Forget about “Black Friday” and come have a “Furry Friday” instead at WonderLab Museum of Science, Health and Technology. On Friday, November 24th from 1-2 p.m. Furry Friday: Sled Dog Adventures will be at the WonderLab. Tickets cost $2 for members and $3 for non-members. At the event the whole family can learn about Alaskan dog sledding from Andrea “Finney” Aufder Heyde and her sledding dogs.
Heyde, a retired Monroe County Community School Corporation teacher and the creator of the “Teacher on the Trail,” will give a one hour presentation about her sledding experience on the Iditarod Trail. Families will get hands on experience with her sledding dogs, 8-year-old SootFa and 5-year-old Joli, and real sledding gear.
“I am passionate about using the great state of Alaska and its cultures and the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, ‘The Last Great Race’ as a teaching tool in the classroom,” said Heyde. “Having worked eight summers in an Iditarod kennel, I am thrilled to share my knowledge of training the dogs and showing the dogs’ gear.”
Heyde, is an advocate for sled dog care and respect. Though the temperatures during races like the Iditarod can range from 20º F below zero to just above 20º F above zero, Finney’s huskies and malamutes are well-equipped to thrive. Alongside naturally thick and well-insulated three-layer fur coats, racing dogs are given thick fur vests and, for the males, codpieces to ensure body temperature never drops to a dangerous level. In fact, of more concern to most of these dogs is the heat which can be fatal to this type of dog.
According to Heyde, regulations dictate the appropriate temperatures that must be maintained to keep the dogs happy and healthy. Such regulations have grown in number exponentially over the years and pertain not just to transportation, but to the race itself. If a veterinarian at any of the checkpoints along the race’s path decides that a dog is looking unwell in any fashion, the dog is left behind at the checkpoint to recuperate and the rest of the team moves on. The dog will later be transported back to its team.
In a recent interview with WonderLab, Heyde discussed some of the best training practices for sled dogs. For example, because of their low tolerance for heat, the dogs are not trained during the summer. Even in the fall when the training season starts, sessions are kept to early morning in order to prevent exposure to warm temperatures. If for some reason a trainer or their dogs are late and miss the early morning training slot, training for the day is skipped to avoid dangerous overheating. During their off-time in the summer, dogs are frequently let off-leash to run free, often playing in fields or shallow rivers.
Heyde also noted that racing dogs being their training at a young age. Puppies, which are bred from former racers rather than obtained from mills or dedicated breeders, begin socializing soon after they open their eyes. Though this often takes place with tourists or the public, strict rules are put in place to ensure the puppies are trained consistently and kept safe from physical harm. They are even largely kept off the ground, living in a raised kennel to avoid germs. At around 7 months old, the dog begins their training in earnest.
And according to Heyde – the exact food provided for these dogs is often a closely-guarded secret, with each team creating their own “magic formula” full of vitamins and protein. Fresh salmon is often considered a staple of a sled dog’s diet.
“Sled dogs, their care and the entire culture is fascinating on many levels,” said Emmy Brockman, WonderLab Education Director. “We are so pleased to have Finney and her dogs as visitors to the museum. And don’t worry. We plan to keep the presentation room chilly.”
Later in the afternoon, from 3 – 4 p.m., visitors are invited to an informal sled dog meet and greet. During this time small groups will be allowed to visit and pet the dogs. This event is free with museum admission and will be strictly timed to ensure the dog’s comfort.
“Bring a camera so you can take pictures,” said Finney. “My two, big, sweet, furry dogs love to ‘smile’ in pictures!”