Monthly Archives: September 2011
Cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage
Spending an “Uncommon” morning in the Yukon
Uncommon Journeys is located in the Ibex Valley, just outside Whitehorse, and is surrounded by beautiful Northern-Canadian wilderness. The company was founded and continues to be run by Rod and Martha Taylor. The couple are well-respected members in the Yukon tourism industry and are both experienced wilderness guides. Their love of the Yukon outdoors and their beautiful sled dogs led them to opening Uncommon Journeys, which allows them to share this love with those seeking adventure in the Canadian North.Walking into a dog kennel, you expect a lot of noise, especially with over 50 dogs living here. But the kennel was virtually silent as the dogs quietly watched us as we learned all about their lives at Uncommon Journeys. The dogs here are considered part of the family and around 80 per cent of the dogs found at Uncommon Journeys were born and raised here. The remaining 20 per cent were brought to the kennel from world-class sled dog racers who wanted their dogs to go to a nice “retirement” home after finishing their racing careers!
These dogs are quite a friendly bunch and love meeting the thousands of guests that visit Uncommon Journeys each year to learn about dog sledding and the Alaskan Huskies who live here. After hearing stories about how the dogs are trained, socialized and cared for, we got to head into the main dog yard to meet the energetic beasts. Though they are all tied to their doghouses, this doesn’t stop them from running over to lick your hand and rub up against you as you pass by. They are very affectionate dogs who love to be petted and to give you some kisses or even a high five!
The main reason these dogs are so calm and affectionate is the way they are socialized. Here, the mother gives birth in the Taylor’s house and the puppies are around people from the moment they’re born. When it’s time for the pups to open their eyes, the mother is taken away momentarily so that the first thing the puppies see are Rod and Martha, who become their “parents.” The pups love to follow “Mom” and “Dad” around the house as they begin to explore. Then, Rod and Martha’s six-year-old daughter and her friends take over the puppy socializing by spending hours playing with the pups. By the time the puppies begin their sled dog training, they are so used to human interaction, loud noises and rowdy play that nothing shocks or spooks them and they genuinely love being around people. Even as adults, there is a “dog of the day” at Uncommon Journeys, and that lucky dog gets to roam free, eat with the family, and sometimes even curl up at the foot of the Taylor’s bed!
It doesn’t take long to realize that these dogs are truly loved and the care they receive here is incredible. Uncommon Journeys is the first kennel in Canada to be certified at P.R.I.D.E’s highest level. P.R.I.D.E, Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment, was started by a group of top dog mushers in Alaska to support the humane treatment and care of sled dogs and has since grown to represent mushing interests across North America and the world.
Walking into that dog yard, it’s hard not to fall in love with these friendly Alaskan Huskies. However, they didn’t look like I expected them too. Alaskan Huskies, unlike the beautiful Siberian Husky, don’t have a unified look. I learned that this is because there was a huge shortage of dogs in the North during the Gold Rush, so people began to steal any dog they could find that was bigger than a Schnauzer from Seattle to ship up North! Over time, a new breed of dog developed that could withstand cold Arctic temperatures and that loved to run and pull a sled. While there was quite a range of appearances found in the dogs in the kennel, there was no mistaking that these were Alaskan Huskies as soon as the harnesses came out!
Before we left, the staff hitched up a team of dogs so we could see them in action. Since there wasn’t any snow, they were hitched up to a modified ATV with the brakes on. Brakes or no brakes, as soon as the peg was lifted, they were gone, whizzing past us in a matter of seconds.
It was definitely an impressive sight and after spending a few hours here learning about the dogs, I began to think that maybe dog sledding through the Yukon wilderness might be a great future adventure….I’ll just need to bring A LOT of warm clothes!