Thursday, January 3, 2008

Job Description of a Dog Handler

Some of the dogs at the Sleddog lodge

Scoop poop (diarrhea included)

Prepare dog diets (which includes handling raw venison, beef, tripe, salmon, turkey fat, or any combination of the above)

Administer medication: Sleddogs are given more multi-vitamins than many people get. They are also likely to have their feet massaged with medicated foot ointment, are given anti-diarrheal and fiber for good digestion, and antibiotics as needed.

Drop dogs: the term for letting one to two dozen dogs out, all at the same time, along long stretches of the highway to pee. This includes wrestling in freezing temperatures with large, often rusty contraptions called outriggers hooked to pick-up trucks where dogs are hooked up to cable lines like those used in aircraft.

Hook up: harness, booty, and hook up twelve dogs to the gangline for a musher and keep these dogs contained and in decent order before a race. A monumental task!

Other duties as needed: help repair sled equipment, cook for people (always an added bonus for a handler), help drive (often thousands of miles) to races, pick up dogs dropped along the race trail (dropped dogs are dogs who are injured or too sick to complete a race), support a musher however necessary.

A dog handler is a musher’s right hand man. Or woman. Some of the best handlers have been wives of mushers. Jan Shaw has many stories of handling for Bob, and now many years from dogsled racing, he says the dogs aren’t his, they’re Jan’s. Tom has many stories of his wife, Brenda driving long distances with a trailer full of dogs to be with him at a race. Without handlers, mushing wouldn’t be what it is.

It’s not just the dogs who provide teamwork. It’s a whole community: volunteers who organize the races, groom the trails, sort t-shirts and bib numbers for mushers. Handlers, wives, friends, organizations who donate space, time, equipment. It takes a village. And the community here is thriving, a strong community of mushers – often full of quirks and definitely full of funny stories – but a strong community nonetheless.

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