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My "boyfriend's" back and you're gonna get in trouble! Hey la. Hey la. My boyfriend's back.

Who are these "boyfriends" ??

TAJ and LENO. They are my protectors. Or I'm theirs - can't really figure this out. Read on:

Taj and Leno are the MASCOTS of the Battle Dawgs. The definition of "mascot" is an animal, person, or thing adopted by a group as its representative symbol and supposed to bring good luck. That is exactly what Leno and Taj do. They bring good luck and they are a symbol of how good things happen to those who visit Battle Dawgs Camp in Talkeetna Alaska.

First, let me tell you about LENO, the Super Dog. Leno is a champion Alaska sled dog. He is retired now and lives a life of luxury with Rick and Jen Casillo, the founders of Battle Dawgs. They are Leno's best friends. I think I'm one of his best friends now as well. Who wouldn't love that face?

Here he is proofing my blog. He wanted to be sure I stuck to the facts and was complimentary of him. Actually, he tried to close the computer - encouraging that I play with him instead. He usually wins because his next move is to jump up on the bed. I'm not sure how much he weighs but when he lands on me - it seems a lot.

As you can see he looks very intelligent and handsome. He is matter-of-fact about his looks though. It is what it is. He can't help being beautiful. He's also stately and does his own thing, very confident and evolved. He loves to please but is content to walk away when he meets someone not interested. It's their loss. He has quite a few years behind him, but when spending time with a friend – he becomes young again as the world becomes his oyster, and can be explored together. He is just as content in retirement as he was running thousands of miles in the Iditarod. I envy his mature but child-like nature.

There is nothing but love and wisdom behind those eyes that penetrate the soul of the individual he watches with intense interest. You know he is figuring you out and seeing if you have what it takes to see the world as a magical place, as he does, or are you not worth the effort? This will be decided by your actions. Not his. And you can't fake it. Dogs recognize fakes really fast.

Either way, he treats you with love, respect, and compassion. This is his gift of healing, that just by looking at you he will make you feel better, happier, lighter-hearted, and just plain younger if you allow it to happen.

Leno has traveled thousands of miles, leading other dogs and pulling the fortunate mushers who knew him. He's a leader. I wish we could playback the recorder in his brain and see what he has seen—running across the tundra covered with snow and ice. Oh, the stories he could tell.

One thing is for sure—he loves to run and loves his human companions wholly and purely. He has an air of confidence and make-no-mistake, he is always protecting his domain. I am fortunate to dwell for a spell in this domain and became the lucky recipient of this protection and interest. I must have measured up because he has become my shadow and champion.

He is quiet but always there, hoping you will stop whatever you are doing and pet him. When he sees me coming up the stairs, he does this little dance of excitement and waves his head back and forth before he talks to me. "Hurry up," he says in dog-language. "I want to be petted." (Yes, I now speak dog.) He sleeps on the rug beside my bed, waiting for the right opportunity to jump up on the bed - hoping I won't notice.

Leno is retired now. He is an expert communicator with his eyes, quickly forming a deep connection where understanding is automatic, and respect is evident and expected. He has the look of one who has lived life to the fullest, enjoyed every minute, and is still living life with retired gusto,

Leno is one of those special dogs who has fathered many other champions. When he is with the other puppies and sled-dogs, they won't leave him alone. They want to play with him. To get away from them, Leno often disappears down the trail to the duck pond, where he watches (with mild interest) all the duck activity.

When he returns from his explorations, he has a habit of sleeping on Taj's bed. Taj doesn't like that.

Now, meet Taj.

The first time I met Taj and Leno was when Rick was going somewhere and Taj was standing by the truck looking at Rick imploring him to help. He barked a sharp bark. Then after a few seconds, he barked one more time. It seemed more out of frustration and a barking

command of "do something."

Rick said, "Taj is hurt because Leno is in his spot." Leno just looked at him, again, mildly interested but with no intention of moving unless being told to do so, by someone other than Taj. Rick sighed as he watched this sibling rivalry taking place, again. He told Leno to move and Leno did. Taj was happy and all was well.

The same scenario takes place in the house. Leno is often on Taj's bed or spot. Taj takes one look at him and goes to find a human. "Woof," he says. Translated - "Leno is in my spot again." Jen says that Taj is often depressed and Leno doesn't help. Leno doesn't seem to notice or care.

Taj never ran the Iditarod nor lived outside. He was always a house-dog, with privileges. For some reason, though, he is afraid of everything. If he hears an unexpected noise or a piece of furniture is not where it was before, his eyes reflect sheer terror as he runs into the bathroom and jumps in the tub. You will find him there shivering. It is so surprising because Taj is larger than all the other dogs and barks at anyone who comes into the yard. He can hear a moose or other animal from inside the house. He's very protective and lets you know, YOU need to do something. Not him.

My favorite thing is when Taj follows me on my walks down the driveway. He's not that interested in exercising but he is interested in staying by my side. Once he followed me down the entire driveway and back (three miles) and he slept and rested for two days. I feel well warned in advance when he growls softly and the hair stands up on the back of his neck. When that happens I know there is an animal or danger close by. He looks formidable, but looks are deceiving. I'm not sure what he would do if we were attacked. Probably expect me to do something, but I appreciate the early notice.

Jen says she and Rick will make a dog-lover out of me eventually. Don't tell her, but they already have. When I'm in the house alone with them, I move their beds into my room. Not because I want them there (tongue in cheek) but because they aren't crying at my door. (Now they just open the door and come in. I guess we are buds.)

My two shadows are my heroes and champions. Why? Because I think I'm theirs.

It's a Jungle Out There

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