Home to nearly 50 sled dogs, Lone Wolf Kennel is a serious sled dog racing outfit just outside of Greenville, and they offer a variety of guided tours for people who want to experience aspects of the sport firsthand.
The kennels are owned and operated by two registered Maine guides, Mark and Ashley Patterson, who are married and live right on the property. Both of the Pattersons lead the sled-dog tours, as well as a variety of other guided outdoor adventures year round, including moose watching tours, fishing trips and hikes.
For sled dog experiences, the couple currently offers a few options. The first option is a kennel tour, which includes a 3-mile ride pulled by a sled dog team driven by one of the Pattersons, as well as a tour of the dog yard and plenty of photo opportunities. During the ride, each participant is covered with a sleeping bag and sled bag in a canoe chair in a toboggan-style sled.
“It’s actually really good for families and people who just aren’t physically fit, don’t have the ability to be out there for hours at a time,” Mark Patterson said.
Another option is what the Patterson’s call the Mush Your Own Team experience, in which the Pattersons allow you to be the musher — or leader — of a sled dog team. For this tour, the Pattersons require a phone interview and a certain degree of the physical ability.
“You have to be able to walk a mile,” Mark Patterson said. “You have to be able to stand for two hours. If you have a question if you can do that, it’s not the right trip.”
Before hitting the trails, the Pattersons give a lesson on the sled and the dogs, then they ride with you to make sure you understand how to use the brakes before letting you ride on the sled on your own. One of the Pattersons then leads the way on a snowmobile, stopping now and then to answer questions.
“We’ve been doing that trip for four or five years,” Mark Patterson said. “It’s really popular.”
Often people will go on that particular tour in pairs, with one person mushing — during which you stand on the runners of the sled — and the other person sitting in the sled, often taking photos.
The last option is to make a full day of it and do the kennel tour, have lunch, then mush your own team. The Pattersons will be offering that extended experience for the first time this winter.
How to get there: Lone Wolf Kennels is located at 34 North Road in Shirley. Beginning at the fire station in the center of Monson, drive north on Route 15 for 6.7 miles, then, as you drive down a hill, Lower Shirley Corner Road will appear to go straight as Route 15 bears right. Go straight onto Lower Shirley Corner Road. Drive 0.5 mile, through town, then turn right onto North Road, which is directly across from the cemetery. Drive 0.6 mile to the kennels, which is on the left.
Skill level: Beginner to intermediate, depending on the type of tour you choose. The Pattersons will work with you to decide which tour is best for you.
Cost: The kennel tour is $75 per person, and the “mush your own team” experience is $150 per person. However, tours can be customized or even combined, and the cost of the resulting experience would vary.
Guidelines: All tours must be scheduled ahead of time. The Pattersons will tell you all of the kennel rules when you get there. For instance, visitors should never pull a dog from its dog house because some of the dogs are shy, and their house is their refuge. For more information about the tours, call 207-343-0486 or visit lonewolfguidingservices.com.
My Experience: The dogs announced my arrival on Wednesday, Dec. 20, when I pulled into the snowy driveway of Lone Wolf Kennels and parked beside the barn. Their excited yips only mounted as I slogged through the fresh powder toward the dog yard.
Because I’ve visited other sled dog kennels in Maine, the setup of the dog yard didn’t surprise me. Each dog had its own house and space to roam, and they were confined to that space on a chain so they could move freely but couldn’t reach their neighbors. With nearly 50 dogs sharing the same yard, I imagine it’s very important that they each have their own space. Another detail I noticed was that they each had their own bone to chew on, and straw in their houses to keep them warm and comfortable.
I was there to ask the Pattersons about the upcoming sled dog racing season, not to go on a tour or mush my own team, so I spent most of the time in the dog yard, where the Pattersons were busy cleaning and suiting up a team with harnesses and booties for a 23-mile practice run on nearby logging roads. Because the snowpack wasn’t quite thick enough to use the sled, Ashley Patterson would be mushing from a four-wheeler, with a team of 18 dogs leading the way. As she hit the trail with her team, her husband, Mark, offered to drive me to a checkpoint on the route so I could see them in action. He then drove me back to the dog yard, where he explained more about raising, training and housing their 48 sled dogs.
“These guys got such good socializing at a young age that they’ve no fear of people, which is great for racing and tours,” he told me.
We walked around the yard visiting the many dogs that hadn’t been selected for the day’s practice run, and Mark Patterson explained that it’s a common practice to name sled dog litters by themes. Their sled dog Tuba, for example, belonged to their instruments litter, while Slinky belonged to the toys litter, and Whiskey and Cognac were brothers of their hard beverages litter. Using themes makes it easier for them to remember the dogs’ names, and it also helps them keep remember of dogs are related and their schedules for vaccines and deworming treatments. But when it comes right down to it, the owners just have to know their dogs, individually, and be attentive to any changes. Each dog eats a specific amount of food per day, and the dogs wear different styles of harnesses, depending on their body type and fur thickness. And each dog has different temperament, quirks and tendencies.
“They all have distinct personalities,” Mark Patterson said.
On Dec. 20, these many differences were evident to me. From the start, I noticed how different the sled dogs appeared physically, some with blue eyes and others with brown. Their coats varied from black to white to brown. Some had pointy ears. Some didn’t. And as I walked around, I noticed that while most dogs greeted me with wagging tails and excited barks, a select few retreated to their little houses, where they nestled into the straw and watched my movements with interest. Some of the young dogs were mouthy, nipping gently at my mittens and hair. Being a big dog lover, I was in heaven. And when I got home that evening, my own dog, Oreo, seemed very excited and confused as he furiously sniffed my jacket, pants and boots. I’d been hugging sled dogs for hours, after all.