If you are looking to do something special this Valentine’s Day, a Snowy Owl dog sled tour with your honey just might help create that magical memory you’ve been hoping for.
Located in Canmore, Alta. the “sport of dog sledding” was a dream turned into reality in 1983 by Connie Arsenault. She was later joined by her husband, Charles Arsenault, who sadly passed away in 2006.
The couple’s daughter, Carlin Kimble, along with her brother, Jereme Arsenault, now share ownership in Snowy Owl Dog Sled Tours Inc.
Kimble says that many couples have gotten engaged on their tour, possibly because of its uniqueness and the once in a lifetime opportunity to drive your own dog team.
“Valentine’s Day is one of our busiest days,” says Kimble.
There are also people who are checking off their bucket list, others with a terminal illness, and then there are those who come every year “to repeat their favourite tour.”
“We have people of all walks of life coming dog sledding. It’s cool to see people change and let their guards and boundaries down and be in that moment,” she relays.
Part of the lasting impression is the connection the riders and operators make with the dogs.
The dogs are eager to please, but they do like encouragement. The four main commands are: hike, easy, whoa, and on by; but one can hear many cheers and words of gratitude for the dogs as the riders quickly learn that “if you love your dogs they will love you back.”
“They love to develop a relationship with you,” she explains.
The experience can pull people out of their comfort zones. The feeling of vulnerability and humbleness, Kimble says, is an opportunity for people to “learn something about themselves.”
Calgary couple, Kurt Varangu and Jenalee Anderson, who enjoyed their ride on Jan. 20, said that it would be a very romantic idea for Valentine’s Day.
“With an operator you could snuggle together in the sled,” said Anderson.
Anderson and Varangu were impressed with the friendliness of the dogs and how much they seemed to enjoy the pull.
For those who question the safety and health of sled dogs, Kimble agrees that before anyone heads out on a tour with a company it is important to feel comfortable that the dogs are well taken care of.
“I do think it is important for people to do their research; these animals are not just here for your entertainment.”
She cautions people to be careful of tours that offer cheap rates because it costs a lot to take proper care of the Huskies and dog sledding is still “self-regulated.”
“We can only ask so much from our dogs, and only ask as much as we are able to give back.”
Some dogs are more dedicated workers, like Cashew, and that has to be monitored carefully so they don’t work themselves too hard.
She says that one who knows can tell the health of an animal by its demeanour, coat, weight, eyes, and teeth.
When dynamics change and it is no longer fun for the dog, Snowy Owl has an adoption program where families can adopt an older, socialized dog. The challenge then is to find a home where the dog will be cared for to “the standard (they) insist on.”
Kimble’s husband and Director of Operations Ethan Kimble, who has been with Snowy Owl since 2004, also knows the names of all of the 180 dogs.
“They are like our children,” describes Ethan Kimble.
The six breeds of Huskies are all named according to their family, with the names that match a chosen category. For example, Cashew’s family are all named after types of nuts. There are also families named after cars, metal bands and cheese – to name a few. When breeding, the dogs’ physical characteristics as well as diversity in personalities are taken into consideration.
Snowy Owl has rescued about 40 dogs in the past 15 years. Their current rescues are six dogs from Huntsville, Ont. after a kennel was shut down and the owner charged. Many of the dogs were used for dog sledding.
Snowy Owl has also experienced dogs adopting each other’s puppies. When two sisters Beretta and Tikka (named after cars) had puppies at the same time, Berreta only had four pups, and Tikka had 10, so three of Tikka’s puppies were moved over to Beretta to help with Tikka’s milk supply. Beretta cared for, cleaned, and fed the puppies like they were her own.
Alberta Parks and Travel Alberta granted Snowy Owl permission to operate their tours in Spray Lakes Provincial Park. The tour prices depend on length of time and number of people in the sled. Information on booking, what to wear, and pricing can be found on their website www.snowyowltours.com.