On the Trail in Nome – Friday

Dogs in the Sun. Photo credit: Jim Deprez

After another late night of posting last night, I was determined to get today’s post done sooner. Last night after my snow machine ride, I met Nina Hansen, head vet for the Yukon Quest. After chatting with her for a while, she started talking about a research project she is working on. Being that I am a teacher, she thought it might be a cool correlation to show school aged kids that even adults continue to do research as a job! So she extended an invitation for me to join them the next morning. 

At 10:00 this morning, I ventured down to the dog lot to see the research in person. The project is one that is being funded by the American Kennel Club. It is looking for a more objective way to do a body conditioning survey (or BCS). When looking at the evaluation form, it looked very similar to a teacher’s rubric! Different categories looking for different things with great diagrams to make sure everyone using it knows exactly what to look for. The purpose for the study is to look more closely at body weight and percentage of body fat. Being a teacher (and clearly not a vet) as they examined and scored each dog, I was wondering if this study had any correlation to the H.A.W.L. exam. The H.A.W.L. is performed on the dogs as they come into the checkpoints during the race. (For those out there who are also not vets) the H.A.W.L. stands for Hydration & Heart, Attitude and Appetite, Weight and Lungs. 

This afternoon continued my day of dogs. I made my way back to the Foster museum to hear a talk by “Dogman” himself, Martin Buser. When he walked in to start his talk, I was blown away as he immediately recognized me and asked how I was feeling and about the extent of my experience. Like I said, blown away by this. Once he started his talk, the thing that I noticed was the way he got that grin and twinkle in his eye when talking about his dogs; that was something special. He told stories about his years on the trail, his family and of course, his dogs. He even joked at one point that at times he may have been more proud of his dogs than his kids. He talked at length about his time working with Disney on the movie “Togo”. His most interesting insights came when he was discussing what the back of the pack is currently dealing with on the trail. There are currently some teams out there in the White Mountain and Safety areas that are hunkering down due to some extreme wind conditions. He mentioned that this year’s trail was exceptionally challenging due to the icy nature of the trail. He demonstrated that the trail is sloped sideways towards the sea and how the mushers need to use their entire body to keep the sled parallel to the shore. Afterwards he stayed and chatted about the race, dog care, the future of the race and the importance and role of education in that effort. He is truly a legend of Iditarod. 


Today’s adventures of Booloo were actually from a couple days ago. We made a trip to the (seasonal) “Nome National Forest”. After Christmas each year, the residents of Nome put their Christmas trees in the ice of the Bering Sea to create a “forest”. It was so funny to walk around with all of the animals that lived there too. 


Teachers: Sled dogs were born to pull, but this is just one example of a dog that has a very specific job. Talk to your students about other service dogs out there that also have specific jobs. How many can they come up with? What qualities do you think would make those dogs good at their jobs?