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Owning 10 Dogs Taxes Patience But Fuels Dreams

Two lawnchairs. One water dish. A just-barely-avoided serious dogfight.

Stop. Breathe. Count to 10.

Another water dish. Two outdoor throw rugs. The artificial turf glued to the tops of the doghouses.

Breathe. Breathe. One, two, three, four, five.

Only a Lamaze class could have prepared me for owning 10 dogs.

Three weeks ago my husband, Adam, and I added four more canines to our six-dog household. Havoc, chaos and the destruction of everything plastic have since ensued.

OK, so my husband (a really great guy) was actually an innocent bystander. But he did sign our marriage license. And I’m positive there’s a multidog clause in there somewhere.

“It’s Libby Riddles’ fault,” I explained as I mailed a check for hundreds of dollars to a musher named Dave, payment for my four new racing-line Siberian huskies.

In 1985, Riddles became the first woman to win the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Although she now lives in Alaska, Riddles is from Wisconsin. So am I.

The year Riddles won that famous race, I was helping a wolf biologist study wolves in northern Wisconsin.

While it was fascinating work, I wanted a more intimate relationship with canines than is possible with wolves. (I respect them too much to confine them as pets or hybridize them with domestic dogs.)

I wanted to be part of a pack, but how?

The answer was in the sports section of the local newspaper. Next to the NBA highlights was a picture of Riddles holding her two lead dogs and a bottle of champagne under the victory arch in Nome.

That was it. I’d become a musher!

My husband (who’s a really great guy) was informed of this on our first date. He married me anyway.

Alpine and Mijin, two mixed-breed stray dogs, had been with me for five years when I met my husband. Adam and I added Toby and DiPaolo - also mixed-breed strays - to the family.

For one year, I ran an all-mutt sled dog team strictly for fun and experience.

Then a competitive musher announced he was getting out of the sport. I got Nakita, a 5-year-old racing-line Siberian husky who ran on his team.

Next came Lacey and Ajo who, like Nakita, were racing-line Siberians that had run for other mushers.

Just as I was about to combine the mixed breeds and the Siberians into one large team, Alpine, Mijin and Toby started suffering inherited health problems.

They are now retired, spending winter days in the living room watching basketball with Adam.

DiPaolo died.

I entered novice-level sled dog races with just Nakita, Lacey and Ajo.

But I dreamed of being like Riddles, of traveling deep into the snowy north country via a big pack.

I wanted to compete in races at least 25 miles long, eventually working up to much longer distances. That just wasn’t possible with a three-dog team.

I needed more dogs. I needed a dogproof house. I needed acreage outside Spokane County, which has ridiculously strict multidog ownership regulations.

My husband (who’s a really great guy) endured my mission.

On May 10 - probably to the horror of my new Stevens County neighbors - Lars, Laker, Connie and Picard arrived.

They are all from the same team. They are extremely fast and powerful. They have sweet temperaments.

“They haven’t had much obedience training,” my husband patiently observed as the new foursome destroyed the lawnchairs, water dishes, flower bed, porch rugs and most everything else in their path.

He’s right. But things are quieting down (our new neighbors might take issue with that statement). All 10 dogs are getting along.

The four new dogs are learning how to kiss us without mauling us, how to not jump up on our dinner guests, and that plastic tastes pretty awful when covered with bitter apple spray.

Watching 10 dogs slumbering on the porch, listening to 40 dog paws pad into the kitchen as I begin cooking dinner, I am awestruck.

In just a few short months, it will grow cold again. The team and I will start training for our racing season.

Some days, we will travel more than 50 miles into the wintry backcountry.

On some run, it is inevitable I will have to trust Lars, my lead dog, with my life. Where I see a stable trail, he will hear or smell bad ice.

To survive, the team and I will become a pack.

Romantic? Yes. But the reality is Science Diet dog food is now a large line item in our household budget.

Did I mention that Adam is a really great guy?

, DataTimes MEMO: About Dogs appears the first Sunday of each month. Mary Sagal is a member of the Dog Writers’ Association of America.)

About Dogs appears the first Sunday of each month. Mary Sagal is a member of the Dog Writers’ Association of America.)