The baying and barking is deafening – so loud I can barely here Sam’s voice as he greets me across the top of two of the beautiful, excited creatures he’s harnessing together. It’s a chilly Thursday, shortly after 5 and Kommetjie beach stretches towards Chapman’s Peak, almost deserted on this winter afternoon. Sam and his helpers (including Tracy-lee, a Capri local who helps him out every week) are gearing up for their regular Husky sledding.
Right up front, the lead dog Zack leaps repeatedly into the air, impatient to get going. Finally, just when you think they’re going to burst with anticipation, they’re off! Through the dunes and down to the water’s edge, dodging seaweed and giving the two sled passengers a shower every time their course takes them into the shallows.
If you’ve never experienced the magical, other-worldly sight of a pack of Huskies sledding, not across snow but on white powdery beach sand, backed by crashing waves, make the effort to get to one of the Cape Town beaches that Mush it Up regularly frequent, giving these working dogs the joy and satisfaction of doing what they were born to do.
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I asked Sam and Tracy-lee about their experiences with Mush it Up.
Q & A with Sam Gunther of Mush it Up
GHM: Who is Sam?
SAM: 1. I am simply Sam – Husky man, lover of animals and nature, father of four – 2 boys 2 girls and we all love nature! We disappear in to the mountains as a family with our Huskies as often as possible
Been a boy of the bush as long as I can remember, I was raised on farms and animals and nature were always my best friends.
GHM: Why Huskies?
SAM: Huskies are the single most misunderstood breed of sentient beings on our continent – never mind just South Africa. This is why I train them and school their owners, because they are first and foremost WORKING DOGS (full stop) and they love to work.
GHM: How long have you been running Husky sledding in Cape Town?
SAM: I started Mush it Up training for Huskies in January 2009 because I realised soon after adopting my first Husky that people generally have no idea what a Husky actually is, and what their needs are.
GHM: Why does this breed of dog need to run? Can they not simply run on the beach like other dogs? Why do they need to be in a pack and why do they need to pull a sled?
SAM: Why must they sled? Because they were born to do it! they are sled dogs; the only reason they exist is because they were bred to be sled dogs. And they derive joy and satisfaction from working in a pack environment as they are pack animals because of the wolf in them. It gives them happiness and a sense of purpose and belonging.
GHM: Are all positions in the sledding pack important or just the leader and the one at the back?
SAM: All positions on a sledding gang-line are important, but your most key positions are right at the back (wheel dog) as he must be the strongest to get the sled going, and right in front (lead dog) that is the team leader, the “steering wheel”, telling the pack when to go and where to go.
GHM: How do you choose which dog will take the key positions?
SAM: I don’t choose which Husky goes in which position. I simply put them in what I call a start out position (which is at the rear) and from there I let them tell me where they want to be. All I do is listen to them.
GHM: Isn’t it cruel for people to own Huskies in our climate especially in hot summer months?
SAM: I don’t believe it is cruel to own Huskies in our climate, as they are all born here and therefore have acclimatised to a huge extent – even though they don’t belong here – because they are an epidemic in S.A. due to people breeding them because of ignorance, plain and simple.
GHM: Do you only run Huskies? What about other breeds like malamutes?
SAM: I train all Husky breeds, and malamute and many other Husky cross breeds, and working dogs that like to join on the odd occasion like Labbys or German Shepherds.
GHM: You also rescue Huskies – why does this breed of dog get abandoned or left at shelters?
SAM: This breed is always the first one to be abandoned, re-homed or put down. Why? Because they are working dogs people! people get Huskies not realising this or doing their bladdy homework on the breed. So they end up being passed on because people can’t handle their energy levels. If they don’t train / work then they vent their energy in whichever way they can – digging holes, destroying things or – the most common one – escaping from properties and never being seen again. Why do you think they escape in the first place? Because they can’t work, so they take the next best thing – escape and run forever!
GHM: What advice would you give to someone considering buying a Husky?
SAM: One of two things: Don’t get a Husky! – Or, if you are determined, be sure to contact me and come sledding with us and allow your Huskies to be true to who and what they are – WORKING DOGS!!!
Q&A with Capri resident, Husky lover and Mush it Up helping hand, Tracy-lee Palframan
GHM: How long have you been helping Sam with his sledding?
TRACY-LEE: About 18 months
GHM: Tell us about your Husky history
TRACY-LEE: I have owned a female Husky X Labrador for 9 years and it was due to her that I started researching the breed as she was giving me such a hard time :-)……Her intelligence and energy was a little different to the usual breeds of dog. It was not easy and I almost gave her away…..I am now rather glad I didn’t. I now own another boy and he was an emergency foster from Husky rescue in JHB. I knew after two weeks that he was going to be a foster fail as he saved me from being electrocuted by a live wire in my garden. It was because of him that I eventually got together with Sam at Mush it up. I have basically been to every once a week sled possible. I am devoted to it as I see how beneficial it is for Huskies. I have fostered and homed other Huskies and one of them is my boy’s sledding partner on a Thursday. They get on very well and are similar in age and height. She also lives in a new home across the road from me in Capri.
GHM: What is it about Huskies that you love?
TRACY-LEE: I love Huskies because of the way they communicate with humans and each other. They are also extremely loving. I love all dogs but when I fell in love with a Husky there was no turning back. They are also just the most gorgeous looking animals but this is sometimes their downfall as people get them just for their looks. Their intelligence is incredible.
GHM: Do your Huskies act differently if they don’t get regular sled time?
TRACY-LEE: YES!!!! They start digging and chewing on stuff that they are not supposed to! They become naughty children.
GHM: If other Caprians who own Huskies want to get them on the sledding team, what do they need to know? Is their pre-sledding training for the dogs or do they simply get added to the rest of the pack?
TRACY-LEE: I would advise them to come and have a look at the sled on a Thursday and meet Sam and the pack. Huskies can not sled from a very young age and only after their bones are formed and are strong. From about 8 months should be okay. The Thursday sled is a smaller pack than the other sleds that Sam does so it will be a good place for a beginner. Most of them catch on like a duck to water and it’s amazing to see how the rest of the pack communicates and shows them what to do. It can take one to three sleds for them to get it. Sam provides the harness and gear and it is also for sale if the owners want their own harnesses. They will simply be added to the pack.
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