Puppy LoveFeb 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Lilace Mellin Guignard
Mary Beth Logue, owner of Cascade Kennel in Trout Run, Pennsylvania, often hears dog sledding compared to snowmobiling, but says, “it’s really more like dairy farming.” She smiles and shares kisses with lead dog Ruby. She gets up at 3:55 a.m. to feed, water, clean, and play with all the dogs. She answers emails while eating, giving the ones going on a run that morning time to hydrate and digest. Then she puts shirts and booties on those that need them, harnessing and attaching them to the lines before they burst into the woods and fields around their home to race the sunrise.
After giving snacks and water to the day’s runners, Mary Beth gets herself dressed and heads to Montoursville where she works as a school counselor. At the end of the day she comes home to her pack. “It’s not about racing,” she says of the training, “though it’s fun to be with other mushers and on new trails. What I like most is being part of a pack of dogs. I’m kind of in charge but not really. They have a say in everything.”
Take bedtime, where the analogy with dairy farming breaks down. When the dogs are indoors, they have the run of the upstairs of the timber frame home built like a Pennsylvania bank barn. “There are dogs everywhere,” she laughs. “Most of them are sweet cuddles, especially Bow, Copper, and Triumph. Hurricane and Bonanza snuggle for a while and then jump off the bed to sleep in their own space. I guess I can’t blame them.”
The ground floor is the work area, where the gear, sleds, and food are stored. The basement is the “dog box,” which gives each dog their own space, so they always feel comfortable and safe.
Mary Beth currently trains fifteen dogs, but more live there, along with her husband, Chris Logue. She says firmly, “They stay with me forever.” When dogs get too old to run, they remain with the pack. Some develop conditions that mean they can’t run. The vets aren’t sure why, but Rush, only nine years old, gets a couple of seizures a year, so she’s going to be Chris’s hangar dog. Chris is a pilot, and they have an airstrip and hangar he built.
“People have asked me if I know my dogs’ names.” Mary Beth shakes her head in disbelief. “I know their bark from inside, I know their different barks and what they mean. I ask them, ‘do you know your friends’ names?’” Pack equals family.
If you wonder how her husband feels about all this, well, he’s partly responsible. Chris got Mary Beth her first harness the Christmas after they’d motorcycled to Alaska. In Denali they’d watched a demonstration of what these dogs love to do, and Mary Beth thought, “Scout could do this.” Her dog Scout was part husky and part Labrador, and looked like the Alaskan huskies in the demo. Alaskan huskies are smaller than Alaskan Malamutes—the iconic sled dogs of movies—more marathoner than linebacker.
Soon there was a second dog, Ember, from a kennel that trained sled dogs. Ember knew what it was to be in a team and taught Scout. They went skijoring—a sport of cross-country skiing while being pulled by dogs who respond to voice commands. She joined the Pennsylvania Sled Dog Club and continued to learn, gradually growing her team, even breeding sled dogs for a short time. She also switched from skijoring to dogsledding. “I’m not a good enough skier to hook myself to dogs going eighteen miles per hour,” she laughs.
She twice ran the Beargrease Dog Sled Marathon Race in Northern Minnesota, which is more than a hundred miles, but mostly does shorter races. She organizes the annual Canyon Sled Dog Challenge, set for February 26 on the Pine Creek Rail Trail. Many years the weather has not cooperated, and it’s been canceled. So what can all these mid-Atlantic mushers do when there’s no snow on the ground? Mary Beth has a four-wheeler she hooks her team to, driving at their race pace of eleven miles per hour through the woods. But the dogs like it best when the temperature is in the twenties.
Mary Beth also likes winter best. She grew up on cross-country skis and ice skates in Jersey Shore, but never guessed she’d end up dogsledding. She describes riding a sled as being shot out of a cannon tied to a rocking chair. “You never let go,” she explains. “You crash all the time, but I’d rather crash than lose my team.” She watches the dogs figure each other out, and has learned to tell who wants to lead and who doesn’t, what side they prefer to pull on, and who they like to be paired with.
She uses the same approach with dogs as she uses with children she works with—positive reinforcement. “I’ve never had to teach a dog to pull or run. I just have to set them up to succeed.” When pups are too young to pull, she teaches them how to cross water, what a harness feels like, and how to be brave in new settings. “It’s all about them wanting to go. You can’t push a rope,” she points out.
What can we learn from dogs? Mary Beth doesn’t hesitate before answering. “Enthusiasm. They are committed to being happy.” Also that work can be fun.
Mary Beth has worked hard and looks forward to retirement. She’s done acquiring puppies and sees a day when she won’t be racing or training year-round. She’ll just grow older with her pack. “I’ll always have some dogs,” she grins.
For more information, follow the Cascade Kennel Sled Dog Race Team on Facebook.