Day with sled dogs all about fun, team building

Posted Jan. 30, 2010, at 5:58 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:35 a.m.
Conditions were perfect Saturday for novices to take a turn driving a team of sled dogs during the University of Maine at Presque Isle outing. Renee Felini, UMPI assistant professor of fine art got her first time on the sled's runners with the dogs of Heywood Kennels in Stockholm. (photo by Julia Bayly)
Conditions were perfect Saturday for novices to take a turn driving a team of sled dogs during the University of Maine at Presque Isle outing. Renee Felini, UMPI assistant professor of fine art got her first time on the sled's runners with the dogs of Heywood Kennels in Stockholm. (photo by Julia Bayly)

STOCKHOLM, Maine — Whether participants had two legs or four, it was all about being part of a team at the University of Maine at Presque Isle Saturday afternoon.

Twelve students and community members joined the sled dogs and mushers of Heywood Kennels of Stockholm for a day of dog driving, dog care and team building.

“I figured there would be a lot of people who would want to take the opportunity to see the dogs and go for a sled ride,” Amanda Morin, director of UMPI’s Outdoor Adventure Program International, said during a lunch break Saturday. “The 12 spots filled up really fast, and I had to turn people away.”

The group spent Saturday morning learning the day-to-day chores associated with being a musher and how to prepare a team for a run.

“I’m thrilled to be able to share my passion of dogs and dog sledding with other people,” said Lindy Howe, who operates Heywood Kennels with her partner, Kevin Quist. “I really hope the participants take away all the different things that go into running a happy, healthy team.”

For the hands-on part of the day, the UMPI contingent was divided into three teams and matched with an experienced musher.

With the help of the musher, team members harnessed dogs, hooked them to a sled and then drove the team through a series of three checkpoints to practice what mushers experience on a race trail.

Over the course the teams fitted dogs with booties, gave each dog water, spent time in a sleeping bag and built a fire before heading to the finish line.

“Just like in the Iditarod,” Howe said with a grin. “This will give you an idea of what we do at the checkpoints.”

Students — and dogs — came through with flying colors, big grins and wagging tails.

“This is probably one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had,” said Kaitie Sprangers, 20, a third-year outdoor recreation major from East Machias. “I am just amazed the dogs have that much power and could be somewhat in control.”

Morin said Howe and Quist planned a perfect day balancing fun with learning.

“They are super-easy to work with,” Morin said. “And they were willing to do whatever would work with our program.”

In addition to the confidence that comes with successfully working with a group, Morin said the outing showcased northern Maine winter at its best.

“Living in northern Maine, if you don’t like to be outside you are pretty much screwed in the winter,” she said. “Our programs are designed to get people outside and trying new things and to help them create an active lifestyle.”

Julie Knight, 38, a first-year elementary education student, was looking for a bit of a break in her routine on Saturday.

“I love animals and wanted some ‘me time,’” the mother of two said. “Instead of going to a spa, I decided to come dog sledding.”

Riding in the dog sled was “awesome,” Knight said. “I’m used to snowmobiles [and] this was so peaceful.”

For most of the students, Saturday was their first time working with sled dogs, but not everyone was a total novice.

“This is the first time I’ve harnessed dogs since I used to put a horse halter on my dog and have her pull me around the yard when I was 5,” Sprangers said. “This was a lot different.”

Howe said she enjoys being an ambassador for her sport and welcomes groups interested in spending a day learning about mushing.

“It’s great to show people what we do year round,” Howe said. “People need to know mushing is not something you put away in the spring.”

Information on the UMPI OAPI events is available at www.umpi.edu/gentile-hall/oapi.

Information on Heywood Kennels is available at www.heywoodkennel.com

Writer Julia Bayly is a recreational musher and assisted Howe and Quist during the team-building portion of the afternoon.

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