Our philosophy is very simple: our canine family is as much a family as our human family and are therefore given the same level of respect and care. We treat each dog as if s/he were our only dog. We are continually learning about dog-speak and pack behavior so that we can not only pay close attention to each dog's mental and physical well being, but also understand it. We do our best to give everyone what they need in order to feel safe, loved and happy. In other words, our philosophy is the same as what the dogs give us; unconditional love!
From this foundation of acceptance and confidence, we then strive to help each dog reach their individual potential. This effort underlies all of our decisions: who lives with who in the kennel, who needs down time or 1:1
bonding time in the house (yes, they can sleep on the bed!), who needs play time in the play yard, who needs to work on a relationship with another dog, who needs to work on a behavior issue, who runs where on the team, and who is ready to try their paw at being a leader.
We are also a forever home; any dog that joins our family through adoption, purchase, or as a puppy bred by us, stays with us. We work with the family we have. This is relatively rare in working sled dog kennels. If a dog has a problem, we do not consider her a problem dog, rather we consider him a dog with problem and we go to work on it. The bonds that we have with these dogs are especially strong. Some of our dogs are speed demons and some are slower, some are young and full of energy and some are older and wiser, some have beautiful conformation, structure and movement and others are a little off in one of these areas of the breed standard. Because of this, our teams will never be the fastest teams or the most synchronized teams, but we definitely have teams that are energized, fun- loving, hard working, dedicated and in love with their life!
"Pedigree indicates what the animal should be. Conformation indicates what the animal appears to be. But performance indicates what the animal actually is." -- Author unknown
Every dog has a role and a niche in the the canine pack and in the human pack (us). These roles change as the dogs change. Everyone runs on the team, some provide friendship to certain other dogs, some help to train puppies, some visit the elderly, and everyone provides us with that unconditional companionship and love that only dogs can provide.
We are often asked about our approach to training. At home, it is based on these 4 principles: a) we establish a strong bond with lots of 1:1 time characterized by fun, positive reinforcement and love; b) we have consistent behavioral expectations and daily routines at home and while working on the trail c) we listen and watch carefully so that we understand what a dog is “saying”; and d) we allow our dogs to be dogs. Once a bond, a predictable environment, two-way communication, and freedom to be a dog are established, the training takes care of itself. Why? Because we respect them and they respect us – and they are very smart!
On the trail, training is more black and white. Running and pulling come naturally to a Siberian Husky and so we do not need to teach them that per se, but we do need to facilitate, to encourage, and to teach the various specific tasks. For example, we provide calm and experienced role models, we show them what a strong forward pull feels like, how not to become tangled in the lines, to stay in their own space and to ignore distraction. We are also always thinking about their health and attitude and asking a lot of questions:
Is each dog running where they are happiest in the team? Is anyone new ready to lead? How is the equipment functioning? Is it time for a different kind of harness? And on and on! It's a work in progress, but that's part of the challenge and the fun.
When you meet our dogs you can see their confidence and happiness in their body language, their eyes, and their enthusiasm for whatever it is that we are doing, especially dog sledding! Nothing makes them happier than a cold winter day (the colder the better), snow and a sled to pull! If you have any thought about it somehow being “mean” to ask them to work, let those reservations go! What would be “mean” to a Siberian Husky is to keep them cooped up in the house with only leash walks; this is not what the running lines of Siberians Huskies are designed to do. This is not to say that they don't enjoy couch time: they do! But not as a steady diet. A Siberian needs to be a Siberian.
- a kennel of happy, fulfilled and friendly dogs who work well with us and with each other
- to keep the dogs physically fit and strive to improve their performance as working dogs
- to share them and the riches that they offer; thus, the hands-on rides and tours for individuals and groups
So how did we come to have a kennel of 35 Siberian Huskies?!
When I, Kathy, was 19, I began a 15 year love affair with a golden retriever, Sean. Everyone told me a puppy was a poor idea because I was young; a dog would hinder my life.
But my instincts told me otherwise. We were inseparable as we grew up and grew older together, sharing adventures and a friendship that knew no bounds. He taught me the wisdom and power of unconditional love, forgiveness, and living in the present, all incredibly important lessons that changed my approach to life in profound ways.
Our daughter Elizabeth had no choice but to grow up with dogs! She combined her love of dogs and nature by taking our golden retrievers on long walks, often hooked up to a wagon in the summer or a sled in the winter. The writing was on the wall! When she was 9, she expressed an interest in learning how to dog sled. Since I had been intrigued by dogsledding since childhood, this was a no brainer for me! However, rather than jumping right into owning the dogs and equipment necessary, Elizabeth undertook a mentorship at a kennel to see just how interested she was. Answer? Totally! I will never forget the expression on her face the first time she drove her own team; she was in heaven!
