Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore own and operate SP Kennel – a premier Alaskan Husky sled dog kennel in Two Rivers, Alaska. We are dedicated to our individual dogs through excellent health, nutrition, training and care.
Aliy races the Red Team and Allen races the Black Team. The goals and strategies for each team vary from race to race, so any dogs may run on either team at any time. We strive to be the best we can through complete dedication to our canine teammates and to our sport. We are also committed to the Alaskan community that has given us unwavering support and incredible encouragement through the years.
After a racing career – whether it be long or short – our dogs retire and are placed in carefully screened and selected homes. The dogs then live out the rest of their lives in situations and homes that are suited to their personalities and traits. Many of our dogs transition to a “couch life” easily. Active dogs who still need to run — but not the number of miles involved in our racing program — are placed with highly qualified “dog first” recreational mushers world wide. These retired Iditarod and Yukon Quest veterans spend the rest of their lives doing what their genetics have taught them in a relaxed, enjoyable “pet home” atmosphere.
The HISTORY of SP Kennel
Aliy adopted a 9 year old Alaskan Husky named Skunk just prior to her first winter living above the Arctic Circle. She wanted to share the cold nights with a dog – a husky seemed a natural choice. Skunk was recently retired from a dog team that worked a trap line in northwestern Alaska. Before meeting Aliy, Skunk had known no luxuries. She sewed him a harness and built her first sled. Skunk became her lead dog. While Skunk taught Aliy the basics of dog mushing, in return, Aliy taught Skunk about the luxuries of life. The duo spent some fantastic years together and traveled in and around Alaska by dog sled. They also traveled to the Lower 48 one summer in a small Chevy truck visiting friends and family.
Skunk, Aliy, and a growing team of primarily adopted Alaskan huskies, lived in the small village of Bettles for four years before moving to Two Rivers. Upon entering her first distance race, Aliy was asked for the name of her kennel. She had none. Since it had all started for her with one very special, big furry black and white companion she wrote “Skunk’s Place” on the race application. It has been many years since Skunk has passed on, but he will always be the kennel’s namesake. Now the name has been abbreviated to SP Kennel.
The KENNEL SET UP
SP Kennel is tucked away on the southern border of the community of Two Rivers which is 25 miles east of Fairbanks. The neighborhood is sled dog friendly with many dog teams for recreation, sport, and racing. The Two Rivers community center is Pleasant Valley Store and Post Office. There is also a laundromat, coffee shop, restaurant and hair salon. Two Rivers School has 90 students, grades kindergarten to 8th grade.
Aliy built the main house at SP Kennel using start up funds from her mother and father and all of her race winning from the Yukon Quest. She manually built all parts of the original house including: laying the concrete block basement, wood framing, insulation, siding, drywall, roofing, and building the septic system. The only projects that she choose to hire out by professionals were drilling the well and painting the interior of the house. Since that time, Aliy and Allen have improved and expanded upon their property. Allen has added on to the main house and included some luxuries that were not there in the beginning.
There are other kennel facilities and outbuildings on the 10 acre property. SP Kennel can easily house 60 dogs, in individual houses or in a dog barn with individual indoor / outdoor runs. There is a garage with an attached dog room. This houses a whelping space, indoor puppy pen, feed area and an exam room. There is also a ‘human’ fitness center with a treadmill, Bowflex, elliptical and pull up bar. There are two outbuildings for visitors, helpers, or guests: Moira’s Mansion (formally known as Randy’s Shed) and the Handler Cabin.
The LIFESTYLE at SP Kennel
SP Kennel dog mushing lifestyle has three distinct seasons:
There is a natural build up every year to the Racing Season. The Pre Season (September to November) is the time of the year to get everything organized. These months are packed full of training, chores, and a “to do” list a thousand points long.
SP Kennel dogs are put back into harness training and conditioning after the summer Off Season. This physical and mental build up for an SP Kennel canine athlete is slow and consistent. The day temperatures can still be warm during the autumn months, so training time starts well before sunrise: prior to 6AM. All puppies, yearlings, and mature adults are back in the hustle and bustle of a working sled dog’s life. Along with this fitness routine, the dogs are again weighed and examined regularly. Notes and databases are kept up to date daily.
