Married to a dog addict

Posted: Sunday, February 27, 2000

The sign on the back of Yukon musher Darren Kinvig's dog truck reads ``sponsored by Mrs. Leanne Kinvig.'' In truth, most mushers are sponsored in some way by their spouses.

``I've thought of writing a book,'' said Leanne, at their home near Whitehorse. ```The Trials and Tribulations of a Musher's Wife,' because so much of it is the spouses.''

Like other wives, Leanne sews booties for the dogs, and for her husband. While their daughter Rachel was still a baby, Leanne spent several days sewing Darren new mukluks for a race. She used an old sealskin coat they'd been given, saving decorative trim from the coat for the top edge of the boots. Darren wore them in the race, but the fur disintegrated on his feet when it got wet.

While she and Haines musher Jim Stanford's wife, Debbie, commiserate about the way household utensils end up used for the dogs, Darren Kinvig borrows a heavy chef's knife from the kitchen to trim new runners he's putting on his sled.

After cooking for the family and the Stanfords, putting the kids to bed and cleaning the house, Leanne heads out to shovel excrement from the dog lot and give a dehydrated dog an IV.

``Behind every great dog musher is a better wife,'' Darren Kinvig said, loud enough for her to hear him.

``A lot of mushers lose their wives,'' Leanne said later.

For some mushers, it's a hard choice when it comes to an ultimatum: Me or the Dogs. Like any passion, mushing can become an obsession.

Unable to mush in moderation, some have to go cold turkey. One musher, Bob English, tried to get out of dogs, but like an alcoholic sworn off the drink who takes a sip on Friday, he couldn't restrain himself. He took a few old dogs back, then couldn't resist breeding them and running their pups. He's out for good now. The only dogs he keeps are breeds that could never be run.

``That's very common for mushers,'' said Debbie Stanford. ``It's an addiction of sorts.''

It helps that Debbie and Leanne understand the addiction. Both have mushed dogs and Leanne runs Darren's team in smaller races.

``I've been out on the trail, nobody else around and just enough dogs I could handle,'' said Debbie Stanford. ``It's a bit of a rush, the absolute joy of it.''

It's an expensive sport, but there are worse ways to spend money, both Jim Stanford and Darren Kinvig point out. Kinvig gave up drinking and smoking to continue mushing. His whole family is involved with the dogs. Even 3-year-old Rachel mushes, on a child-sized sled with one old leader.

Stanford's children are all out of the house now, but in past years he's skipped many dog races to cheer them on at basketball games and track meets.

``You've got to juggle being a family person and being a musher,'' Stanford said. ``I've been able to find kind of a balance.''

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