Klondike Korner: How the Dogs Love to Run

The dogs at the Percy DeWolfe starting line must have started getting antsy around 9:15 am on March 24.

That’s when our dog, whose mother was a grizzled grey-brown sled dog, wanted to go out on the front porch.

She turned in the direction of King Street and 3rd and let loose with her contribution to the chorus that I could not yet hear.

I made my way down there about 15 minutes before the start of the race.

The dogs were in that state of hyper-awareness that they get to when they see the sleds and the harness and some other team of dogs getting ready to pull.

It’s very much: “Hey! Me too! Why am I not over there? Wanna go – nowowowow!”

Which is pretty much the same noise we’d left Shadow making at home. She’s never pulled a sled, or anything other than us while walking, but the urge to work that way is bred in the bone, and I’m sure she’d love it.

To watch the dogs leaping and straining at the harness as their handlers fasten them in place is to see animals that want to get out on the trail.

Our dog behaves somewhat the same way when she hears the word “walk” and sees one of us take out her gentle leader leash.

I get more than a little frustrated with the folks who scream “cruelty to dogs” every time there’s coverage of a sled dog race.

Yes, they’re in harness, and yes they’re being asked to haul their human and his/her sled over vast distances.

It’s hard work and sometimes they get hurt. On the really long races some of them die, usually from some internal condition that could not have been diagnosed before the post-mortem examination.

But they love to do it. It is the most complete they ever feel and they’re mightily insulted when their mushers pull them out of harness and carry them in the sled.

They arrive back here after 20 to 30 hours with their tales wagging, ready to eat and drink. Once that’s finished they’re alert again and the mood seems to be: “That’s it? We’re done? Aww.”

The three volunteer vets at the Percy (as it is known) are so pleased with the results here that they give out vet care awards to both the junior and main races. And there are vets at many professional races.

I’ve heard tales of slightly injured dogs who have wriggled out of the sled on the trail and run up to try and get themselves back in with the rest of the team, in spite of the fact that they were limping.

Crispin Studer, who won this year’s race, arrived back in Dawson with a dog in the sled. It had limped a little and looked to have a sore wrist.

He told me the dog had complained so vociferously that he had had to resort to turning up the volume in his iPod to block the sound of its complaints. It was insulted not to be running.

Another musher, Lucy Tyrell, ran older dogs this year. By the time they got to Eagle, she was convinced that attempting the return would be too much for them, no matter how leisurely a pace she might attempt.

Out of concern for her dogs, she flew them and her entire rig back to Dawson at a cost of $2,010.00. This is hardly the action of someone who merely cares about the race.

She got an enthusiastic round of applause from her fellow mushers at the awards dinner that Saturday night. She deserved it.

After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.

After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.

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