MAINE COUPLE USING DAY CAMPS, TOURS TO INTRODUCE PEOPLE TO SPORT OF MUSHING

By and large when it comes to mushing there are two ways folks enter into the sport. Some like to go from zero to 60 by hooking up a team of dogs and stepping on the runners with no previous experience or practice.Others take a somewhat saner, safer approach working with established mushers in mentoring or formal class-type settings to help take the edge off before the first time the hook gets pulled.Mushers Lindy Howe and Kevin Quist of Heywood Kennel Sled Dog Adventures in Stockholm, Maine, have made a business of shepherding rookies onto sleds and as far as they are concerned, the younger the better.That’s why the two this summer organized a special mushing day-camp for area girls.“I went to summer camp as a kid and as soon as I could I became a junior counselor and then a regular counselor,” Howe said. “It was such a great experience growing up.”It seemed a natural progression, Howe said, to combine that experience with her combined mushing and registered Maine guide skills.“It’s been a challenge this week due to our hot weather,” Howe said. “But it does give us the opportunity to show the girls how we care for the dogs in the summer.”The camp started in mid July when participants Jillian Mandeville, 9, and Ocean Sadler, 7, both of Perham, Maine, were given their own team of six Heywood dogs to tend for a week.“These girls are the future of our sport,” Howe said as the two romped with a 10-week-old puppy named – ironically – Perham during a field trip to a lakeside camp. “We can see the dogs and the girls bringing out the best in each other.”For example, Howe tells of a dog which had been very shy around all people.“Next thing we know, the girls are spending time with her and she’s letting them rub her all over and she’s right into it,” Howe said. “That’s the impact a kid can have on a dog.”The camp’s day begins around 8 a.m. with regular morning kennel chores including feeding, watering and cleaning up around the dogs.The rest of the day is broken up into segments covering dog care, sled dog equipment, trail safety, working with teams, role playing, camping with dogs, kennel management and retired sled dogs.The role-playing activities proved to be especially popular, Quist said.“They got all the gear out, packed up sled bags and pretended they were going on an expedition,” he said. “For awhile I was pulling them around.”The girls also took turns riding on wheeled dog training rigs. As northern Maine’s temperatures rose to sled dog unfriendly high 80s, it was all about keeping cool with two and four-legged participants splashing along the shores of Cross Lake.“This is my first time around sled dogs,” Mandeville said. “I like working with the dogs and would like to step on a sled in the winter.”For Mandeville, the most fun so far was riding the summer training rigs down a hill.“I would definitely do this in the winter,” she said. “But I don’t think I’d want to race.”Quist and Howe, both registered Maine guides and sled dog race veterans are quick to point out there’s more to mushing than racing.“I hear so many kids saying there’s nothing to do in northern Maine,” Quist said. “We hope this camp will open their eyes to what there is going on around here, what we do with dogs and how it’s a year-round sport.”A few weeks later it was time for the teen set and sisters 14-year-old Gabrielle Bouchard and Elizabeth Bouchard, 16, of Cumberland, Maine, got their first up close and personal look at the world of dog driving.By the time their scheduled time at Heywood Kennels arrived, the weather had changed and it was cool enough to hook up a team of dogs to the ATV for a quarter-mile fun run around nearby trails.Closely supervised by Howe and Quist, the sisters helped harness and bring the dogs to the gangline.“They get really excited,” Elizabeth said. “I kind of expected that but I don’t think I was ready for them to be this excited and wound up.”Dogs were jumping, twisting and in full battle cry as the ATV was prepped and Howe hopped on with the girls behind her.“Let’s go,” she commanded and the team took off down the trail like a shot.Rounding a corner and coming back into view, it was harder to tell who’s smiles were wider – the running dogs or the young girls.Back at the kennel, the girls were shown how to properly water the dogs post-run and give each four-legged team member its due.“The most important thing to do after a run is to give the dogs some love,” Quist said.“This is really different than anything I have done before,” Gabrielle said. “I would really like to do it again (and) I can see how it is a whole different culture and lifestyle.”It’s a lifestyle in which Howe and Quist are fully committed and invested. In fact, this year Quist took that leap of faith leaving his high school teaching position to work at the kennel full time with Howe.It seems to be paying off as the two found themselves so in demand last year an event organizer offered to compensate them any and all lost funds if they pulled out of an entered race and instead gave sled dog rides.“That was pretty cool and flattering,” Howe said. “We spent all day there giving ride after ride after ride.”The two and the dogs were so popular they are already booked for a return this coming winter.At their kennel the couple offer a number of tours starting with “The Sprinter,” a sort of meet and greet the dogs with a 30-minute run on the trails and some quality time with the team giving out treats.For the more experienced or the more adventurous there are four- or seven-hour guided wilderness tour on dogsled and half or full day ice fishing treks with the teams.Quist and Howe will also tailor a sled dog adventure to individual needs.“We pride ourselves on being able to custom design a sled dog adventure for the person,” Howe said. “Whether they want a quick ride down the trail or a full day winter adventure we strive to provide an experience that will bring memories for a lifetime.”In between guiding trips and offering day camps, the two do find time to participate in local races like the annual Can Am Crown Willard Jalbert Memorial 60-mile race in Fort Kent, Maine, and the Irving Woodlands/Mad Bomber 100-miler in Eagle Lake, Maine.For her part, Sadler seemed ready to give a racing a try.“Being with the dogs is the best part of this (and) I’d like to race,” she said, holding a very contented Perham the puppy close to her chest. “I’ve learned how important feeding the dogs is (but) I haven’t had to shovel poop yet.”“Maybe tomorrow,” Howe said with a laugh. For more information: www.heywoodkennel.com; email heywoodkennel@yahoo.com or phone 207-896-3038•

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