Run Dogs! Run!

Years ago, my cousin and I adopted a Labrador Retriever from a local shelter in Vancouver. He was a gorgeous dog but to be honest, we really didn't think he was too bright. He didn't obey any command and judging by his behaviour, we doubt he'd ever been in a car.

Things got desperate when we discovered his overwhelming drive to chase squirrels and humiliate us by mounting small, fuzzy, white puppies at the dog park. In the years we had him, neither one of us managed to score a hot date from the dog park with humpy the squirrel chaser at the end of the leash.

At some point, we called in a professional animal behaviourist. The one session we attended taught me so much about dogs. The biggest lesson I took home was that if you graphed a dog's needs on a pie chart, 80% of that chart would be the need for a job. To thrive, more than anything, a dog needs a job. Not kisses, cuddles, gourmet meals or cute outfits: a purpose.

That lesson was driven home the first time I watched the start of the Iditarod.

The start of the Last Great Race is my favourite time to be in Anchorage. Sixty-odd dog teams and their mushers starting an eight day, thousand mile race from Willow to Nome during an Alaskan winter. Very very cool.

Honestly, my fellow North Americans, I don't understand why this event isn't more popular than it is. As a continent, we love dogs. We love happy dogs and nowhere on earth is there a happier, healthier, more excited group of dogs than at the start line of the Iditarod.

It's great fun being up early in downtown Anchorage watching the dog teams ready for the ceremonial start. Their excitement is palpable. Once the dogs are harnessed, tails wag, wheel dogs leap, and excited yips and yelps pierce the air as the teams wait their turn to run.

After watching the dog teams leave on Saturday it's time for lunch before things start up again with a vintage snow machine parade and the annual Running of the Reindeer (think Pamplona with very large antlers).

This year, we stayed in Anchorage and made our way up to Willow for Sunday's official re-start of the race where mushers and their teams began their adventure to Nome. I have to admit, that was even more fun than the day before. The dogs seem to know that this is the real thing and seem more excited than the day before.

By the time we arrived in Willow about a third of the teams had left the starting gate but the excited yelping of the dog teams was remarkable. I can only imagine what it sounded like when all the teams were there getting ready.

I'm adding a visit to watch the end of the race in Nome to my Alaskan bucket list. That's the thing about Alaska. Every time you get out and do something it only makes you want to get out and do more.

Oh yeah, and the reason my dog didn't obey my commands? Turns out he only understood Cantonese.