I have a bone to pick with the folks at Disney. They need to stop hiring actors to play sled dogs in the movies. All too often visitors to the Yukon Quest office will comment “Oh they are so small” when meeting my dogs. And I, for one, blame the casting agents at Disney and other various media giants for not using the predominant breed in racing sled dogs. With all due respect to my pure breed mushing friends; becuase, many dogs are fun, and successful in harness, but when it comes to competitive mushing, with a few notable exceptions: Mike Ellis and Karen Ramstead come to mind, Alaskan huskies are the dog you see pulling sleds in the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest, and the 200-400 mile qualifying races leading up to those major 1000 mile events. And they do not need a stand in that looks more like a sled dog, they deserve to be seen as they are for what they are: awesome canine athletes capable of running farther faster then just about anything. – *disclaimer* I had to add the ‘just about’, I actually saw a show on animal planet years ago that said Alaskan huskies were in fact THE most extreme distance traveler, beating wolves and caribou; but have never been able to find the documentation to back this up. Feel free to help if you have a link
Yes the movie actors are lovely to look at. Whereas strength and endurance kicks butt! And that is exactly what these amazing endurance athletes we call Alaskan Huskies are. Not that they can’t be beautiful, it’s just that is not what is truly impressive about them. There has never been a standard of looks for sled dogs, and no dog is too ugly to be bred if it is the very best, proven, preformance dog. Their capacity and attitude give them a beauty all their own. As I have said before, these dogs are the ultimate endurance marathon athletes. Lean muscle mass, huge aerobic capacity, and an ability to utilize fats for energy in a way humans can only dream of make them superior runners. And I can not imagine why these amazing dogs would not be the dog of choice to play themselves in movies about sled dog racing in Alaska. But alas they are often overlooked, and movies are shot with dogs that big-wigs think the American public thinks a sled dog ought to look like.
Just look at the wonderful pictures taken by Steve and Kim Whitworth of Florida on their recent visit to the Yukon Quest office. These two females, Loben and Dust were with me on all of my races this past winter: the Copper Basin 300, the Yukon Quest, the Iditarod, and the Yukon Flats 300, for a grand total of 2600 race miles! You can not tell me they are not amazing. Now I am admittedly biased, but surely they are also pretty enough to star in movies.
And while I am clearing up common misconceptions about Alaskan huskies…
Yes they are a breed. This is not news to those of us who breed them. Although never bred for looks, always for purpose, there was still a very calculated effort to breed the best racing sled dogs, and over generations this work in progress has become the Alaskan Husky. Recent research has confirmed this on a genetic level.
Speaking about the results, in this article from Science Daily, researcher Heather Huson said, “The Alaskan sled dog presents a case in which a genetically distinct breed of dog has been developed through the selection and breeding of individuals based solely on their athletic prowess. Interestingly, this continual out-crossing for athletic enhancement has still led to the Alaskan sled dog repeatedly producing its own unique genetic signature. Indeed, the Alaskan sled dog breed proved to be more genetically distinct than breeds of similar heritage such as the Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky.”
The science and athletic capacity of Alaskan huskies is only part of what makes us love them dearly. It is also the relationship with them, these amazing adventures with them, and their individual personalities that have earned them a special place in our hearts and sealed their role in our lives.