This story was inspired by my real life experience of adopting Black Bear, a retired Alaskan husky sled dog. In January of 2018, I went on a dog sledding expedition several miles up river from Eagle, Alaska. Eagle is a small town along the Yukon River near the US-Canadian border. Very few people live in this part of Alaska. To get there, I flew on a mail plane from Fairbanks to Eagle and traveled by snow machine (called snow mobile in the “lower 48”) to the place where the expedition began. This homestead where Black Bear was born is in the Alaskan bush where there are no roads, no bridges, and no running water. Sled dogs are a necessity to survive. The people here live primarily off of the land. During the short summer months when the river is flowing, they catch thousands of pounds of salmon to provide enough food for themselves and their dogs throughout the harsh winter. Narrow wooded trails and frozen rivers with jumbled ice are the highways of this wilderness. Sometimes the terrain is so rugged that only a dog sled can get through. I had the unique opportunity to learn how to harness and mush my own dog team. Our expedition took us along the Yukon River where the horizon is filled with snow covered hills and mountains as far as the eye can see. Getting to know the dogs was a very special part of our trip. One of the highlights of this experience was listening to the dogs howling in unison as if to sing a song after their evening meal. Black Bear was one of the most vocal sled dogs on this adventure.
Sled dogs are bred for strength, endurance, temperament and of course, the ability to live in cold temperatures. The puppies get lots of love and interaction before they even start to learn mushing commands. They are handled a lot from birth, so they are comfortable with people putting on their dog harnesses and caring for their feet. Sled dogs develop a remarkable bond with each other and with their handlers. When the dogs are ready to retire from working life, some owners try to find new homes for them where living conditions might be easier. We were very fortunate to be able to adopt Black Bear when she retired in April of 2018.
I wasn’t sure how Black Bear would adjust to townhouse living after spending her entire life along the Yukon. She had never seen stairs before and didn’t know how to use them. Going up was easier than going down. Everything she encountered was new and different. She quickly adjusted to frequent car rides and eagerly howled to go on any new adventure whether it was a trip to the hardware store or her first 5k race. She approaches life with gusto and enthusiasm and wants to meet everyone who passes by (whether they have two legs or four). We are so happy to have her as a member of our family. She is now fully adjusted to life in the suburbs and enjoys laying in her dog bed by the TV just as much as she loves running on the trails around Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. - D.A.L.