Dog Runner by Don H. Meredith copyright © 2004
Second edition (2004)
Authors Choice Press
Winner: 1990 Writers Guild of Alberta Award
for Excellence in Children's Literature
Canadian Book Review Annual, 1989. "Throughout this well-written adventure story, Native legends are skilfully interwoven, and Jim's relationship with his dogs is poignantly portrayed."
Calgary Herald, 1989. "Each of the dogs has a distinct, believable personality, and human and animal interactions ring true to life. Dog Runner is a special book."
The second edition of Dog Runner can be ordered on-line through Don's Bookstore.
Jim Redcrow is a Métis teenager who helps his father and uncle run a trapline in northern Alberta. As part of his duties, Jim maintains the family dog team that is used to haul supplies to and from the trapline. This chapter opens at the end of a very rough day for Jim. After all but losing a fight with a school yard bully, he comes home to find his father selling part of his dog team. After breaking up the sale, Jim learns from his father that they can no longer afford to keep the dogs. It is all too much for one day . . .
Excerpt from Chapter 3
Like phantoms in the moonlight, the dark and light faces appeared and disappeared among the shadows. The thin light played tricks with the wolf masks blending eyes, ears, and snouts with the mottled greys and creams of tree trunks and branches. The mind teased out the familiar faces only to lose them again in shifting shadow and light.
They reminded Jim of his grandfather's stories about forest spirits that turned themselves into wolves, bears, or men, whenever they wanted.
But these were not forest spirits. They were huskies, mixed descendants of a breed his grandfather's people had developed over the centuries. They were as real as the bare earth he was sitting on in the dog lot. And they were special. Like tonight, they did not complain about the lack of a run with the cart. Jim believed they understood how he was feeling. Maybe it was the cuts and bruises on his face they had tried to lick when he fed them, or maybe it was the incident with the Braddocks. But they whined in sympathy and tried to comfort him.
Now, sitting with Bell's head in his lap and stroking her deep fur, Jim felt very relaxed, as if all that had happened this day had been a dream, that it wasn't important. Running with the team was important! Running through fields in summer, with the cart in fall, with the sled in winter. Running just to be with them, to share their love of running.
He moved his eyes from one husky to the next. Diamond, the white-and-brown leader, lay regally on his flat-top box and stared at Jim without flinching or looking away. Gemka and Dozer, the two veteran wheel dogs who could pull a two-hundred-kilogram sled out of a snowbank without blinking an eye, proudly sat by their boxes and caught Jim's eyes head-on. And Bandit, Hobo, and all the others who didn't know how to quit lay or sat watching Jim.
And Bell, thought Jim, looking down at the dog who ran at point and kept the leaders moving. She never turned down a fight.
"It isn't fair," he shouted.
"Just because you can't pay your way is no reason to die."
Bell's eyes flashed with sudden fire. She whined her concern.
"It's just not fair!" He stood up and walked to the shed behind the empty fenced runs.
The moon lit the tall spruce trees behind in a ghostly light. Dark branches glared in a pale light and disappeared in black shadow. A shiver ran up his spine even though he knew there was nothing to fear.
Inside, while cleaning up, he noticed the price on one of the twenty-kilogram bags of dog food: $19.95. He knew his father got about a forty percent discount off that because he bought in bulk from the wholesaler.
Taking a chewed-up pencil out of his shirt pocket, he began to figure on the plywood wall. "Let's see, $19.95 rounded off is $20, less forty percent comes to $12. It takes about three days to go through one bag. Three into thirty is ten bags a month. Yeah, that's about right. So that's . . . $120 a month. Holy crow! And that doesn't include vet bills, or sled repairs, or anything! It must cost . . . let's see . . . well over $1,440 a year to keep these dogs."
Suddenly he felt every punch Rolf had given him. In despair, he slid down the corner of the shed to the floor, turning off the light switch on his way down. A shaft of bright, creamy moonlight streamed through the one small window on the east wall. It gave the stacked sacks of food, the freezers, and the hanging sleds, ropes, and harnesses an eerie character.
As he tried to think of a way to cut costs or make the trapping pay, the shadows of the sleds suspended from the ceiling moved slowly across the wall as the moon continued its excursion through the sky. The patterns thrown by the strips of birch wood that made up each sled distorted the room, making it impossible to distinguish fact from phantom.
Then ever so slowly , the shadow of a hook supporting a half-dozen nylon harnesses appeared to be a driver running a weightless sled across some ancient snowfield. It reminded Jim of a story his grandfather had told about how the first sleds had been made by his ancestors eons ago.
Now the ephemeral sled and driver looked so real to Jim's tired mind that he found himself climbing on board to ride as a passenger in its freight basket. He leaned with the speechless driver as the latter guided the sled around turns through some dark, forgotten forest. Unable to see the dogs ahead in the darkness, he turned to question the driver. But no one was riding the runners. Who was guiding the sled?
He awoke suddenly to find himself staring at the harnesses hanging on the north wall. The shadows of the sled had long since moved on.
A pack of coyotes began howling out of the northwest. He couldn't help but feel they were laughing at him. He scrambled to his feet and quickly made his exit to the familiar comfort of the trailer.
From the back cover of the 1st edition
Jim is fighting for his own survival and for the survival of his dogs. He has entered a gruelling three-day race to win the money he needs to keep his team together. Pushed to the limits of his endurance, he is tempted to win at all costs. Only when disaster strikes does he realize the price may be too high.
In this powerful first novel, author Don Meredith combines the mystic world of native legend with the harsh realities of survival to create a compelling tale of adventure and coming of age in the stark landscape of the North.