• pond surrounded by green brush, reflecting a distant range of snow-covered mountains that are dominated by one massive mountain

    Denali

    National Park & Preserve Alaska

The Dogs Days of Summer

August 03, 2012 Posted by: Bryan Marshall, Kennels SCA

As the first bus arrives, it starts quietly enough. A single employee from Alaska Geographic , a non-profit organization that sells Alaska-related materials, walks down our driveway to set up shop in the dog yard. Perhaps there are a few people already wandering the yard, often those who have arrived early by hiking up from the Visitor Center on the Roadside Trail. Those who are here early get to enjoy a peaceful yard with little barking and few other visitors who are trying to capture the dogs attention. Now, the Ranger  who will do the program has greeted the first bus of visitors from the Visitor Center and a group of between twenty and fifty people arrive.

What awaits them is always different; sometimes it's Chinook's antics as he barks a squirrel up a tree, or they get to have a close up view of a dog as its being moved from one house to another. Often it's a discreet yard, with 32 dogs dozing lazily on their houses or in a nearby patch of shade.  Pretty soon another bus has arrived, and another. Slowly the kennels area fills up with visitors. Although the experience is always different from group to group, this summer we have a few constants: Carpé dancing at the end of his chain for attention, Sylvie rolling over for a belly rub nearly the moment she is first patted, and almost always a small group admiring Cassin's beautiful white coat and bright blue eyes.

sylvie1

Sylvie appreciates a belly rub from a visitor. NPS photo

And then there are the pups, what will they be up to today? Tuckered out and sleeping through everyone's visit? Maybe they'll be yapping and barking as they chase each other in circles and chew on their siblings tails. Often enough, they'll be right up front, fulfilling their role as park ambassador greeting each visitor with an exploratory sniff, or a paw through the fence. They sure learn quick!

pups1

The newest litter of Denali sled dogs, from left to right, Lucky, Polly and Annie. NPS photo.

Of course there are others to see in the yard. Who knows which dog the kennels staff will have chosen for the coveted "pet-me dog", which is rotated for every demo. Some visitors may get to embrace Tuya, our resident loving-giant, as he hugs his way into everyone's heart. Or maybe you get a close up look at Lava's popular blue eyes. Whichever dog may wind up there has more stories to tell then the last, and all of them love to get the attention from visitors.

All too quickly, dog visiting time is over and it is time for the 30 minute presentation.  Some people quickly walk to the stands to get a good seat, while others need to be pried away from the puppy pen (I promise, they won't go anywhere! They'll still be here after the demo). The kennels staff keeps busy prepping the sled, while each Interpretive Ranger gives their own, unique talk about our Alaskan Huskies.  Meanwhile the kennels staff has its hands full trying to keep those excited dogs in the yard quiet as they slowly begin to bark in anticipation of the mid-show favorite, the sled run.  However, if that squirrel shows up again, all bets are off - I guess our Ranger will have to shout.

Soon enough, it is time for the sled dog ride, and the kennels staff runs into the yard to fetch dogs. Suddenly, nearly every dog is on its house. It doesn't take a dog guru to understand them at this point; you can almost hear them scream in plain English: "Pick me! Pick me! OpleaseOpleaseOpleasssseeeeeee PICK ME!" But only five lucky pooches get harnessed up for a quick spin on the track, and before you know it: 1) the track is checked for squirrels, rabbits, moose, and the occasional person-on-a-cellphone 2) the kennels staff gives a thumbs up to the musher 3) the anchor is pulled from the back of the sled - and everything changes.

Jess1

Canine Rangers prepare to pull a Kennels Ranger around the track for a historical demonstration. NPS photo.

The dogs get quiet, and the sled lurches forward with over 350lbs of canine muscle at its front. The Ranger zips forward, sometimes as fast as 19mph. Without exception, the words "Wow!" are heard from several areas of the stands as the sled disappears behind the trees, only to reappear around the bend with five excited and eager dogs, tongues flapping, charging straight towards the gravel landing pit and the visitors, who are safely in the stands. As quickly as it started it's over, and the dogs are contained and rewarded, with bones and water. The Ranger goes on, introducing the fine sled team and answering questions , but most visitors minds still stay in that same place - where they first watched the dogs lunge forward with a sled in tow, barreling down the track as has been done for well over fifty years in the park. For some, it's is what they came for. But guaranteed, it's what they will all remember.

 


7 Comments Comments Icon

  1. Aaron - Columbus, North Carolina
    September 26, 2012 at 10:36

    I have enjoyed watching the pups grow up, and was looking forward to the transition into the winter scene at the kennel. Sad to find out the puppy cam is going down....NO, please! Could you just change the camera view from that same location? Wanted to watch the dogs "romp" around in the snow, and the daily chores of the 2 legged mammals during the winter. What am I going to look at ALL day long on my computer at work? Don't take down the kennel cam, please, please, PLEASE!!!

  2. Kennel Wendy - Mt Pleasant, SC
    September 18, 2012 at 04:04

    Lucky is the favorite of our kennel staff. Send our love! http://mountpleasantsckennel.com

  3. Karen - Richardson, TX
    August 19, 2012 at 10:28

    I'm a long way from Alaska but I sure enjoy the blog and finding out what is up today with the pups. Thank you for bringing them into our homes for those who can't get to the great state of Alaska.

  4. Heather - Schenectady, New York
    August 16, 2012 at 12:50

    I hope to some day meet these great dogs!

  5. Becca - Raleigh, North Carolina
    August 08, 2012 at 12:33

    I remember how it wowed me! Every single one of the lazy and wonderful canines, the deafening silence of the sled as it rumbled swiftly over the gravel, the soft coats of the dogs that nuzzled sweetly against you. I'll say it again, you guys have THE best job and THE best co-workers!

  6. Pauline - Jacksonville, Florida
    August 07, 2012 at 01:20

    Can't wait to see them at the end of this month!

  7. Lindsey - Sunnyvale, California
    August 06, 2012 at 02:20

    Seeing the sled dogs, and getting a kiss from now retired Chulitna, was one of the highlights of our trip 2 years ago. Amazing, wonderful, gorgeous dogs.

 

Post A Comment

Submit Comment

Did You Know?

an arctic ground squirrel on its hind legs

Nearly 500 vegetation plots have been installed in Denali, to monitor climate change. Warmer temperatures allow woody plants to grow at higher elevations, invading the fragile and unique plants already in high alpine tundra - and threatening the animals that depend on those specialized plants.