AUGUSTA — When Boy Scouts of Troop 907 hooked themselves up to the wooden sleds and started pulling one another around the fields behind Heywood Kennel, pandemonium broke loose among 30 dogs. But in a good way.
“They’re saying, ‘No, you’re not doing it right!’” said kennel co-owner Lindy Howe with a buoyant laugh.
Pups tethered to small wooden sheds stood on their dog houses and howled, just as eight recently run dogs in a nearby field barked and whined, clearly voicing disapproval. The exercise was aimed at teaching the Boy Scouts about a dog sled team’s needs, but it only perplexed the dogs.
The scout troop was at the kennel to learn about sled dogs, something only one of 16 young men from Lewiston and Auburn had experienced before, said Troop Leader Robert Reed.
Howe said this traditional sport and lifestyle is foreign to many in southern Maine. Since last year, she and partner Kevin Quist have become the go-to dog sled educational program in Central Maine, if not the entire state.
“So many people come here and say, ‘Now I can cross this off my bucket list.’ We hear that a lot,” Howe said. “But the big thing is we want to educate them about the dogs. So many people expect (our Alaskan huskies) to look like Siberian huskies. But these guys are endurance runners, like marathon runners. They can run all day because they’re lean.”
Often brown with black and white markings, the Alaskan husky is not a formal breed but a type of dog defined by its activity, chiefly running long distances. Howe and Quist have 30 of them. And they use their sled dogs to educate people on the lifestyle of sled dog owners, the sport, and the constant care needed by the dogs.
Many dog sledding touring businesses take clients on multi-day trips. But not everyone can afford to learn about sled dogs this way. Howe and Quist have focused their outdoor education program on the masses, bringing their dogs to state parks, recreation areas, and even the arboretum in Augusta where they give tours almost weekly in winter.
The couple was teaching about sled dogs in Aroostook County. But when a kennel went up for sale in Augusta, they moved south a year and a half ago.
Now the former high school teachers enjoy being busy in the thick of Maine’s populated areas, among dog sledding neophytes.
“It hadn’t really taken off up north. There just weren’t the people up north. Down here we’ve been very, very busy. Already this year, we’ve introduced hundreds of people to it because of the early snow we got,” Howe said.
On Monday they taught the scout troop for three hours, and then as the scouts left they welcomed a birthday party arriving at the kennel for the same lesson.
The three-hour orientation to the sport was colored with time with the dogs, a simulated “Iditarod” quest through the fields, lectures in dog care and, of course, a ride through snow-covered open fields that really showcased the power of these tiny pups.
After the dogs lurched the sled forward in frantic excitement at the thought of getting to work, they immediately dropped the pace down to a trot. As they left the gated field, they could be seen moving at a 3-to-4-mile-per-hour gait, synchronized in effortless motion.
These small Alaskan huskies, each standing just 2 feet tall, were an image of strength and canine charisma.
Troop mother Julie Herrick said the dog sled lesson was eye-opening.
“I didn’t know how much care they required, and how much training and preparation was needed before a race. It takes a lot of care and commitment. And it was great to see the dogs on a ride.
“They look like they’re having fun. They really do. They look like they’re smiling,” Herrick said.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: