CROSS LAKE, Maine — For serious mushers, it’s never too early to start talking about the next dog sledding season.
As far as Lindy Howe and Kevin Quiets see it, that holds true in both age and time of the year.
That’s why the two co-owners of Heywood Kennel Sled Dog Adventures in Stockholm this summer organized a special mushing day camp for area girls.
This week two enthusiastic dog lovers from Perham were learning the ins and outs of dog care, training, and what it takes to keep a sled team happy in the off months.
“I went to summer camp as a kid, and as soon as I could I became a junior councilor and then a regular councilor,” Howe said. “It was such a great experience growing up.”
It seemed a natural progression, Howe said, to combine that experience with her mushing and Registered Maine Guide skills.
“It’s been a challenge this week due to the weather,” Howe said. “But it does give us the opportunity to show the girls how we care for the dogs in the summer.”
The camp started Monday when participants Jillian Mandeville, 9, and Ocean Sadler, 7, both of Perham, were given their own team of six Heywood dogs to tend for the week.
“These girls are the future of our sport,” Howe said as the two romped with a 10-week-old puppy named Perham during a field trip to a lakeside camp. “We can see the dogs and the girls bringing out the best in each other.”
For example, Howe tells of a dog that had been shy around people.
“Next thing we know, the girls are spending time with her, and she’s letting them rub her all over and she’s right into it,” Howe said. “That’s the impact a kid can have on a dog.”
The camp’s day begins around 8 a.m. with regular morning kennel chores including feeding, watering and cleaning up around the dogs.
The rest of the day is broken up into segments covering dog care, sled dog equipment, trail safety, working with teams, role playing, camping with dogs, kennel management and retired sled dogs.
The role-playing activities have proved especially popular, Quiets said.
“They got all the gear out, packed up sled bags and pretended they were going on an expedition,” he said. “For a while I was pulling them around.”
The girls also took turns riding on wheeled dog training rigs.
Tuesday was all about keeping cool with two- and four-legged participants splashing along the shores of Cross Lake.
“This is my first time around sled dogs,” Mandeville said. “I like working with the dogs and would like to step on a sled in the winter.”
For Mandeville, the most fun so far was riding the summer training rigs down a hill.
“I would definitely do this in the winter,” she said. “But I don’t think I’d want to race.”
Quist and Howe, both Registered Maine Guides and sled dog race veterans are quick to point out there’s more to mushing than racing.
“I hear so many kids saying there’s nothing to do in northern Maine,” Quist said. “We hope this camp will open their eyes to what there is going on around here, what we do with dogs and how it’s a year-round sport.”
For her part, Sadler seemed ready to give a race a try.
“Being with the dogs is the best part of this [and] I’d like to race,” she said, holding a very contented Perham the puppy close to her chest. “I’ve learned how important feeding the dogs is [but] I haven’t had to shovel poop yet.”
“Maybe tomorrow,” Howe said with a laugh.
For information on mushing camp opportunities, contact Heywood Kennels at www.heywoodkennel.com.