One of the highlights of my recent Alaska cruise was our afternoon excursion from Skagway to the Musher’s Camp for a sled dog ride and a chance to hold a puppy. Wild horses couldn’t have prevented me from going.
Our guide for the day was a young man from South Carolina named Jay, or J-dot as he liked to be called. He drove us out to the musher’s camp in a national forest outside Skagway. It’s a beautiful rural area, as you can see in this photo.
Four teams of sled dogs awaited us, some of them barking madly, apparently ready to run! Now if you’re expecting to see photos of beautiful purebred Siberian or Malamute huskies, you’ll be disappointed. The dogs used for sled racing in Alaska are mixed breed. The mushers breed huskies with other breeds that are bred for speed, like greyhounds. What they get is a Heinz 57 of mixed breeds of various colors, including some with blue eyes, though the body type is typically long and lean. (Huskies are good for expeditions where strength is more important than speed.)
Each team was made up of an experienced sled dog paired with a younger dog, typically about eleven months old. The dogs are harness on either side of a trace that runs down the middle of the dogs to the sled. Once they got started, it wasn’t difficult to figure out which ones were the newbie. One of them jumped a little too high and ended up straddling the middle trace. He didn’t look too comfortable.
At one point, the vehicle slowed a bit and I saw that one of the dogs had paused to do his business. Others just lifted their leg out to the side, and not always the outward side! I imagine they had to be hosed down at the end of the day. We were all laughing during the run. The kicker was when one of the dogs jumped over the middle trace to hump the dog next to him. That had everyone laughing. What can I say? Dogs being dogs.
When we got back to the camp, we watched a short presentation about running the Iditarod. Then came the high point of the trip for many, esp. the children (of all ages) in the group. We got to hold two-week old puppies. Charlie Brown was right: Happiness is a warm puppy.
Another litter was taking a nap. I love the way they sleep all piled on top of each other. They really are pack animals from birth.