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Siberian Huskies: sledding for peace

Peace-pups-01Words // Phyl Newbeck
Photos // Courtesy of Peace Pups

Ken Haggett adopted his first Siberian husky in 2001, and that was the beginning of the end of his woodworking career. Soon one dog became four, and he and his wife began skijoring (Norwegian for ski driving) with them.

Haggett bought a used sled, hooked the dogs up as a team, and began to educate himself about the sport. Haggett also learned about breeding. His first litter of four was born, and in 2005 Peace Pups Dogsledding opened its doors. Last year, his original breeding pair had another litter of four, so now Haggett is up to 28 dogs.

Haggett had the good fortune to enter the dogsled business just as his friend Bruce Linton was closing down his company to move to Alaska. Haggett took over Linton’s touring terrain in Stowe and also began to run dogs on his land at Lake Elmore.

Peace Pups Dogsledding runs evening tours twice a week at Stowe and day tours four days a week at Lake Elmore. In a good year, the tours start a few weeks before Christmas and end in late March but the weather is always a variable  “More often than not, I have to shovel snow from the woods onto the trail in the early season,” Haggett says ruefully. “At that point it’s frustrating because people are disappointed if they’ve made reservations and there isn’t enough snow.”

In addition to the regular tours, Haggett offers Mushing 101, a four-hour outing with an instructional component. Customers get to sit in a heated tent and learn dog sled basics like equipment, dog care and training. Then they set up their own lightweight four-dog sled and harness their dogs. Haggett goes out in front with his own team and the customers follow with their sled.

All of Haggett’s dogs have their own page on his website listing their name, age, weight, place of birth, favorite movie, likes and dislikes. Arctic’s favorite movie is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Froome likes giving kisses, napping on the tile floor and pizza crust night, and Pegasus dislikes having his picture taken and election years.

Peace-pups-04Peace Pups Dogsledding’s business plan requires Haggett to donate 10 percent of his profits to peace-related charities. Those donations have varied over the years. There have been years when Haggett donated the money in $50 increments to local organizations that approached him, and other years he has donated larger sums to nonprofits like Bikes not Bombs or the Archimedes Project, which does water purification work in Haiti.

While some people find joy in racing sled dogs, Haggett prefers to run tours. “This will be my tenth winter doing it full-time,” he says. “While the physical part has gotten pretty rote, there’s always something to learn about dog psychology.”

Haggett enjoys meeting new customers and chatting with those who return year after year. Still, the biggest draw for Haggett is the chance to spend time with his dogs. “I truly feel like our dogs are a part of me,” he says. “We are one big cohesive unit and I love spending time with them, whether it’s running or just hanging out and petting them. I know I would have a hard time going through this life without a dog – or 28 – as companions.”