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My Only Boss

On Lasting Friends in the Last Frontier

By Christopher "Ski" GanczewskiPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
There he sat, until he was ready...

The Pandemic hit everyone hard.

From the stalwart vaccine deniers to the religious mask wearers that remain, it cannot be denied that 30-plus months of dramatic life change left an impact on us all.

Looking back on Spring of 2020, I fell folly to the same as so many others. I got lonely. The burdens of a distance relationship, absent quarantine, made me particularly susceptible to pursuing companionship; the pandemic just gave me an excuse to find relief.

And so I found myself, newly arrived to Alaska and in recent ownership of my first house, scrolling Petfinder to appropriately utilize my fenced in yard the way only an adolescent me dreamed of.

Cats were out of the question, due both to allergic genetics and a general despise for the weird sort affection that often manifested under the guise feline neglect; history had proven that only canine companionship would fill the void.

Or perhaps a Penguin, but that was a fantasy for a far-off financial future.

The Last Frontier, however, would prove itself unique in pursuit of a four-legged friend. The annals of Petfinder presented a unique selection; a number of bully breeds, which weren’t out of the question, an odd selection of purebreds at various price points, and a slew of sad-looking forgotten friends against a brushed stainless backdrop the local animal shelter had put up for adoption, and assumably, eventual euthanasia. It was among these that I found myself drawn, and a smaller subset of those caught my eyes, given my geographical situation.

I called them the Sled Mutts.

Petfinder, and the greater internet, would call them “Alaskan Huskies,” and while very Alaskan, the latter noun was used with some liberal interpretation. These were dogs bred to pull, be it for sustenance or sport. Their bloodlines may have included some Husky, sure, but they would be bred from whatever dog in the village proved apt to train, quick to respond, and perhaps most significantly, able to weather the worst interior Alaska had. These dogs were lean, with a long, bushy tail, and pronouncedly small set of bony hips set behind an equally pronouncedly large ribcage. Some had the floppy ears indicative of a hound in the bloodline, but most had the dexterous, pointed ears and long snout of the wolves from whence their village-based bloodlines descended.

These were the dogs I knew had to be mine.

The one I clicked on would not be the Sled Mutt I would come to adopt, and I forget his name. But his Petfinder profile would lead me to Kathy, who would go on to lead me to my newfound friend. The one I clicked on and pursued would have been spoken for, but Kathy, a hardy woman with a heart of gold and soul of steel, was proponent of an agency with two objectives: teach the kids in the Alaskan native villages that dogs and mushing was part of their heritage, and teach the villages that the ways of old were not necessarily the way things had to be.

This agency was how I met my only boss, Crew Boss.

Crew Boss was born, raised, and pulled in Minto, a small lakeside village three hours northwest of Fairbanks, Alaska. Born under the ownership of Lloyd, an old native Army vet and Minto native, Crew Boss would be the only one of his litter to survive the winter, a fact I would later reflect on against the knowledge that he held weight well in spite of eating only a reasonable amount. Through a series of events and escapades I can only qualify as Alaskan espionage combined with dumb luck, Crew Boss would eventually become Scott’s.

Scott was a Pittsburgh boy with a heart of Gold-and-Black, who had come to Minto to be a Special Education teacher, and somehow, ended up owning a dog yard of seventeen-ish dogs around which his daily schedule revolved, much to his principal’s chagrin.

Scott and I would become friends.

Scott’s schedule required him to loan the dogs to friends periodically, such that they could get their daily run in. On one of these runs with a friend at the helm, the golden rule of mushing was violated.

The musher let go of the sled.

And so, Crew Boss, beloved, obedient lead as he was, was injured, perceivably chronically, and through the absolutely saintlike gratitude of Kathy, found his way into my arms.

Or rather, my backyard.

The first week with Crew Boss would prove to be one of the most memorable.

Crew Boss, after all, was a Sled Mutt at heart, and 8-ish years of life on the line would prove hard to break. For nearly a decade, his joy came from but two sensations; that of the warm, whitefish stew being fed to him twice daily, and that of the brisk wind and snow caressing against his open jowls as he led the pack forward on the line, scoping out the trail and obeying the commands of the musher at the helm. For Crew Boss was a leader, and lead he did, often snapping at dogs who would lazily run next to the line instead of pulling, and preferring always to be out front until injury prevented him from keeping pace.

What did not bring Crew Boss joy, however, was the odd warmth of carpet, nor the weird cooling of the kitchen’s tiles against the warm Alaska summers. Try as I might, Crew Boss would hold short of coming inside for days. I felt it was progress that he would just wait on the deck, staring inside the open French doors I sacrificed on his behalf, lest the monstrous threat that are Alaskan mosquitoes.

The first week tested my patience. Having grown up with a dog, I knew better than to grow impatient and apply force. Crew Boss would come in when he was ready. Even such tricks as placing his food dish just inside the threshold would only warm him up to the deck, where he would wait and watch, patiently apprehensive of the house’s interior.

I suppose the best day was the first day in which, unmotivated by food or trickery, Crew Boss stepped inside the house for a sniff-and-explore. When caught, he quickly ran back outside to the safety that was the outdoors, but in that small moment…he had chosen me. He had chosen my space to maybe, just maybe, be his, too. It was a world far from the cold, plywood houses from which he had grown up, and he had mustered up the bravery to take some exploration into a world he knew nothing of. While my heart had been open to his since he got out of the bed of Kathy’s pickup, he had only then in that moment been brave enough to open his to me.

And from that moment forward, he was my only boss…Crew Boss.


About the Creator

Christopher "Ski" Ganczewski

I write things. Sometimes they matter.

Active Duty USAF TACP Officer.

Mountain biker. Board gamer. Imbibement appreciator.

Niagara Falls, NY born and raised.

Often found with a dog attached to my hip, near either a trailhead or a brewery.

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  • Wanda Joan Harding2 years ago

    Alaska - I'm envious...and the story of Crew Boss is a heartwarming whirlwind.

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