Joe and Cathy Law founded Sundog Media in 1996. Our story begins after we left Moscow, Idaho to not only seek out an adventure to Alaska but also to recommit our lives to God. It is hard to believe that this was so many years ago and now so many kids ago (5 boys). Cathy and I feel very strongly that our Christian faith and values need to be a prominent part of our business and act as the compass for guiding our decisions. It is important that you understand a little of what makes this company and the founders tick. We often define success in very non-traditional ways and, although we don’t always get it perfectly, we strive to apply Christian biblical principles to all aspects of this company. Our company name spelled backwards even reads “God N Us” almost like it was on purpose.
Like any good story, it is best to start in the beginning… when my world was much smaller and my family was even smaller yet. My wife, Cathy, and I were living in Troy, Idaho – a small northern town not far from the University of Idaho where we met. Moscow, Idaho had been my home since I was 12. Cathy was working for the Washington State Auditor’s Office and I was bouncing around between house painting, artwork and spending a lot of time as a volunteer fireman and EMT on the local volunteer department.
Neither of us was satisfied with the life we were living – both from a spiritual and relational standpoint. Although we did have good times, we knew we were not living Christlike lives. In addition, like many others, we were up to ears in debt. What looked like a good life on the outside was truly a just a face for the world and didn’t reflect truth.
Anyway, one weekend, Cathy’s office sent her to Seattle for a training seminar focused on helping the people make a plan for their career – sort of a vision session. The speaker challenged Cathy to look at her dreams. Homework was assigned & being a high achiever she is, she determined to complete it. I had come with her so we talked about our dreams as a couple. As we discussed the speaker’s challenge, we realized we weren’t fulfilled because we had too small a vision for who we were and what our purpose in life was. We find it rather ironic that Cathy’s office sent her to a conference that was pivotal in her resignation shortly thereafter.
North To Alaska
We were not quite sure exactly where we would head, or what we would do, but we knew we needed a life change and adventure. We also knew that Alaska would be somehow part of that adventure. The brand new house we built and lived in for just short of a year sold in 3 days. We had a garage sale and sold 90% of our possessions, all without a real plan of how, when, or where we were headed. In hind site, I wish we would have simply biked up the Alcan. However, we used our money, purchased a used Ford F-250 and a 26 foot Cobra Sierra trailer, and headed out. We received varied responses from those we shared our dreaming with. Most commented. “You What?!!!” “You gave up a perfectly good State Job to do What!?” “You’re crazy!” “What will you do for work?!” And of course, a very few said, “Good for you. Go, live an adventure. I wish I was coming with you.” It was an amazing time of fear, excitement, and a sense of the unknown. It was just what we needed but hadn’t realized it until we were doing it.
Although I am not a preacher; the story is not complete if I don’t include that a big part of this adventure and life change was connected with a renewed desire to follow Christ and to depend on Him in a more real, day to day manner. I often find people are surprised to find that God is not some huge Cosmic Kill Joy but actually cares about our dreams and, in fact, Jesus Himself said that He came so that we might have life and to have it fully. John 10:10
We staged our trip at Cathy’s parent’s farm in northern Washington. We spent a week preparing our trailer and our hearts for the adventure up the highway. I can not describe how big this trip was for us. At the time, driving 80 miles to Spokane, WA seemed like a massive road trip and our one trip to Yellowstone seemed like an African Safari compared to the life we lived consisting of small towns and clear cuts. In fact, my mentor was a self described “Stump Jumper” that had never flown in an airplane and had never been out of the Pacific Northwest.
Our original thought was to travel the whole U.S. and end in Alaska. However, as we progressed with planning we both felt that Alaska was the most important & financially we should start with the priority. We calculated… (Cathy is an accountant!) We had about 2-4 months of money before we would have to sell the trailer or get a job so that we could make ends meet. That settled it!
The Trip Up…
If you have never traveled the Alaska Highway, it is a lifetime must do. There are amazing stretches of forest and mountains without the usual markings of roads and clear cuts. You will be blessed with a constant change in wild life and scenery that, by itself, makes the trip worth while. As we traveled, each mile closer to Alaska we realized that the goal of reaching Alaska was now a big deal. We sensed a little of what the early explorers must have felt when they came to Alaska in search of gold, furs, and land.
‘So, you mean you have never caught a salmon before?’ My new boss, Mark Miller of the Talaheim Lodge, asked with an incredulous expression on his face. He assessed this new detail. Nope, but I have caught a lot of rainbow and brook trout with worms and hooks back in the small streams of Idaho…..
3 weeks earlier I had responded to a newspaper ad as we sat eating a burger in Palmer, newly converted Alaskans. It read: ‘Looking for for a couple to work at a remote fishing and hunting lodge on the Talachulitna River.’
