Life with Forty Dogs: Misadventures with Runts, Rejects, Retirees, and Rescues

Life with Forty Dogs: Misadventures with Runts, Rejects, Retirees, and Rescues

by Joseph Robertia


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From award-winning writer and photographer Joseph Robertia, Life with Forty Dogs is a collection of the funny, fascinating, and sometimes heartbreaking stories of the life-changing canine commitment he and his family made.

When Robertia and his wife, Cole, first entered the world of dog sledding in Alaska, they had never expected to have their household grow up to forty dogs—“primarily rogues, runts, and rejects from other kennels.” But quickly they found their lives inextricably intertwined with each dog they rescued as they learned each one’s unique character and personality and how irreplaceable each was for their team and for their family.

This book is an invitation to understand the essence of life with forty dogs in its entirety and, through that comprehension, to truly appreciate what Robertia sees every day. Not everyone can sacrifice their spare time, salaries, and sanity to get to know so many characters—from the well-mannered to the wily—but Life with Forty Dogs will reveal the endless adventures and misadventures that come to those like Robertia and his family who have dedicated themselves to their furry companions.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943328918
Publisher: West Margin Press
Publication date: 04/04/2017
Pages: 230
Sales rank: 414,829
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

For the past fourteen years Joseph Robertia has been an award-winning writer and photographer. He spent more than a decade as an outdoors reporter at the Peninsula Clarion newspaper and currently writes for the Sports & Outdoors section of the Alaska Dispatch News—the state's largest newspaper. In recent years he has freelanced as a professional journalist with articles and photographs published in Alaska Magazine, Mushing Magazine, Salmon Trout Steelheader, and in Alaska 50: Celebrating Alaska’s 50th Anniversary of Statehood, just to name a few. Along with his wife, he has mushed dogs with his kennel fielding teams in the 1,000-mile lditarod, Yukon Quest, and more than thirty other races.

Read an Excerpt


“No more stories at the pound,” Cole pleaded, as I walked in cradling the newest addition to the kennel, one of several in recent months to join our ranks after being abandoned or surrendered at the local animal shelter.

My wife’s statement came partially in jest, since I always consulted her by phone beforehand, but like me, she found it difficult if not impossible to say “no” to a dog once we had actually experienced face-to-face contact. The animal’s anonymity dissolved, no longer a static mugshot on a computer screen or newspaper ad with the words “For Adoption” over its picture. Peering into the eyes of a hopeful inmate at the pound – in fur and flesh – made them more real, made their plight more painful to ignore, made their prospect for living or dying an at-hand decision. In these moments, disregarding the opportunity to save a dog was inconceivable.

“We’re running out of room,” Cole said.

She wasn’t wrong. At the time we didn’t even own our home or property. We were living on half-an-acre of land, renting a cabin with the same interior cubic-square-footage and charm of a small submarine. In that one-room residence existed all our worldly possessions: a frameless futon mattress that served as the bed, a folding card table with two metal chairs for eating dinner and hosting company, a 12-inch television that picked up (if you squinted) one channel, one pot, one pan, one tea kettle, two sets of silverware, and a box with all our clothes.

In addition, we already allowed half-a-dozen dogs to live inside with us, including Ping and Pong – two others who originated from the pound a few weeks earlier. While working on a story on pet adoptions for the local newspaper, I spied the tiny pup we would later name Ping at the back of one of the sterile runs made of chainlink and concrete. Fuzzy, gray, and seemingly oblivious to the mere days she had left if not adopted, I felt my heart not so much melt, as turn gooey with empathetic emotions. Her appearance also reminded me – almost exactly – of Goliath, a dog we had acquired a few months earlier, but whose cookie-sweet personality had won me over.

At the close of the workday I sped home to plead my case to Cole. She capitulated, but when I returned to the pound the next morning the tiny pup now snuggled with a full-grown, but otherwise identical version of itself, which to my dismay I found out was its mother.

“Yesterday, we had them separated briefly for cleaning, but they came in together,” said the shelter manager, a lanky, mustached man with a 1,000-yard stare I assume he developed from the same post-traumatic stress that causes it in soldiers – seeing too much death.

“They’re not a package deal, but it’d be great if they went together,” he added.

I stood dumbfounded, time pooling in the present as my mind worked through the decision it now had to make. I hadn’t come for two dogs, nor did I desire to leave with two, but how could I live with myself if I only took home this pup, severed the bond between it and the only creature that unconditionally loved it till that point, and potentially doomed the mother to death by lethal injection should she hit the end of her allotted time span for adoption?

I knew I couldn’t, and by the gleam in the shelter manager’s eye, I think he knew it too. I called Cole to briefly explain these new circumstances.

“Well, saving the pup and killing the mom isn’t my definition of a rescue,” she said.

With that approval, not only did Ping come home, so did her mother, who we named Pong.

Weeks later, when I returned to the pound for a follow-up story, I distinctly felt like a mark whose emotions the shelter manager knew could be played like a fish on the end of a line.

“Well, while you’re here, take a look at this one. She may be a good fit for your program,” he said, his arm on my shoulder, steering me to my future furry acquisition.

Table of Contents


A Rogues’ Gallery
Doubter and Goliath
Horsing Around
The Religion of Dog
Shit Outta Luck
The Great Escape
A Maternal Metoo
Not Office Material
A Mean, Mischief-Making Monster
From Muskrats to Moose
A Broken Limb, but Never a Broken Spirit
What the Raven Showed Me
Rescue You, Rescue Me
Dog-Truck Dilemma
Hammer to the Heart
The Race Isn’t the Only Obstacle



The driving force of sharing these stories is also to give readers a glimpse of what it’s like to truly live a half-feral Alaskan lifestyle as we have and still do, so they can vicariously experience and comprehend the magnitude of responsibility, and all the joy, pain, and myriad other emotions, that come from the fabric of a life threaded through and through by the fur of forty dogs.

We don’t own our dogs; they are a part of us, our lives inextricably intertwined. For those who spend more time around people than animals, this is a tough concept to comprehend. Looking at a yard full of high-strung huskies, most outsiders to our world don’t see the individuals, distinctly dissimilar from each other. To most folks, they’re merely different sized and colored canines. They don’t see what we see. They don’t understand the unique personalities or our shared histories with each one. But this is a chance to see it all.

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