How Dog Mushing Helps Village Youth

From the Resource Basket Blog

When you catch dog mushing fever, it affects your mind, body and spirit. The community of Huslia has embraced the Frank Attla Youth & Sled Dog Care program. The program is named after George Attla II’s late son and is focused on teaching youth about caring for dogs, the science behind it, and how to race dogs. George Attla is a well-known sprint dog mushing legend in Alaska.

 

(Left to Right) George Attla II, Kathy Turco, Dustina Sam, Shay Attla, Jazmine Vent, Thomas Henry with “Happy”, and Courtney Agnes finish up with an intense three days of participating in the Junior North American Sled Dog Races, 2013. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

(Left to Right) George Attla II, Kathy Turco, Dustina Sam, Shay Attla, Jazmine Vent, Thomas Henry with “Happy”, and Courtney Agnes finish up with an intense three days of participating in the Junior North American Sled Dog Races, 2013. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

 

George is in his eighties and he still runs dogs. Many dog mushers seek his advice and he occasionally lets others use his dogs. A couple of years ago, he loaned his dogs to a young musher in Fairbanks. George started thinking about his yard full of dogs and how to engage youth in Huslia. Having been involved with dogs for most of his life, he understands the benefits they provide to a person’s mind and body. George wanted to share his knowledge with youth and this became the inspiration for youth to participate in the recent Junior North American Dog Sled Races in North Pole.

Kathy Turco is a RurAL CAP second year AmeriCorps Member and has been volunteering on the youth mushing project. Kathy says “the youth really make George smile, that is, to know how willing they are to work and do a good job.”

According to Teresa Cox, Principal at Huslia’s Jimmy Huntington School, the youth are learning to feed dogs, learning about nutrition, and how to hook the dogs up to a harness. They are also learning to work as a team. Teresa says, “They come back so excited.” They are learning how to race and handle dogs, how to become race marshals, race timers and checkpoint volunteers.

George and Kathy brought four youth to participate in the 2013 Junior North American Sled Dog Races in North Pole, Alaska. According to George, they’ve never had a junior musher from Huslia participate in the Junior North American Sled Dog Races. The youth from Huslia had to decide who to send to the races and elected four students to participate. Student Thomas Henry placed second in the three day race. He enjoyed listening to stories and hanging out with George. He said, “It keeps me out of the house and is pretty fun.”

 

Thomas Henry of Huslia ran in the six dog classic of the Junior North American Sled Dog race in North Pole and placed second in 2013. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Thomas Henry of Huslia ran in the six dog classic of the Junior North American Sled Dog race in North Pole and placed second in 2013.
Photo by Angela Gonzalez

 

In March 2014, the program will send one junior musher to the 2014 Arctic Winter Games in Fairbanks and one junior musher again to the Junior North American Championship.

During all races, George coaches the students and gives them advice. The youth know the names of each dog and have formed bonds with them. The high school students go to different dog yards twice a week. Some of the students go to the dog yards and help mushers every day after school on their own time.

 

Peggy Bruno, Jimmy Huntington School Teacher shares:

How fortunate we are to be paired with George Attla, Kathy Turco, and their furry, four-legged sprinters in this new program to reignite the love for racing in the youth of Huslia. Every Tuesday and Thursday, seventeen students don their winter gear and trudge to George Attla’s, Floyd Vent’s, Wes Henry’s, or Wilson Sam’s dog yard. Students have learned dog yard maintenance, nutrition, care, restraint, and racing equipment. More important, however, is how the students are becoming grounded in their cultural heritage and their community. They have assumed an important role in their life-long obligations as community members.

 

Dog handling is one of the many skills the youth learn in the Huslia’s dog mushing program. Jazmine Vent is about to race in the four dog classic in the Junior North American Sled Dog Race in North Pole, 2013. Left-right: Courtney Agnes, Shay Attla, Kathy Turco, Jazmine Vent (behind the sled) and Thomas Henry. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Dog handling is one of the many skills the youth learn in the Huslia’s dog mushing program. Jazmine Vent is about to race in the four dog classic in the Junior North American Sled Dog Race in North Pole, 2013. Left-right: Courtney Agnes, Shay Attla, Kathy Turco, Jazmine Vent (behind the sled) and Thomas Henry.
Photo by Angela Gonzalez

 

Story by Angela Gonzalez and contributions from
The Resource Basket Staff.

Acknowledgements: Alfred Attla, George Attla III, Harold Attla, Marilyn and Tawnie Attla, Stacia Backensto, Bill Bruno, Dr. Mark May, Susan Paskvan, Alice Rogoff, Bridget and Hilary Schwafel, Ross Sam, Monique Vent, Yatlin Family, Alaska 4-H, The Charlie Anderson Foundation, Community of Huslia, Guardian Flight, North Pole Economic Development Corp., Red Paw Feed, Inc., Ruby Marine and Wright Air Service. Other supporters of the program include Wilson Sam, Westley Henry, George Attla II and Floyd Vent who volunteered to teach and provided use of their dog yards for the event.