Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Next Day

What ever day the last one was written, this blog is about the next day Helen and I drove back to Denali to see the sled dog demonstration. Denali National Park keeps three teams of ten dogs for sled duty throughout the winter. They break trails and patrol for people who also use the National Park to run their dog sleds, so the park is actually open 12 months a year. They are also used to move equipment and supplies into "wilderness" designated areas. Such areas do not allow motorized equipment like snowmobiles or tractors, so dog sleds are the only recourse. We were given a comprehensive report on what it's like to run the dogs in the winter and I was impressed. They always got out in teams of at least two and are in constant communication with the base. Each "musher" has a two-way radio so they can communicate between sleds and between a sled and the base. Additionally, each carries a satellite phone in case of a real emergency.

All of the dogs were "mellow". They are handled frequently from when first born and enjoy human interaction. They appear to be inert as we approached the dog kennels, but we were told that's because it's so hot to them. They are happiest when it's very cold. In the the middle of winter, they generally do not sleep in their dog house, preferring to curl up in the snow with their tail protecting their nose and snout. While we were there there was not a bark or any noise at all from the dogs, until the staff picked five dogs to pull the sled for the demonstration. Then, all heck broke loose as ALL the dogs wanted to pull the sled. The girl, Emily Iaccabucci from Massachusetts, told us that they are the same all winter. Whenever it's time to run the sled, the dogs become very active. I've heard that several times before. I once worked with a guy from Alaska who had a dog team and he said that they are a different breed of dog and they live to run the sled.

Emily also explained the Husky sled dog. There is now a dog known as the Alaskan Husky, but it's not what really developed as a sled dog. Originally, the early people in the gold rush and settlement days wanted the biggest, strongest dog who would pull the sled. The "Husky" is what resulted from the interbreeding of all these sled dogs. Now, they only pick the dogs who truly want to run and have the disposition to get along with the other dogs and with people.

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