After a quick and cordial phone call, we were invited to lunch to meet the owner. That evening we had dinner at his house so his wife could meet us and they could make their decision. Over a few glasses of wine we were offered the job. I was to meet Mark at Lake Hood in 2 weeks to fly out to prepare the Lodge for guests. Cathy and our 2 English Springer Spaniels, “Outlaw” and “Rainy”, would come out a week later by a Beaver on floats. The next day I met Mark at the airport to help him for the day working on his helicopter. He took me up for a test run. At the time, I didn’t realize he was testing to see if I got airsick; which explained the crazy maneuvers he was doing. Later he told me he had a guide that was constantly sick in the air. He finally had to just send the guide home and didn’t want to go through that again.
So, when I answered ‘No’ to catching a salmon, he added another interview question to his extensive list. To remedy the problem we jumped in his Cessna 180 and flew down to the Skwenta River where the kings were starting to come into the Tal. We spent the entire day fishing together. I ended up catching 2 Kings, my first Alaskan Salmon, and by golly, one week later I was an official Alaskan Fishing Guide entertaining a group of fishing clients flown in by Dehaviland Beaver.
It was a summer of adventure and learning for both of us. I guided from early in the morning until late every evening. As a guide, I shared a wonderful full course 5 star meal each evening with clients. Cathy learned to cook Alaska style and cleaned cabins. She now knows that she does not want to run a lodge. She did, however, keep a wonderful attitude and grew quite a bit in the experience. I received most of my training from a then baby faced Luke Miller, the boss’ 14 year old son, who truly was a master at running jet boats, rafts, fishing and is now a full time Beaver pilot. Clients would want to ride with me because of my perceived experience but the reality was this 14 year old was twice the guide. He was gracious and willingly trained me. I humbly accepted.
Many amazing experiences came from that summer – A brown bear almost ate one of my older clients, I almost shook hands with a black bear, and many amazing and majestic images still flood my mind and soul as I reflect back on the experience. Some people come to Alaska and never really see it. Here I was, 80 miles from town, working at a fly in only lodge, and exploring new places by helicopter, float planes, jet boats and rafts each week.
Although we were invited to come back the following summer we both knew that the guide life was not one that fit our skills and abilities. We headed back to Anchorage to see what the next adventure would be.
Our Sundog Media Story….
That fall, Cathy took a job as an accountant again and I gave my training a go, making a living as an artist. It only took a couple months sitting in a 26 foot travel trailer with winter setting in for me to realize that I needed to find work outside those 4 walls. I started looking for a job and found an ad looking for a graphic design company to take over publishing a weekly real estate newspaper called “Real Estate This Week.” I was awarded the contract and given an office as part of the deal. My degree, a B.F.A in Art with an emphasis in Drawing and Graphics, helped me feel pretty much at home designing and my company, then called “Alaskan Freelance Graphics,” quickly grew to the point I was doing more work for other clients than I was doing the paper. This created conflict I didn’t want to cause so I moved my business home. It has been growing ever since. Alaskan Freelance Graphics was ridiculously long so I decided to re-name our company. I say ‘our’ because by this time Cathy had started to work with me for less pay, no benefits and a considerable amount of typical boss harassment. During a visit by my parents, we rented a motor home to tour the state with the goal: think up a new & better company name. One night I woke up in a cold sweat with the name Sundog Media on my mind. We have been Sundog Media ever since.
What is a Sundog? — A Sundog forms when incoming sunlight is refracted through ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere, creating the image of two brilliant spots on either side of the sun (thus our logo). We often liken the 3 brilliant lights forming one Sundog with a spiritual interpretation reflecting the relationship of God, the Father, Son & Holy Spirit as well.
Along with growing our business we were also growing our family. We were blessed with 2 sons, Caleb Hunter Law and Joshua Fisher Law. For our 20th wedding anniversary we were surprised with Triplets. Yep, you hear that correctly TRIPLETS, Daniel Boone, Gabriel Gunner and Josiah Trapper. So now multiples run in our family and we have 5 boys; truly the biggest blessing in life.
I digressed… As our business stabilized, we were once again ready to spend as much time as we could exploring. Feeling we’d done about as much as we could from Alaska’s road system, we bought a boat to see what remote Alaska had to offer from the water. Our first boat was a 16 foot Achilles inflatable with a 48 hp Johnson and in it we spent many enjoyable hours exploring Prince William Sound, Resurrection Bay and Kachemak Bay and an occasional interior lake. Once our eldest was born however, we wanted the comfort and protection that a cabin boat had to offer. The search lead us to a C-dory cabin cruiser; a 22 foot boat with room for all of us to sleep and it was love at first sight. Of course the only sensible name was the “Sundog”. Thus started our many Sundog Voyages. Since 2002, we have spent hundreds of days on the water. Caleb spent more than a year of his first 9 years out in Prince William Sound which probably accounts for some of his swimming skills. We still make it a goal to spend 45 days each year exploring God’s handiwork and sharing our experiences. Many of the photos we have taken over the years can be viewed at our Flickr account.
Since 1996, we have seen our business in Alaska grow as well as our family. We feel blessed to be able to live, work, and play right here in Alaska.
Joe, Cathy, Caleb, Joshua, Daniel, Gabriel, Josiah