“Is that a wolf?”
“These are Hedlund Huskies, actually. They come from Points Unknown, an educational sled dog adventure business in Hovland, Minnesota on the Arrowhead Trail.”
This is the repeated phrase used in town when we take the dogs out to meet with people and be socialized. Many mistake the dogs for wolves, as they’re large and some do in fact look pretty wolf-like. Points Unknown is dedicated to educating the public in the Hedlund Husky story and keeping the line running. They hold the largest number of Hedlund’s in the world with a kennel of 30 or so. Points Unknown leads adventure tours, which includes basic training in sled dog life and a ride, usually in the basket. You can learn to run a team if you sign on for a multiple day adventure.
These dogs came out of Alaska in the mid-1900’s and were bred for running trap-lines for subsistence living. They are a very versatile bunch, with the ability to amp energy up to drag freight (Linda, the boss of the outfit, has clocked them running at least 22 miles an hour), but become calm and docile while waiting in rig. As a result, not only are these dogs ideal working dogs, but they can also be good house dogs.
Summer life with the dogs is a quiet and calm one, with a focus on bonding and playtime. We, the interns, have a focus on the dogs and establishing relationships with the dogs so that in the fall and winter runs the dogs will know us well enough to listen and carry out the verbal commands given in training. We are also fixing kennels and learning and maintaining the trail systems.
I get up at 6 in the morning to let out the house dogs, then crawl back to bed for an hour or so before true wake up call, when I make food for myself and prep pills for those dogs who take medication. We start feed at 8 AM and clean the kennels as we go. The kennel is set up so that the dogs do not live on chains, but have kennels and a kennelmate if they get along with another dog (only one does not get along with others and has to live in his own kennel). Most days the dogs are then let out in hour and a half play groups and the rotation begins. They have ample room to run and play and we will brush and examine them in between cleaning up the yard, such as checking for scat and inspecting fences.
On the occasional day we do things differently, we will take peanut butter and dip their Nyla-bones in it so they have a little enrichment while we go out of the area, usually with a few dogs to hike with. So far I have been to Mount Josephine, Grand Portage, Mink Mountain, High Falls (both the US and Canadian side), and a state park up the road. Canicross is a lot of fun, and also a lot different from normal hiking. The dog attachment is very helpful ascending, but very…strenuous in the descent.
We feed the dogs around 4 PM once again for evening meals, and then finish whatever we need to in the yard before coming in to either make dinner or wait for it (we do dinners in rotations). We tell each other what we’ve been working on during the day, and check in on certain dogs and how things are coming along.
There is one other intern at the moment sharing a bunk with me. Amy got here last Sunday and we’ve been getting along very well, especially when we’re trying to get Phoenix to cuddle up in the bed with us as we watch tv shows on our laptop, courtesy of the local library. She is from England and it’s been a lot of fun learning, believe it or not, cultural differences. Michelle, who will be coming the day after I leave, also came up last week for a visit to check things out. We all went to a local Pow Wow and canicrossed with the dogs. I’m sorry I can’t work with both of them this winter season.
The night eventually ends with nighttime pills for the dogs that need them. I’m a little old lady at heart, and like my 9:30 PM bedtime, so generally I’m curled up after 8:30 with a book or a movie.
I set myself up with several goals while I’m here, like diving into Lake Superior, which I’ve done. Gotta tell ya, it’s very cold. I want to swim across Esther Lake and back. While the swim won’t be more than a hundred yards or so across, it will be cold and a little unnerving to me (I do not like it when I can’t see the bottom). Amy has agreed to do it with me, so one of these days while it is still warm we’ll be heading out to the lake. We’ve even called loons there and been answered; Michelle is very good at it.
It has been a good interaction with the sled dog world, a world many animal advocates tend to balk at because there are so many horror stories out there. My own dogs have taught me over the last few years that the sport is fun and a good way to alleviate stress all around, and I wanted to delve further into this world to see how a chainless kennel runs. I have even been able to add some new skills to the list at Points Unknown, teaching how to clean teeth to my fellow interns and soon my boss. The dogs are happy, lovely, kind souls, and I am very happy to be learning here.