After a summer home in New Zealand, the following sums up our current physical state: Christmas, Six weddings and Mums home baking – it has all started to add up. The kilos we shed cycling from London to Athens are back with a vengeance. Now we were headed to the north of British Columbia, just before the change in season. What were we doing? For the first couple months: caring for sled dogs! Our puppy fat would be put to good use in temperatures below -20 degrees C.
We were on a workaway, a scheme whereby; we would work for free and be paid in experience, skills, food and board. A win-win arrangement for us as we didn`t want to sink a lot of money into setting ourselves up in a city, then be tied to a rental for a year. Unlike, the UK, where we were able to work, we were here solely for travel and experience.
Our arrival in Prince George via Hawaii was bouncing down a snow and ice covered runway. Wandering around the carousels, summer clothes with one jersey as an extra layer; we stood out like dogs balls. Our host swiftly recognised us and picked us up. Driving to the farm through the sprawling expanse of Prince George we weren’t too sure where the town started and where the parking lots ended. Everything was massive. The average car was actually a truck, decked out with massive wheels. Monster truck madness.
An introduction to the farm; a lovely two storied house with adjoining gabled garage, two barns, an old butchers and a workshop. It was all in about 4 feet of snow. We were told this was probably the warmest winter on record and that the snow wouldn’t last that much longer. Hopefully we would get as much sledding in as possible.
Our welcome from the “house dogs” was nothing short of chaos. Coming from farms in NZ, we are accustomed to seeing dogs, especially large sized ones, outside. Here, there were a chorus of ten – all jostling for attention and frenzied. Turns out we arrived for feeding, and we were several hours late.
Out back we were introduced to the other dogs. Yes, there were more… Thirty in total. There were also two horses.
These dogs have issues:
- Several have eating disorders: they either don’t eat, eat too much, or tip out their veges. Some can’t eat chicken, others won’t eat without a bit of kibble on top.
- Some have a few physical disorders: They are quite aged dogs, most over 10, so they have a few niggles that go with their age. Some are blind, deaf, dumb…
- Some have a few mental disorders: One is a nervous wreck, tears down curtains, barks at anything that moves. One is a psychopathic killer and can only get along with one other dog. Another is an escape artist and goes to great lengths to get out of a space. There are a few aggressive eaters, while another barks only at men. The feminist bitch…
Chores are pretty simple. We let them out in their cages in the morning, taking special care not to mix, or place specific dogs beside each other (it sounds easy at first, but it’s actually really hard in practice). Some dogs hate other dogs, fight with other particular dogs, fence fight with others. At least one is on heat. Some can’t be separated from their mate(s) and others need time out once and a while. One dog seems to have demons telling it that the other dogs will eat it’s food, so we need to isolate it when eating. We feed them broth in the mornings, raw meat at night (salmon or chicken), with minced up scraps. The horses eat what looks suspiciously like our morning muesli, with a fruit salad and hay.
Then we scoop the dog shit, change their water, check their bedding, scoop a bit more shit and then give out a few pats and hugs. To top it off, we scoop the horses shit. This is a bigger job as two horses generate about 5 times as much shit in a single day as 30 dogs do in a week. They pretty much munch down an entire bale of hay between them and then put in the most minimal digestive effort to place small piles of grassy nuggets at the furthest corners of the paddock. Lucky we have a wheelbarrow and rakes. The last workawayers had it lucky as the repeated falling layers of snow froze and preserved mountains of horseshit. We have uncovered clumps as the snow slowly melts – layer by layer like fossil hunters. In the afternoon we run the dogs up and down a big blowout, feed them again and lat night put them to bed. That’s the average day for a dog – it only gets better when we go sledding!
With no experience on a dog sled, we were eased into the various technical difficulties of sledding on a tandem. This way we learned the various commands for the dogs: How to get them on the right trail (when not chasing squirrels) and how to try (in vain) to not screech to a halt while one takes an emergency dump. Next day we were able to take them on the sleigh all by ourselves.
The most important lesson we learned is to always keep the line tight. Any slack and the sled takes on a life of it’s own at the last trajectory you gave it. Once the dogs pull it in, it will jerk violently back on course. The dogs get a little tired up the hills, so you get a workout getting off the sled and chasing them up as well.
Skijoring (skiing behind a dog) is another new sport we’ve learned to love. After a few falls and being dragged along the ice, you quickly learn to pull back on the dog and again, the importance of no slack in the line.
In all, our first few weeks in Prince George have been a real blast. A fresh perspective and introduction to Canadian culture to start us on our next adventure. We’ve even been to an ice hockey game and a drive-in movie. Looking forward to another month with these guys – getting our hands dirty along the way!