For a handler, getting covered in dog poop is all in a day’s work.
But Lies De Meulenaere never had it in the eye before.
“Normally, I wouldn’t leave when we’re hooking up teams,” she said, bouncing along on the ATV behind ten of Turner’s Yukon Quest dogs.
“But in the eye . . .”
Meulenaere has been at Frank Turner’s dog yard since the start of the summer and only has a few weeks until she returns to Belgium.
The foreign student is majoring in animal behaviour and chose Turner’s kennel for her internship.
Sled dogs aren’t like domestic pets, she said, slamming on the brakes to wait while one of the dogs took a bathroom break.
“Frank has 120 dogs and they are all so friendly — visitors are surprised to find this too.”
It’s all about socializing and handling the puppies right from birth, said Turner enjoying homemade crepes on Tuesday morning.
One of the whelping pens contained pups with eyes still squeezed shut.
“I used to wait until their eyes were open to hold them,” he said.
“But now I pick them up right away.”
Turner did join his volunteers and employees on the early morning training run.
He won’t be out with his team for at least another month.
A week ago, the well-known musher had a hernia operation that’s left him out of commission.
“They told me I had two choices,” said Turner.
“Either I have the operation or I don’t,” he said.
But there was a risk of intestinal damage if the hernia wasn’t dealt with.
“Then I would die out there on the trail.”
He opted to go under the knife.
“It’s lucky they found it now, and not in November,” he added.
In the hospital, it turned out that Turner’s anesthetist was a woman who owned one of his retired sled dogs.
“I went in; she was talking to me about Trixie, then I don’t remember anything,” he said.
Next thing Turner knew, he was dreaming about the Quest.
“Then I woke up, and asked them when they planned on doing the operation.”
It was already done.
“It’s the first operation I’ve had since I had my tonsils out, when I was two or three,” he said.
Turner isn’t too worried about missing the first month of training.
It’s all about the team, he said.
And Turner’s not just talking dogs.
“When I have good people running my tours and I trust my team, then I can focus on the Quest,” he said.
Turner’s tours change with the seasons.
In summer, tourists and sled dogs wander to the Yukon River after enjoying a video and a presentation about mushing at minus 40.
Now, with the leaves starting to change, things have slowed down at Muktuk Adventures.
It’s the shoulder season, said Turner, who doesn’t design the tours primarily for humans.
“I design my tours from the dogs to the people,” he said.
“It’s dogs first, not the other way round.”
With the huskies starting to run again, tourists are invited to enjoy the video and the presentations, then hop on the back of an ATV and go on a morning training run.
“The tour is not supposed to be just recreational,” said Turner.
“It focuses on the Yukon lifestyle and understanding the dogs — it gives them an appreciation of what the dogs do.
“We just do what we do and the tourists get involved in it.”
People sometimes react to all the dogs being on chains, said Muktuk volunteer Edward Statton, mentioning one woman who was “big into animal rights”
She went around giving them water, he said.
“But noticed they weren’t drinking.”
The dogs are watered three times a day.
After spending a night at the Muktuk bed and breakfast and talking with Turner, she changed her tune, said Statton.
Turner welcomes criticism.
“Animal rights activists have presented valid criticism over the years,” he said, citing whips.
When Turner started mushing everyone used them.
At the Rendezvous sprint races all the mushers cracked the whip to get the teams going, he said.
“But whips don’t make dogs run faster.
“You make them run faster by taking care of them.”
Breakfast at Turner’s has an international feel.
A volunteer from Brazil with feathers in her hair sits beside a family from Tanzania who were curious about sled dogs.
Turner is at the head of the table, talking dogs, offering tips on driving up the Dempster Highway and discussing the secrets to a good dog team.
“It’s about building trust,” he said.
That’s what will get a musher and his team over mountains, through blinding snowstorms and frigid cold.
“A team is like a jigsaw puzzle — all the pieces have to fit together.”
Females bring focus to a team, while males, who are easily distracted by crows and squirrels, bring the brute strength.
On a 14-dog Quest team, there are 87,178,291,200 different combinations of dogs that could be run, he said.
“And I need to know the best combo.”
For more information on Turner’s tours visit www.muktuk.com.