sled dogs of Avon on their home turf for weekend race
By Shauna Leavitt
February 24, 2006 | Nestled in the southeast
corner of Cache Valley is the small community
of Avon, where roadside businesses are non-existent
and the livestock outnumber the humans.
Mike and Kathy Carmichael live along one of
Avon's country lanes in the middle of nowhere.
The gravel road leading to their home curves down
the side of a hill, passes a farmyard full of
horses, bumps over a small wooden bridge, and
then levels off just before their driveway.
Two neighborhood children play in the snow-filled
ditch on the edge of their property.
At the end of their driveway, a light-colored
log home rests on the side of a small hill. The
home's garage door is open showing a Siamese cat
curled up on a car's roof.
This little country haven is where the Carmichaels
raise and train their team of Siberian Huskies.
The Siberians participate in dog shows and sled
races. Mike and Kathy prefer to show only huskies
that have raced at least 200 miles. "We want
them to be all-round, multi-purpose dogs,"
Earlier this month, the Siberians ran in the
Race to the Sky, a 350-mile dog-sled competition
in Montana. Of the 24 teams that raced, they were
the 15th team across the finish line.
"We hope to someday train a team to run
in the Quest," said Mike. Posters from Yukon
Quest Race hang on the walls of their living room.
"It's one of the harshest races in the world,"
said Kathy. The 1,000-mile dog sled race stretches
through the interior of Alaska and the Canadian
When the Siberians aren't racing they find rest
and company in the Carmichael's kennel, which
is currently home to 32 huskies.
When entering the kennel, the dogs greet their
owners with enthusiastic barking and howling.
They soon settle down but continue to watch curiously
through the chain-linked fence.
The pens line the west side of the kennel and
extend half way down the east side. With freshly
cleaned cement floors there is only a faint smell
DOGS: Old Doc, right, gives a good pull
to get the sled going. Below, Mike Carmichael
hits the trail with his dogs, and Squeaker sits
pretty for the camera. / Photos courtesy of the
Each pen contains two to four huskies. Some are young,
energetic and seem eager to work; while others are retired
and enjoy relaxing.
The Siberians each have a name. Squeaker is a tall,
lean husky with a blonde coat and reddish highlights.
He sits quietly along the side of his pen. When Mike
says it's time to come out, he jumps up and is thrilled
to go outside. Obedient to his owner, he walks down
the aisle between the kennels and out the back door.
He plays around a bit, stretches and takes care of the
normal duties. He responds quickly to Mike's commands
and is eager to greet him by jumping up and resting
his paws on Mike's chest.
Squeaker came from Canada, where he was trained to
be a wheel dog. The wheel dogs are harnessed closest
to the sled and earn the reputation of being strong
and reliable. Squeaker ran the 1,000-mile Iditarod twice
with his previous owner.
Batiste is one of the two Alaskan Huskies in the Carmichael's
kennel. She is an experienced lead dog. When hooked
to the sled she has the responsibility of guiding the
team, having a keen sense of the trail and responding
quickly to her musher's commands.
Batiste was the lead dog for Mike in this year's Race
to the Sky. During the initial part of the race each
team had a rider in the sled. "I was talking to the
rider and wasn't paying close attention when Batiste
turned on the trail. I thought we were supposed to go
straight but she knew where the other dogs had gone,"
When Batiste retires she will be used to train puppies.
"The younger dogs pick up a lot from the older dogs.
Like babies, they start mimicking," said Mike.
Topaz, another lead dog, wasn't feeling well after
150 miles into a race. Mike zipped her up in the sleigh
bag and let Spot take the lead position. "Within
a half and hour she gave me the look that said 'What
am I doing back here?' So I hooked her back up in Spot's
place and she finished the rest of the race," said
There are often distractions along trails. A valued
dog is one that won't be sidetracked when the distractions
come. During training, when the dog sled team was at
a full run they came upon a decomposing deer. Without
loosing a beat, Solo grabbed one of the deer's legs
and carried it in his mouth as he ran. "It wasn't long
(1.5 miles later) before he realized that wasn't such
a good idea and dropped the leg," said Mike.
The liveliest group in the Carmichael's kennel is
the pack of 10-week old puppies. They get their exercise
by romping and playing in the pasture. When it is time
to come in, Mike calls out, "Here puppies! Here puppies!"
He would prefer to call them by name but the five of
them are almost identical. "I can tell them apart but
it takes more time," said Mike.
In a couple of years, the puppies will board the transport
truck to go run a race of their own.
The truck stands ready with two sleds strapped on
This weekend (Feb. 25 and 26) is unique; the truck
will be driving to a race without the Siberian Huskies.
The Carmichaels are hosting the 2nd Annual Cache Valley
K9 Challenge, "two days of exciting dogsled racing
in beautiful northern Utah."
The races will start on Saturday at 9 a.m. at the
Hardware Ranch in Hyrum. It will be a two-day event
consisting of races ranging from a 3-mile dash for junior
and novice musher, to a 120-mile race for the experienced
musher. Twenty-four teams will be racing. Ten have signed
up to run in the two-day, 120-mile race.
"I hope this race grows each year to become something
Cache Valley is proud of," said Mike.
At noon on Saturday there will be demonstrations on
how dogs and humans can work and play together.
For more information go to: http://www.carmacks-siberians.com/k9challenge/