Because it wouldn't be fair to generalize our experience to every outfitter in the world, and because there are differences in opinion about whether the dogs live good lives or not, we are not going to debate ethics here -- it's simply a different discussion altogether. But, you can feel free to draw your own conclusions from the bottom two photos. Regardless of whether the dogs are "happy," we quickly realized that this was no heartfelt family operation. This was mass tourism, the dogs tied to 6-foot chains and sharing wooden box shelters.
Walking through the "kennel" area, your nose takes over, delivering the smell of dozens of dogs who are being kept in a small, albeit open-aired, area. It's littered with poop and pee, the dogs standing and rolling in it, so watch your step. You can walk up and pet them, but we wouldn't recommend lowering your head for a kiss -- we saw a few gobbling up their own feces.
The anticipation and process of getting on the sled is probably the best part, because that's where you can hear the creaking of the wood and appreciate the skill that it takes to operate and steer. You would think that would continue throughout the duration of the ride, but once you actually sit down on the sled, it starts to get weird again.
The dogs are by no means patient. From the moment they are attached to the sled, the barking begins. Obnoxious barking. Howling. Growling and bickering at one another. More barking. This is true not only at the point of departure, but also whenever the sled stops out in the field. Once the sled gets moving, everything is finally peaceful. "The dogs are happy now," my guide said as we took off into the field. "They are happy now."
This is another brief moment you can really take in, the dogs working together to pull the sled, following the verbal comments of the driver. But that soon fades, too, as the dogs begin to poop and pee while running. We didn't think this to be possible, and it was impressive at first in a humorous way, but your downwind position allows them to get the last laugh. Here you are zipping through this beautiful wilderness, and all you can taste are the farts being squeezed out of the back end of a dozen dogs.
Now, perhaps you are a person who can overlook these aspects and enjoy the bigger picture. If that's the case, more power to you -- go for it. But we couldn't get off the sled fast enough. There was too much in the air that didn't sit well with us, both literally and figuratively. Dog sledding is an old, great tradition, but... we think some things are better left in the past.
[Photos: Will McGough]