Along with training the dogs, the mushers need to get back in shape. Even though the summer Off Season was busy, maintaining a musher’s peak fitness is not always a priority. The kennel workout room is busy again.
The Pre Season “to do” list is seemingly endless: fixing ATVs and vehicles, building sleds, hauling dog food, fish, and meat, and sorting all the dog supplies. Just before freeze up every year, all the dogs and houses are moved out of the yard and the area is bulldozed. The houses are pressure washed, painted and prepared for another winter. Straw bedding is also an important autumn acquisition – it will be cold again soon.
Sponsorship starts in earnest every year on October 1st. This is an exciting time of the year when fans and friends can “Get Involved” and show their support on the SP Kennel website. The SPK Dog Log is a year round blog but it ramps up in October with fun new productions, Join the Team programs and everybody’s favorite: the Dog Fan Club.
Each October a photographer friend of SP Kennel comes for three intense days of Dog Portraits. The garage is set up like a studio and every dog is spiffed up for their seasonal profile picture. There are also the more authentic Fan Club photos to be taken and processed at a separate time.
The Pre Season is the time when Aliy and Allen plan the races and logistics needed to successfully involve all of the SP Kennel dogs in competition. How exactly will they pull it off this year? The SPK Crew is a constantly evolving and growing family. They are incredibly important when it comes to planning ahead and actually getting this accomplished.
The Racing Season (December to April) is the culmination of everything: a year of constant brainstorming and thought, acting and reacting on plans and ideas, constantly revising and improving everything. All with complete and utter dedication.
The saving grace is that by the time the Racing Season has arrived – when all the brainstorming, planning, acting, reacting and “go, go, go” has come to an end – there is only one thing left: Competition.
While racing the Copper Basin 300, Yukon Quest, or the Iditarod nothing else matters. It all comes down to one thing. Only one priority. One thing to worry about: the dog team and its speedy journey down the race route. No phone calls or emails. No thoughts about the kennel. No family, sponsors, fans, puppies, geriatric dogs, vet bills, fixing sleds, broken dog trucks, dog food deliveries, train rides… none of that. Only one thing. Racing becomes the center of both of our mushers’ worlds. That is why they can live and enjoy the lifestyle they do. And that is why they are successful.
During the Off Season summer months (May to August) in interior Alaska the daytime temperatures can be quite warm. Since Alaskan huskies overheat easily, the dogs are not run in harness during this time. Summer time is “downtime” for SP Kennel sled dogs.
In the summer time, SP Kennel sled dogs act like “normal” dogs. Groups of 5 to 8 go on unleashed dog walks with one or more people. These one to two hour long dog walks are adventures to unpopulated trails nearby – often to a pond or river. The dogs are also rotated through designated Play Pens at the kennel. These various sized fenced in yards have bones, Kongs, tires, and more bones. Each day, two or three individuals rotate through the pens. The dogs play, chew ones, dig holes, chase their tails and generally act like dogs. SP Kennel keeps a dog walk and Play Pen schedule, so that every dog gets enough summertime exercise.
Off Season is not necessarily “downtime” for the mushers. Public outreach and sponsorships opportunities are a focus during this time of year. For instance, Aliy and Allen work as Dog Mushing presentation guides for Holland America Princess Cruises on the Alaska Railroad throughout the summer. While riding a train through the Alaska Range Mountains, Aliy and Allen shares stories and answer questions about Alaska’s state sport. During the summer, the mushers also attend Meet & Greet events, Alaskan summer celebrations, and community fundraisers. SP Kennel’s primary sponsors Matson and Verizon schedule events and opportunities for Aliy and Allen to stay in touch with their company employees. A dog musher is often difficult to track down in the winter – so summer is when many appearances happen.
Off Season is also the time of year to work on the kennel property. Does the kennel need a new dog hauler? How many dog houses should be built this year? Are the guest cabins still in good shape? Property management and maintenance are constant.
During the summer months, Aliy and Allen also travel. Staying in touch with family that lives in the Lower 48 is, of course, important. They also travel worldwide to dog mushing seminars and visit kennels. They have traveled throughout the US, Europe, and Scandinavia speaking about sled dog sports. Next on the list: New Zealand.
Off season can be as full as a person can make it.