chile, the newspaper headlines were about the disaster in the mountains near Portillo. During an Outward Bound type survival exercise the weather had turned deadly. Rain followed by wind and extreme cold overnight had killed a dozen Andino mountain troop trainees dug into separate snow trench shelters.

The newspapers carried criticism of the officers that they had abandoned the trainees in dangerous conditions. The purpose of the training to prepare them for such a test; was it the training and more likely the clothing and equipment that played a large part in the disaster?

Flying Pests, Canine Feet And Ears

Flies are eating my dogs’ ears and bats have invaded my roof. Some of the remedies are the same.

What nature inflicts nature can cure.

The pink ointment used as a base for some foot dope contains zinc oxide and artificial thuja oil. A cheaper and better base is the generic diaper rash product sold in pharmacies, typically 40% zinc oxide. Take that and add real thuja oil and other repellent and healing oils like rosemary, lavender, lemon, camphor, cinnamon leaf, citronella. Neem oil is a non-volatile nut oil that is claimed to be a natural pest control, antiseptic, anti-viral, anti-fungal and antibacterial. Combine a mix of these, whatever you have or can readily obtain to make  a thick paste to smear on the dogs’ ears. If you add too much essential oil to the zinc oxide cream it will be runny and hard to apply in warm weather. Neem has a high melting point but slightly unpleasant and musty smell.

The same kind of essential oils are also effective for mold and mildew remediation, the so-called “thieves blend” of antiseptic property oils.

Thuja is a form of cedar but a particular kind, the North American variety called Eastern (or Northern) White Cedar used by the Native Americans for many purposes including the ribs and planks of birch bark canoes.

Botanical Name: Thuja occidentalis
Common Method Of Extraction: Steam distilled
Parts Used: Leaves
Note Classification: Top
Aroma: Sharp, fresh, camphoraceous
Largest Producing Countries: Canada and USA

Traditional Use: Used for its disinfectant properties in pharmaceutical products.

Properties: Antirheumatic, astringent, diuretic, expectorant, insect repellent, stimulant, tonic, vermifuge

Benefits: Disinfectant. Not recommended for use in aromatherapy. May be used in room sprays or cleaning agents.

You might have noticed that in the Latin/botanical name occidentalis means western. In relation to Europe North America is west but within North America the range of this species is the eastern States and Provinces of Canada. Western red cedar is a different North American species. Eastern white cedar was also called arbor vitae, tree of life, because of its recognized health benefits/virtues.

 For cuts and raw skin avoid the oils that sting, like thyme and peppermint.

The right combination can work for foot ointment as well as treating ears attacked by biting flies.

This photo from 1917, the St. Paul Winter Carnival Winnipeg to St. Paul race shows a musher  from Gimli, Manitoba doing his dog’s feet (not so clear in this version but evident in the original) with Noxzema and leather booties. The Icelander fishermen from that area used Labrador type sled dogs for travel, hauling their nets and transport of the fish.

Hans Gatt says that powdered sulfur is good to dry up fissures in dog feet in the snow season. I have not had a chance to try it but I do know that in those cases powders stick better than ointment to weeping sores or cracks.

Peppermint and menthol are strongly disliked by rodents such as squirrels, mice and bats. If you mix these oils in warm water and a bit of liquid soap, the fragrant solution can be squirted with a pump sprayer into the places these  little pests frequent or where they nest. I like to add some of the other oils for good measure and for good smell. Bad odors usually accompany infestations of rodents. Be cautious to stay a distance away from bats or you might be bit like my neighbor who then had to endure the course of injections. He did not know there was a bat hanging under his dog truck when he opened the door one morning to go to the big city. Then he had another reason to go, because the local rural hospital and clinic did not have the rabies vaccine.

In the US and Canada the best sources I know for essential and carrier oils are

Mountain Rose Herbs

San Francisco Herb Company

San Francisco Herb is usually cheaper, though not as many certified organic items, and for herbs and spices to eat I prefer the quality of Mountain Rose Herbs at a higher price. For the essential oils the prices at are convincing. They only sell dry herbs by the pound, Mtn Rose sells 1/4 and 1/2 pound qty as well as one pound.

