Pack of personalities
CORDILLERA – Twenty eyes shining in anticipation stare back at William “Wally” Glass, beckoning their master to release them into the tug and toil of the traces.”They say the huskies have been pulling sleds for 2,000 years,” Glass said.The sled is loaded. The howling and barking peaks in a fevered crescendo. The sled is jerked forward 3 feet by the restless dogs.
“Whoa,” Glass cries out. He hops atop the slim runners aft of the sled, releasing a rope anchored to a metal stake in the ground.”Hike,” he commands the dogs. The uproar ceases immediately. Forty legs paw at the icy snowpack. The sled lurches forward as if it were ammo flung from a slingshot.”The hard part is getting them stopped,” Glass said. “These guys want to go. It’s an overpowering drive they have to run and pull.”This is the scene atop Cordillera nearly each cold winter day for Glass, owner and operator of Mountain Musher Dog Sled Rides.
Nipping at hind quartersAt the front of the pack is the leader, Nina – small, shy, courageous, exacting obedience from the other dogs. Then comes Sweetheart, equally courageous but willing to flop over on her back to have her belly scratched.Each of the dogs down the line – Gus, Homer, Jet, Patches, Smokey Joe, Jasmine, Rio and Tubs – have personalities that span the sled-dog spectrum.Some don’t get along and nip at one another’s hind quarters to express their displeasure. Brothers and sisters are often raised together to prevent fights and to teach them to work together.”They’re just like kids in a family,” Glass said. “They have the same genes and turn out totally different.”
Psychology plays a key role in nurturing the dogs, Glass said. Instead of using physical discipline, Glass talks to the dogs to gain obedience. A sergeant-like voice commands the dogs’ attention, while an softer tone is meant to reduce stress.”I just use my voice,” Glass said. “I don’t believe in hitting the dogs. You might have to do something somebody you fear tells you to do… but they won’t trust you.”On the trail in a blinding blizzard the dogs become hesitant and look back at Glass for reassurance. The dogs trust him when he signals them to trudge on.12 hours in the harness
Glass, 49, and three fellow sledders sink 12 hours into each exhausting day, first rousing the dogs from their kennels at 6 a.m., and finally feeding more than 70 hungry mouths about a half hour later.In between, the dogs are shuttled to Cordillera, pulled out of small cages and harnessed to the sled. Two 7-mile runs take place each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.At day’s end, all 70-some dogs must be taken out of the harnesses, scooped up into their cages and ferried home for feeding.The work is hard and evident in Glass’ strong, calloused hands. Years of sun have reddened his face, which is covered by a thick beard and oval sunglasses and topped by a black Stetson.A Wyoming native, Glass began dogsledding 20 years ago, establishing Mountain Musher Dog Sled Rides three years later.
Dreams of tackling the famed Alaskan dogsled race – the Iditarod – float in Glass’ mind. But that would mean leaving his business and losing the money he and his family live on during the rest of the year.Glass is passing the life onto 19-year-old daughter Sarah, now in her first year of sledding full time. The long hours and cold tested her will, especially at year’s start. “You’re worn out at the end of each day when the dogs still have energy,” Sarah said.Still, it remains the challenge that drew Sarah to the traces.”Just because my parents do it and I’ve been around it doesn’t mean you can do it, and I wanted to learn how,” Sarah said.
Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado