Mushing onto the Internet: Modern technology offers up new possibilities in dog world

Voices Of The Clarion

Posted: Sunday, October 07, 2007

As the temperature continues to fall with each passing day, my spirit soars because I know the dropping mercury means winter is that much closer. Some lament the dwindling light and cool morning air, but I love the winter because my wife and I run sled dogs.

As anyone who owns sled dogs can attest, waiting for the summer to pass so you can get back to doing your thing can be excruciating. No matter where you're at or what you're doing during the hot months of the year, the dogs are never far from your thoughts.

Every year we barely survive the period from when we stop running during breakup until we start again with the dogs pulling a four-wheeler in the fall, but this year we found a new project that kept us working with the dogs even more than usual. We mushed into cyberspace with the creation of a Web site (www.rogueskennel.com) and it made the summer time pass much more quickly.

This was a big step for us. My wife and I are basically neo-luddites, which in laymen's terms means we reject most modern technology. For years we have lived in a 16-by-16 foot cabin without running water, neither of us have never had a cell phone and the extent of my skills with a computer which boils down to typing text with two fingers is being displayed here. So, the Web site was a big step for us. It came to be through the generous nature of some friends.

There are some people who like to help or "sponsor" as it is often called those who run dogs. Some, such as businesses, may do it as a way to help while also getting some advertising out of the deal. Some do it because they embrace the excitement and adventure of the lifestyle, but they may not want the responsibility of keeping so many dogs. Others may not be in good enough health to endure the cold elements or physical demands of mushing but want to feel apart of it in some way. Others as I suspect was the case with the family that built our site do it out of the kindness in their hearts.

The Web site was a lot of work for us, even though someone else built it. We were responsible for writing all the text, which ended up being a lot since we wrote biographies for every dog, as well as other subjects related to the kennel. We also took photos of every dog, and it's no easy task getting 30-plus sled dogs to sit still for a picture.

It was all worth it, though, as the mostly finished (its continually added to with the progression of the season) product looks great, and already has connected us with people far away. Unlike kids here who grow up around the culture of sled dogs and as a result are largely apathetic to the experience, children we have heard from in Florida are sincerely intrigued by what is to them such a novel concept.

We have a page where people can sponsor a dog and in return we send them a signed photo of the whole team mushing through the Caribou Hills, a mug shot of the individual dog chosen, and a newsletters detailing how that dog is doing in training and racing throughout the year. This kids have really enjoyed being connected to something so far away.

We also have had the same success with some seniors from other areas of the Lower 48 that had pets their whole lives, and in their advanced age want to continue a relationship with a dog, but without leaving behind an animal to care for if they should pass away.

Putting together the packages for the individual dog sponsors has been enjoyable because it gives us a chance to share stories some funny, some bittersweet that otherwise would only be known to us. But more importantly, it has allowed us to share not just what we do personally, but also a little part of the culture of the north with so many from so far away.

It has been a very rewarding aspect of mushing that we never expected, and while we are not quite ready to run out an buy an ipod, we are pleased with the benefits of this technology. It's taught us that it is possible to embrace some aspects of the modern world without giving up a traditional lifestyle.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Clarion and can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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