Sled dogs pulling their weight at Kittanning Light-Up Night
A Rayburn man has been busy preparing his red sled to give rides along Market Street to people at Kittanning’s Light-Up Night on Nov. 21.
But it won’t be horses or even reindeer pulling the sleigh during the holiday event — the rides will be led by musher Allen Dunn’s team of dogs.
Dunn, who is training his 20 Alaskan and Siberian huskies for sled dog races in Montana and Michigan in February, will be giving folks a chance to ride in his modified golf cart pulled by his team on a route around downtown Kittanning.
“It’s going to be a really good addition,” said Ray Voller, president of Downtown Kittanning, the group organizing Light-Up Night. “Anyone I’ve talked to who has been involved in other Light-Up Night events have said they have never had something like this. This is the first for Kittanning.”
Dunn, who is a disabled veteran, hopes his participation in the celebration will get him noticed by businesses for sponsorship in races. He wants to compete in the 1,000-mile Alaskan Iditarod race in 2017 — a goal that would cost him about $30,000 to reach.
While looking to the future, Dunn kept his dogs focused Wednesday on a training run along the Rails to Trails between Mosgrove and Templeton in Armstrong County.
“They absolutely love to run,” Dunn said.
The dogs yapped excitedly, nearly grinning ear-to-ear, as they waited for Dunn to hitch them up to the sled before the run. The faster Alaskans were out in front, with the stronger Siberians at the back.
As soon as Dunn gave the command, “Hike,” the dogs fell silent and took off. Dunn steered the sled and kept a sharp eye on his team to make sure the dogs didn’t show any sign of stress or get their harnesses tangled.
“Jumbo is the leader — he takes all the commands,” Dunn said. “The swing dogs are right behind — they make the turns. The wheel dogs at the back have all the strength.”
Recent cold temperatures make training easier, he said. Until the cold snap, he had to run his dogs early in the morning or late at night.
Dunn started training sled dogs about five years ago after seeing his first race in Warren County. Last year, he competed in the 350-mile “Race to the Sky” at Seeley Lake, Montana, but had to drop out with 50 miles left when his dogs started showing signs of exhaustion.
He feels confident that he and his team have a good shot at getting through the next couple of races, which would qualify him for the Iditarod.
“They do this because they love it, and they do it for me too,” he said as his team ran in unison along the silent, tree-lined trail. “This is like stepping back in time. The Eskimos have used these dogs for centuries. Steering the sled and hearing nothing except the sound of the dogs breathing is a great feeling.”
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or email@example.com.