Saturday, September 27, 2008

Definitely Dog: A Tribute to Working Dogs

Photo provided by Jason Cameron, Kachemak Kennels, in Homer, Alaska

In preparing a big feature for Mushing magazine, I have plunged into the long and rich history of dog sledding. In college, I minored in history. Perhaps this is one thing that draws me to dog sledding. The timeless and important bond dogs have historically played in the survival of humans and the betterment of not only our country but many other countries even today prompted me to sit down and write a testatment to the amazing spirit of these incredible canine companions.

Research has documented the therapeutic role dogs play in our lives. They lower our blood pressure, ease depression and even our sensation responses to pain. Dogs are used in hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers to brighten patients' days and improve healing outcomes and overall mood.

Documentation and archeological evidence puts dogs and humans in a complimentary partnership as long as 4,000 years ago. Much like horses, working dogs helped carry supplies to build towns, helped us deliver medical supplies to take care of sick and injured soldiers during World War II, helped provide food to trappers and hunters and delivered mail in places like Idaho, Wyoming and the intermountain west all the way into the 1950s and 60s.

But what's more, they are our friends, companions, and protectors.

Working with dogs, for me, is a reminder of how important they are not only in my life, but in the shaping of this country and others. Inuit people in Greenland travel by dogsled often, even today. When I hook up a dog team, I become a part of history, connected with a simpler, slower time. To hear their howls and barks of excitement, see them leaping and pulling at the lines to go -- I am connected to an enduring spirit, a stoic survivalist that is one with the Earth and at peace in a silence without engines humming.

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