Life with a Working Sled Dog or: “What We Have Here is Culture Shock”

So two years ago we accidentally adopted a retired sled dog. You’d be right asking the obvious…perhaps “accidentally” isn’t the correct choice of adverb.


I’d seen a magnificent red Siberian/Malamute cross in a local shelter. I could tell by looking at him, and by the story the volunteers told about him, that he’d shown them all he was much smarter than they. In this type of breed, that spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e in a big way for someone who doesn’t know how to handle it. Not quite up to the challenge myself, I contacted a local sled dog kennel specializing in rescuing Northern breeds, like Rufus, to ask if they’d be interested in giving him a home…and the job he clearly needed!


They said no, they were at capacity, but they had several of their own recently retired working dogs needing homes, might we be interested?


Two visits, ten hours of drive time…keeping in mind that local means if you drive 250 miles north in NH you’re in another country…and several hours of discussion with my spouse later…including his dealing the coup de grace “if we don’t take him, who will?”:  Storm came home with us.


Before that he lived outside with several dozen other dogs, chained to his own little hut, bred and born to pull sleds of awestruck tourists across the breathtaking landscape of the frozen White Mountains. Nothing out of the ordinary for most any five year old Alaskan Husky bred by a musher to work or race in a sled dog team.


Then everything changed for him in an instant….his mushers were gone, his pack was gone, the routine of working was gone….and he was terrified. He shrank from our approach, cowered as we put on or took off his harness, leaped out of his skin if we scuffed a foot or kicked a stone while out on a hike. He quite simply had no idea who we were, why he was with us, or what it meant to be a companion dog rather than a working dog. We were as bewildered as he was afraid but we knew, no matter what, we were in for the long haul. .