Summer running at Carcross canine camp

Michelle Phillips’ sled dogs know how to spend the summer. When they’re not splashing about in purple and blue plastic wading pools,…

Michelle Phillips’ sled dogs know how to spend the summer.

When they’re not splashing about in purple and blue plastic wading pools, they’re lounging under big green canvas umbrellas.

The Carcross canine spa even features a workout routine.

Once a day the huskies take adventurous tourists on 20-minute cart rides on the trails behind Frontierland.

“Some people think running dogs is cruel,” said Phillips.

“So it’s good for them to come on these rides and see how much the dogs love to work.”

The huskies started barking as soon as Phillips pushed the three-person cart into place.

Lunging on their chains, they jumped up excitedly while Phillips and her helper Luc Tweddell struggled to harness them.

“People have lost touch with what a working animal is,” she said.

The cart was bouncing — screaming and jumping the dogs could hardly wait to go.

Phillips reached down, pulled her quick-release rope and said a soft, “OK.”

It was quiet.

The cart bumped along the gravel track with Phillips standing steering on the back.

“The kids love it — it’s like a doggy rollercoaster,” she said.

Phillips pointed out a bunch of ropes tied to trees along the route.

It’s to tie off the team if she can’t hold them with just the brake.

When the dogs are excited, it’s hard to stop them.

“That’s my worst fear, to lose a bunch of tourists,” said Phillips.

It hasn’t happened yet, she added with a laugh.

After whipping around a sharp left turn in the bush, the dogs suddenly stopped.

Tucked amongst the pines were four plastic wading pools, spaced out so each pair of dogs could have a splash.

Trouble was, the lead dogs couldn’t wait.

Twister and Elmira jumped into the third pool, leaving the wheel dogs panting in the back.

Phillips coaxed them along and after rolling around in the water the leaders begrudgingly moved up a pool.

The hotter the day, the more breaks the dogs need.

And when it gets up past 23 degrees Celsius Phillips only offers half-mile runs.

“You have to be careful with the heat,” she said.

After every run, Phillips switches dogs, allowing the teams that have just run to cool-down in the sprinklers and under their umbrellas.

There’s also a lot of wind in the area, she said.

Some of the dogs stay at Frontierland overnight, but many are trucked home to Tagish in the evenings.

“And they still get to run free when we get home,” said Phillips.

Frontierland sees as many 900 people for lunch at least three times a week.

And, on a busy day, Phillips and her crew take up to 40 people for dog sled tours on carts seating three and six.

The runs keep the dogs in shape, said Phillips.

“They’re happy, working and staying muscled up.”

Because there are a number of turns and trails she can take, it’s also good leader training, she said.

“You get to work their gees and haws — so they never get bored.”

For the last few years, Phillips’ huskies have been joined by a bunch of Peter Ledwidge’s Dawson dogs, as well as 32 from Tweddell’s team.

The Quebec musher has been working for Phillips for the past three years, and is planning to run the Yukon Quest this winter.

The summer runs are perfect for puppy training, he said.

“There are so many trails we can take and they get used to seeing people. So when we reach checkpoints (on the Quest) they’ll be used to seeing a crowd.”

Tweddell has watched plenty of tourists change their tune about sled dogs in the course of an afternoon.

“Some people look at the dogs and feel bad because they’re on such short chains,” he said.

“But when we start to hook the dogs up to the cart and they go crazy and chew their harness because they want to go, (the tourists) begin to understand.

“More than 95 per cent of the people who are not OK with (sled dog sports) are OK with it after they try it.”

Phillips loves the summer program because it allows her to spend all her time with the dogs.

“This way they’re not bored,” she said.

“It’s something that allows me to work with my dogs year round, make money and have my child at work.”

Phillips’ programs run seven-days a week from the beginning of May through the end of September.