Volunteering at Denali's Sled Dog Kennels

     This week, I made a commitment for the rest of the summer to a half Siberian, half Alaskan husky named Carpe. I'm happy to say this commitment involves giving him a walk a few times a week. You might think, "What's the big deal? You're giving a dog a walk." The reason why it is important is due to the fact that Carpe is a sled dog.

     Carpe lives in Denali National Park at their sled dog kennels. He is a working dog-- he helps pull sleds in the long Alaskan winter. These sled rides are not commercial rides for money or tours. They perform jobs in the wilderness. The sled dog teams allow the wilderness to be accessible to park rangers by means that are far better for the environment than motorized vehicles. Environmental conservation projects, protecting winter visitors, and patrolling the wilderness are among some of the duties of the rangers with dog teams.
     In the summertime, sled dog demonstrations are done three times a day at the kennels for park visitors. This is a fun way to learn more about the dogs and their jobs. The dogs often relax most of the day-- this is where the kennel volunteers such as myself come into play. We get the dogs some exercise by walking them. Some volunteers even run with their dogs . . . I think I'll work up to that.
     Although there are rules and a bit of necessary training, volunteering to walk the dogs is pretty straightforward. I called the kennels earlier this week. The man told me that I could come any day between 11am and 1 pm to receive an orientation for volunteering. I went a couple days later. They paired me up with a dog, Carpe, to walk every time I come. Volunteers walk the same dog each time to stay consistent for the dogs. After a brief orientation, a practice walk, and a little paper work, I was ready to start walking Carpe. Though there are set times that the volunteers are able to take the dogs out--basically times when there is not a demonstration going on--they are flexible about which days and times volunteers come. As long as I go three times a week, it doesn't matter which day or time. This works well for me since my work schedule changes slightly week to week.
     The following day, Carpe and I went for our first real walk together. These dogs are really only trained to pull sleds. Carpe is not trained to go on walks. He pulls a bit and gets a too excited when he sees a squirrel or some other dogs. I was told that he's gotten three porcupines in the past. He knows some tricks, but I haven't been able to see those yet. Carpe is a very sweet dog. He gets along well with people and such. I'm excited to be able to form a bond with him throughout the next two months, though then I'll be sad to leave him!
     One thing that particularly surprised me during our walk was people taking pictures of us. As we have to walk the dogs near along the road, some people in cars and tour buses take pictures as they go by. Why don't they just visit the kennels???
     Anyway, to sum everything up, I'm proud to have this opportunity to volunteer with the dogs. I'm also happy to be getting in some volunteer hours in a national park. Hopefully adding this to my resumé will make me a little more marketable for a NPS job.
     If you ever find yourself near Denali for the summer, consider volunteering to walk a doggo. Even now, the kennels are accepting more volunteers. Just call the kennel for more information.

Kennels phone number: (907) 683-9586
Website: https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/kennels.htm


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