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Judy Spooner: Being with sled dogs made winter wonderful

Being a journalist was really fun last week.

On March 3, I wanted to photograph the sled dog teams I was writing a story about. I was invited to take pictures of the husky sled dogs that are temporary residents at the home of Jennifer and James Gasperini.

It was a lovely late-winter day and I met Andrea Verdegan and Tim Robinson who care for and train the dogs.

I thought I would take some pictures and be on my way, but the two trainers had other plans. They cleared the back of Tim's ATV so I could sit there with my back resting on Tim's back on a training run.

Tim explained that the reason to use ATVs instead of sleds is that they can simulate the 1,500-pound load the dogs will have to pull by putting the ATVs in low gear.

Even with the sound of the engines, it was so quiet while we were on the training run.

I don't have many times of the day when I'm quiet with no distractions. I noticed the trees, bushes and shapes in the snow, which is slowly melting.

The dogs, which will go on a Greenland expedition with their owner, Mille Porsild, are not trained for racing. Their job is to pull the sleds, going about 3 mph, over long distances.

Although he and Andrea carry water for them, the dogs prefer to eat snow and get off the trail and into the snow when the trainers stop.

Tim said he thinks about a lot of things on training runs.

I thought about what it would be like to ride for hours on end behind the dogs while on a very cold tundra in Greenland. Feelings of loneliness crept over me.

When we stopped so I could take more pictures, the dogs were lying down in the snow and seemed so content and happy.

That's why people in the Arctic are so attached to their dogs, I thought. They don't just pull your sled. They are friends who keep you glued to the earth.

The dogs all have distinct personalities, both said. They form alliances and also fight with each other because they are pack animals.

When they are pulling sleds, they are hunting, Tim said.

Andrea wonders what it will be like in Greenland when there is nothing but white snow for the dogs to concentrate on.

Tim will go to Greenland with the dogs and head back to the States for several jobs he's lined up. He'll be looking after horses.

After my wonderful ride, I was sad to leave Andrea and Tim.

But I'll remember for a long time the contentment I felt from the dogs. Part of me will be with them in Greenland.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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