D 4 Dogs

D for dogs, C for yourself:

The debate is raging again, stirred up by new findings related to the function and health benefits of Vitamin D in human metabolism and physiology.

One writer suggests that baldness might be an evolutionary adaptation to compensate for lower Vitamin D conversion or utilization in older men. Is there no evolutionary advantage to older women’s survival?

The team doctor for the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team had the players’ blood levels tested and ordered supplementation for those who were deficient. In fact, all were deficient and the minimum supplement prescribed was 5000 IU daily. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup the following year. (NB that IU is much less than a mg.)

One major US laboratory was claimed to use an inaccurate (low) reference or standard blood level for their Vitamin D tests, leading to many deficient patients not receiving treatment.

Who is winning the argument about safe Vitamin D supplementation doses? Sams Club in the USA now sells a bottle of 400 10,000 IU capsules for $12. Used to be that the FDA restricted the max capsule to 400 IU because of concern about toxicity.

Moderate exposure to sunlight on bare skin can generate 100 000 IU or more in an hour,  so what about toxicity? Is there a mechanism that prevents the Vit D from sunlight and possibly from oral supplementation from being converted to the active and potentially toxic form?

The skin secretions are activated by sunlight, but that may take a period of several hours or days before enough can be reabsorbed back into the skin. People who wash too often may be shorting themselves Vit D from this source.

Cod liver oil was a common dietary supplement for humans and dogs, with the warning that excess can be toxic. Now appears it is more likely that Vitamin A, not Vitamin D, is the more toxic component in cod liver oil.

If the questions are ever resolved for humans it will not be conclusive or compelling evidence for dogs.

Dogs’ metabolism is different in kind and in quantity from humans. For example, it is conventional wisdom that dogs can synthesize Vitamin C and do not require any dietary source of this nutrient. Some believe that supplementary Vit C in food can be helpful in particular circumstances or conditions: the familiar necessary and sufficient is not optimum theme.

Dogs are covered with hair… are they more reliant on skin lipids conversion to Vit D precursors or does their Vit D come mostly from dietary sources?

Does dog hair block or allow passage of the ultraviolet rays needed for Vit D conversion in/on the skin?

Another possibility, do dogs acquire Vit D by grooming, licking and absorbing the lipids excreted from the skin on their hair which has been converted there to Vit D precursors?

Waiting for the answers, I started to give several dogs with skin and coat conditions a 5000 unit capsule twice a week. Vit D is stored, unlike the water soluble vitamins, so maybe I could save money by giving each dog a 10,000 unit cap each week, since the 400 capsule bottles of 5K units cost almost as much as the 10K units bottles. But the 10K unit bottles are a new product so I still have a  bottle of the 5K dose on hand.

Sams Club and Walmart health supplement product shelves are a reflection of what is mainstream in nutrition science.

Allergic To Dog Dander?

Think again…

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, throw the baby into the dog water instead.

More evidence supporting the Hygiene Hypothesis:


“The microbiome of dust from homes with dogs is distinct from that of non-pet homes, and now it appears this unique bacterial assemblage may confer an advantage to the youngest members of the household. Mice fed dog-home dust before being exposed to the common infant infection respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is associated with a high risk of developing asthma, appear to be immune to the virus compared to mice fed on normal house dust.

The immune mice also had “a distinct gastrointestinal bacterial composition,” Kei Fujimura, part of the team from the University of California that announced its findings at the American Society for Microbiology General Meeting last month (June 19), told Wired Science.

This suggests that certain microbes carried by dogs may take residence in the gastrointestinal tract of the mice and play a role in modulating the immune response to RSV. Identifying exactly which microbial species, or combination of species, is responsible is the next step in the team’s research, which could potentially lead to vaccines for respiratory viruses.”

Exposing young children to dogs and all that entails, like round worm infection and giardia, is not identical to feeding dog inhabited house dust to mice. But I have wondered if giardia is also a beneficial parasite in normal natural “species typical evolutionary” circumstances.

There was also a theory years ago that early exposure to dogs and face licking as in the accompanying photo could predispose to adult onset MS.