Dogs are part of the Central Oregon lifestyle. They go trail running and hiking with their people. Some of them point, flush and retrieve pheasants and quail. And some of them pull sleds through the snow for hundreds of miles.
Jane Devlin raises, trains and goes adventuring with Siberian Huskies in Central Oregon. I caught up with her at the 10 Mile Sno-Park near Paulina Lake as she was tuning up her dogs for the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge.
“Right now, I’m putting Mushers Secret on their paws. It’s a wax in their paws that keeps snowballs from getting stuck. It feels like you are running on rocks. I prefer to do that instead of booties because booties tend to come off and they tend to ball up worse. Then they have their nails without the booties to grip,” Devlin said.
Few breeds are more enthusiastic, energetic and focused than Siberian Huskies. They live to run and pull a sled through the snow.
“They love it. They are doing it because they love it. There’s the pack mentality. They get excited and they go. At a certain age they tell you that they are done.” At that point they are happy to be skijoring dogs and hiking companions,” Devlin said.
Devlin, who owns Snow Mouse Kennels near Sunriver, is running her team of sled dogs in the Warm Lake Stage Race, one of three events at this year’s Idaho Sled Dog Challenge.
“You are not just standing there. You are calling turns. You are calling commands. You are always watching the dogs, making sure everybody is running healthy. You are keeping the speed comfortable. You are often running up hills behind them. As long as those lines are tight. You can also be kicking, almost like on a skateboard. We call it peddling. It’s a lot of balance around turns. There’s a lot of bumps. You learn to feel your dogs. It’s always a challenge, especially in a new place that you don’t know,” Devlin said.
Running sled dogs is the epitome of understanding, training and caring for dogs. Devlin describes it as “way beyond a hobby … a completely immersive passion.
“I don’t care about racing. That’s more the human element. The dogs don’t care if they are racing. They are just high on the whole experience, the other dogs, being outside. That’s what I love, also going places that support your adventure. It can be dangerous. You want to know that there are some trail spotters out there and a few avalanche beacons and things like that,” Devlin said.
You can help Devlin and her dog teams by letting them pass if you encounter them on the ski and snowmobile trails in the snowy backcountry. By all means, stop and admire the amazing sights and sounds of humans and canines working together, having the times of their lives.
“Just get your dog off the trail. If you are on a snowmobile, stay on the right. Most of us train our dogs to stay on the right. The main thing is just slow down around corners. You’ve got to know what’s coming. Pass slowly. Usually, we’ll give you a signal. We’ll wave you on by. Most of the snowmobiles around here are pretty good about telling you there’s nobody behind or there’s three behind. You’ve just got to communicate. We’ve got to share the trail,” Devlin said.
When she’s not running her sled dogs, Devlin trains other peoples’ dogs. Her business, Dog Aerobics Training, is based in the Sunriver area. She can be reached through the Sunriver Vet Clinic.
“I like to leave with happy dogs and come back with happy dogs. That’s always my goal. If they aren’t having a good time, then why am I out there? Just making sure that everyone’s comfortable, that they are all enjoying themselves. It’s all about dog care. Then you do the next race, and you have that trust. ‘OK, we had a good time, she can be our leader. She’s all right. We’ll keep her,'” Devlin said.