Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Day for the Dogs #braeburnsiberians #windsor #VT


Have I moved to Alaska, or stepped back in time? Nope I'm in Windsor, VT at Great River Outfitters getting ready to go on a dog sled ride.

I pull up to the building and can hear a symphony of dog barks. They sound very happy and very excited. Braeburn Siberians is in their twelfth year of operation. And what started when a little girl came home one day and told her parents she wanted to learn how to dog sled has turned into a passion for partners in business (and in life) Kathy Bennett and Alex MacLennan. Starting with five dogs for their daughter to care for, train and love has turned into 41 dogs to care for, train and love.


Bennett, who works as an educational consultant specializing in literacy and dyslexia and MacLennan, who runs MacLennan farm, live in Windsor and somehow find to keep 41 dogs happy and healthy. They are one big happy family.

Over the twelve years, Braeburn has produced eight litters of Siberian puppies so most of these dogs are related somehow. They live together, they play together and when they are harnessed up, they work together. And it's not just the dogs that are part of the team, the humans are team members too.

Every dog has a role to fill in the canine and human pack and the same goes for the humans. Somehow the busy humans find time to spend many hours of one-to-one training and positive reinforcement and all out love for each dog in their care. "It's lots of fun but a lot of work, but so worth the unconditional love" says Bennett.
Bennett and MacLellan have such a passion for Siberians and dog sledding that they have started an internship program to share this passion. Each season from November to March they take on two people who want to learn about dog sledding. They are in their third season of interns. They do some advertising but most inquires come from word-of-mouth networking. Alison Koziol is from Colorado and back for her second year. She's joined this year by Carolyn Corbin from Maryland who learned about the internship program from a young woman who had interned in 2014.

As interns, they will learn all the day to day chores of running a kennel and training sled dogs. They learn dog behavior and how to care for the dogs. "We've had some very interesting interns" says MacLellan "one was a tall ship sailor; they tend to be people who love the outdoors."



When I ask about bookings this year Bennett responded "We're off the charts." 2014-2015 was a great with snow from Thanksgiving to April but 2015-2016 was a bust. "We're booked about three weeks out." When I ask if it's the snow we've been getting that might be influencing bookings Bennett says she thinks many calls are from folks who were unable to ride last year. (While I'm interviewing her, her phone rings three times and she gets four email notifications.)


Braeburn Siberians offer two hour excursions on Thursdays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and also 30 minutes rides on Fridays and Sundays at noon, 1, 2, 3, and 4 p.m. The two hour excursions are booked directly through Braeburn by calling 802-738-8337 or sending Kathy an email to braeburn.dogsledding@gmail.com bookings are made through Great River Outfitters in Windsor. Their pricing is reasonable and children 5 and under are free.

"We run (the excursions and rides) to support our passion; we do this for education not for entertaining" says Bennett. The education works on the dog side too. In order to establish a good working team, an older experienced dog will train the younger ones. When Bennett and MacLellan first started, they started with two experienced dog who trained not only the other dogs at the kennel but also trained the humans.


They begin training and conditioning in the fall once the temperature drop below 45 degrees. This is a must because Siberians have two coats, they have an outer coat and an inner coat. The inner coat keeps them insulated in the cold winter temperatures. Grooming is a full time job in the hot summer months. The kennels are equipped with a special shade cloth that keeps the temperature below 80 degrees and the dogs have swimming pools to cool off in.


On the day I'm visiting, the temperatures are climbing into the low 40s which is ideal for humans but very hot for these dogs. "They prefer the weather we had a week ago, when it was 7 degrees, yeah they were happy" said Alison Koziol. She's ladling out some kind of brown liquid. "It's bait, chicken liver soup." It keep the dogs hydrated and the chicken liver encourages them to drink, even if they aren't really thirsty.


When asked if having the dogs pull the sled is cruel, Bennett lets people know that the dogs are doing what they love. "This is how they get their exercise" she says "What's mean is making them (into) a couch potato."

"That was so much fun" exclaims Toby Jacome, 12 visiting from Ecuador. He was on a 30 minute ride with his grandparents Norma and Bob Elliott from Keene, NH. Norma had visited great River Outfitters for a canoe trip in the summer and walked the Path of Life Garden during the fall. She saw the information about the dog sled rides and just had to book it. "That was beautiful, so peaceful" she said.

We hop out of the sled and the dog spread out on the snow to cool off and wait for the next group of people. The dogs that are waiting at the truck are barking and jumping up and down and you can almost hear them barking "pick me, pick me, my turn."

"They are our friends. We have a working relationship, a partnership. It's built on mutual trust and respect between human and dog. (Sometimes) on trail we let the dogs make the decision, sometimes they know what's best, you just have to trust them." It really felt like a partnership. When the dogs had a hard time up a hill Bennett or MacLellan would hop off and push while their pack mates pulled. It really was team work in action.

More photos of my day with these dogs: Click Here

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