It took a bit of time before I found my first true sled dog. The mushers of the Jersey Sands Sled Dog Racing Association were able to give me both experience and referrals. Combined with my volunteer work, I finally had the “northern breed experience” I needed. Now I just had to find a reputable breeder with a litter planned.
Sadly, finding a good dog breeder isn’t easy. Most people breed dogs because they like their dogs or the breed. Not because they’re knowledgeable about genetics or care to improve the breed as a whole. I didn't want a frumpy pup from unproven parents—I didn't even want a dog that fit the typical show standard. I wanted a dog that was built to run. (I won’t even get into the world of pet stores and puppy mills, since I know to avoid them.)
Eventually, I found Jaye of Sibersong, based out of New Hampshire. Her huskies were leggy, muscular, and athletic. The races she competed in further proved their health and abilities. Out of her entire kennel, two dogs stood out to me—Weyekin and Tristan. Oddly enough, a litter was planned between the two, and a NJ mushing friend was able to connect me with Jaye as a trusted buyer.
On March 10th, 2011 Denali (then “Summer”) and her siblings were born. When she was only a few weeks old, her mother picked her up and managed to cut her face, near her eyelid. She’s had a scar there ever since, but it doesn’t affect her vision or bother her at all.
In late May, I drove up to New Hampshire with my then-boyfriend to scoop up my new puppy. I think we went fishing before heading to Jaye's kennel the following morning. Even though it was already late May, it was still cool out and she was able to take us for a run with her team—on the back of an ATV. It was exhilarating to be around so many sled dogs and to be trusted to help handle them. It must’ve been obvious I barely knew what I was doing at the time. I only had Dexter and a bike back at home.
After the run, we met the puppies. I had two to pick from, but I always knew the bi-eyed, scar-faced pup would be the one I chose.
Denali was perfectly well behaved on the seven hour drive back home. Dexter loved her immediately. She was a no-nonsense dog from the start. I barely remember her as a puppy because she was so smart and well-mannered, but she still liked to wrestle.
Denali grew up in the blink of an eye. When she was old enough to run, it clicked with her right away. She learned commands by following Dexter and soon she was the one leading him.
As I added dogs to the team, Denali somewhat faded into the background—not because she isn’t great, but because she requires very little effort. She remains a strong leader, like many of her siblings and relatives. She has ran in ten races (some sanctioned, others just "fun runs") and has always done beautifully when competing.
Her love for running is only matched by her love of hunting small animals, which is really her only bad habit. When she isn’t running or hunting, she’s snoozing or policing the younger dogs. Or demanding pets from whatever human is nearby.
She’s the closest thing I have to a full-time handler—she just has four legs instead of two.