March 17, 2010

Dedicated dog-sleddersMother, daughter work together to train and race their dog team.


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John Patriquin/Staff Photographer; Tuesday, February,12,2008. St. Thomas School 5th grade students, Allie Chabot and Asja James greet one of the sled dogs owned by Jeanne Perron as she and her daughter 15 year old Jillian give a dog-sled demonstration at the St. Thomas School in Sanford today.

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John Patriquin/Staff Photographer; Tuesday, February,12,2008. Jeanne Perron and her daughter 15 year old Jillian Perron give a dog-sled demonstration at the St. Thomas School in Sanford today.

News Assistant

Themes of family, teamwork and personal discipline run deep in the sport of dog-sledding, especially for East Waterboro mother-daughter musher team Jean Perron, 41, and Jillian Perron, 15. They own 19 northern breed huskies, which they race as sprinters, rather than distance runners.

The two have competed around the world, including Italy and Spain in 2002 and 2003. Jean won a bronze medal in the 2005 International Sled Dog Racing Association's skijoring event. She qualified for the World Championships in Yukon Territory then but had to decline participation for financial reasons. Though partially sponsored by local businesses, much of their expenses are paid out-of-pocket.

One of Jean's earliest childhood memories is of hooking a leash to the family dog and allowing it to pull her on a sled or bicycle. It's a thrill she still enjoys, though today the job is done with an eight-dog Siberian husky team and a traditional wooden mushing sled. Jillian joins her with a four-dog team of Alaskan malamutes. Jean prefers the huskies for their endurance during long races, and Jillian prefers the malamutes for their speed on shorter distances.

''She likes to race hard and fast,'' said Jean.

Jillian, a freshman honor student at Massabesic High School, takes advanced placement classes and is involved in music and sports in addition to serving as the primary care taker for the dogs. Jillian tends to the physical well-being of the pack, feeding, watering and seeing to their kennel accommodations. It's a lot of responsibility, but she takes it all in stride.

''You've got to balance it with regular life,'' said Jillian. ''To be able to go to a friend's house or a practice, you've got to manage your time wisely. You have to be well-intended in advance, whether it's shoveling snow, managing homework or feeding the dogs (an hourlong chore). I love just being out there with the dogs. It's a good stress reliever. It's total peace to just be out there. You really don't think about anything else. You're kind of one with the team and caught up on it together and working together.''

Caring for the pack has taught Jillian much about personal discipline. ''There are a lot of rewards working with these dogs in terms of daily training, seeing them progress and being part of that success,'' said Jean.

Training of the dogs begins at summer's end, when evenings turn cool. The dogs are put through the paces using an obstacle course the Perrons built on the property. It is conveniently located near a 10-mile snowmobile trail that yields a packed sled run and easier maneuvering for the dogs in winter.

''We do one-on-one training to build a confidence and trust with the dogs, working with them on agility and understanding commands,'' said Jean. Dogs train on high beams, jump through tires, weave though poles and do balance maneuvers on seesaw-style apparatuses.

''When they're out on the trail, they go through a lot of different circumstances and need to be confident walking on all kinds of surfaces,'' said Jean.

The team also participates in dry land events when there is no snow, using scooters, carts and wheeled sleds as racing vehicles.

The dogs are fed a high-protein diet that is supplemented with chicken, oils and energy powder during the race season. The Perrons put a premium on knowing their animals and making sure they are properly hydrated and fit. They inspect each dog following workouts and races, running their hands over backs and joints to make sure they are injury-free and healthy.

Likewise, the Perrons work to stay in peak physical condition, for the sport is not without its dangers and challenges. They must maintain control of the sled at all times, using braking or drag equipment to stop it or slow it down and assert their authority over the pack by using voice commands.

''These dogs are strong,'' said Jean. ''You've got to stay agile and fit and have a knowledge of dog behavior. Multiple dogs beget certain behaviors. There is a pack mentality. They are just as unpredictable as people.''

A member of the Maine Highland Sled Dog Club, Jean also offers demonstrations to educate people about handling dogs and basic first aid care for them.

The women also participate in skijoring, an individual sport involving skis, a harness, 7-foot-long tether and one dog.

''It's a very team-oriented sport,'' said Jean. ''You've got to trust your one dog. They're not as confident running alone as in teams.''

Recent job changes for Jean, a planned move and other life situations have meant less time competing this year, but the Perrons participate whenever they can. Last weekend they raced in Newport, and the weekend before, they connected with teams of other mushers for a 20-mile journey into the woods of Brownville and an overnight cabin stay at a secluded locale. And they recently did a sledding demonstration for the students at St. Thomas School in Sanford.

Jean has prized the experience of bonding with her daughter through the sport. ''It's been rewarding. The connection that we share is unique because we don't know anyone else who does this. We raise the dogs together, we train together, 99 percent of the time, it's she and I together.''

In a few years, Jillian will trade her racing harnesses for late-night cramming sessions in college, but said she intends to return to the sport one day. ''It's taught me a lot about family and responsibility.''

In the future, she hopes to participate in the Iditarod, an 1,150-mile event in Alaska.

News Assistant Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 282-8228 or at:

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