“It is so important for kids to be outside and to connect with nature,” says Karin Grenier. “And one way to do that is for them to interact with dogs and dog sledding.”

Grenier and her partner Normand Casavant run Casaventures, a dog sledding operation with 39 dogs (and two cats) on the Annie Lake Road. Casavant has more than 25 years of mushing experience under his belt, including two Yukon Quests and a third on the way for this year’s 30th anniversary race. Grenier has been working with dogs for 12 years and focuses on training young pups. Their passion for dog sledding reaches far beyond the regular race circuit and all the way into Yukon schools.

“We bring the dogs right into the classrooms,” says Grenier. “It’s usually pretty funny because some of the dogs will hop right up on the students’ desks because they closely resemble their dog houses — the students always get really excited.”

Grenier and Casavant give presentations to interested classrooms about how you work with dogs. Students do everything from putting booties and harnesses on, to learning how to massage the dogs, to talking about proper exercise and diet.

“We talk about the dogs as athletes and link our messages about exercise and diet to the children’s lifestyles and their physical education programs,” explains Grenier.

“The biggest messages we strive to drive home though, are those surrounding our connection to nature, the importance of immersing ourselves in the outdoors, and how dogs can help us do that.”

Students and teachers also have the opportunity to join Grenier and Casavant at Annie Lake to work with the dogs. Younger students take part in half and full-day programming, while some high school classes, such as students at Wood Street School, work with the dogs for two days.

“The students help us in all aspects of running the kennels,” explains Grenier. “They massage dogs, they clean kennels, they learn how to approach the dogs, how to talk to them, and yes, they get the opportunity for a dog sled ride, but that’s really the cherry on the cake.”

Casaventures has even more ambitious goals for the future.

“Our long-term dream is to be able to take groups of youth along sections of the Yukon Quest trail,” says Grenier. “We would work with them to run their own dogs from community to community and have them act as ambassadors and speakers in those communities — speaking about climate change and the value of connecting with nature. It’s still a long way off, but I think it will be amazing once we get there.”

Classrooms interested in taking advantage of Casaventures programming can contact 668-4029.