The stage was set! We took the plunge! We adopted 2 8 year old, expert lead dogs, Pickett and Spyder, to train us. My husband, Alex, built Elizabeth a wheeled rig, we all built a kennel, I mowed trails through the fields on our property, and our learning curve about dog sledding began. From there, it all came together with something akin to serendipity. I read Ann Cook’s Running North about racing the Yukon Quest. Fascinated, I initiated an e-mail conversation with Ann. A short time later Elizabeth and I were having tea with her and her husband, George Cook, at their home. That meeting with experienced mushers was nothing short of inspirational - and not only sealed my commitment to supporting Elizabeth’s interest, but spoke to something deep within me. The following week we attended a dry land rig race put on by the New England Sled Dog Club with an eye to just watching and learning, but once there, Elizabeth wanted to race. With a mother's trepidation, she did so, and earned a blue ribbon! Within the month, 8 year old Jet, a regal and accomplished leader, 4 year old Alexandra, a beautiful and experienced team dog, and up and coming 15 month old Taka joined our family! Thus, after 30 years with golden retrievers, I began life with Siberian huskies. Little did I know that it would be a life changing event extending way beyond a mother’s’ desire to support her daughter’s interest.
The first season was dedicated to Elizabeth who loved, trained, raced and took care of our first 5 dogs. She did so the second season as well, but by then I had decided that I wanted in on the fun - and so Alec (Alexandra’s brother!), Rain, Hera and Fen joined our family! Elizabeth and I now loved, trained and took care of our 9 dogs together. Then Elizabeth suggested that I run the final race of the season, a two day event, 15 miles each day, as my 51st birthday present. Nervous, but curious, I listened to my heart and agreed. To make a long story very short, I was smitten. With Hera and Alec as my trusty and experienced leaders, we not only finished the race very respectably, we finished it by working together; it was the ultimate example of teamwork. It was an incredible rush for me at intellectual, emotional and spiritual levels, and those two days are in the top ten of my life's memory book.
Our second season also saw the arrival of our first litter, with Alexandra as the mother. I adored raising the pups! With this event, we named our kennel, further cementing our commitment to this venture; “brae” and “burn” for our Scottish heritage, and after the Braeburn checkpoint in the Yukon Quest. Elizabeth and I continued to be a mushing mother-daughter duo for a third season, racing, sharing adventures on the trail, and training Alexandra’s children: Jasper, Ace, Blaze and Asia. At the end of that third season, 8 week old Skye entered our lives as the most adorable white puppy ever! Dog # 14 and theoretically not counting! But given his lineage, I was entertaining the idea of having him be a sire. Did I say I was smitten?!
Elizabeth entered high school and opted out of full-time mushing and kennel management. I seriously evaluated where this was all going; “this” now being a full blown passion, otherwise known as an addiction! I now knew what I wanted, but decisions had to be made about how to balance a kennel with the other parts of my life: mother to two teenage daughters, full-time educational consultant, and, oh yes, being a spouse! Downsizing or eliminating the kennel by placing the dogs was not an option for me; they were members of our family and deserved our respect and unconditional support. To be honest, this was a difficult transition, and I include this aspect of our history as a cautionary tale because owning and maintaining a kennel with high standards, while rewarding, is also a lot of very hard work 365 days a year. It also taps the resources of time and money, both of which affect the spousal partnership and family life. It must work for everyone in order for it to work well. We reached compromises that felt right emotionally and pragmatically. And the count continued!
We had a second litter with Taka as the mother, adding Deimos, Phoebe and Ariel to the Braeburn Team! Dogs 15, 16, and 17; our counting was no longer theoretical! In addition, Skye, who must have read my mind about having him as a sire, fathered two unplanned litters! Three of the resulting puppies joined our family. 20 and counting! I continued to race and to mush for the pure joy of it. During this time, I often remembered my decision to take on a golden retriever puppy 34 years earlier, grateful that I had followed my heart in the face of pragmatic “obstacles”.
In our sixth year, a pivotal event took place. My husband Alex mushed his own team for the first time, thus moving from the essential role of helpmate with all things needing to be built, repaired and designed, to a musher. The dogs worked their magic on him and soon we were discussing the dogs at the dinner table as much as anything else, such as college plans for our daughters. Life was moving on and very busy, but it was good, and Alex and I had found a new depth and phase in that journey called marriage.
That sixth year of Braeburn Siberians was also a transition year in another way. Our philosophy was (and is) very simple: it is the same as what the dogs give us; unconditional love! Therefore, we are a forever home. We work with the family we have. As a result, our teams will never be the fastest teams or the most synchronized teams, but our teams are definitely energized, fun- loving, hardworking, well-trained, dedicated, and in love with their life! Because of this philosophy, and in spite of the fact that I loved the hard work and thrill of racing, I opted out of competition, deciding to focus instead on sharing the dogs and the riches that they offer with others. My professional passion is working with students, teachers and schools on the subjects of literacy and dyslexia. Alex’s passion is growing healthy food as a vegetable farmer. My teaching experience and Alex’s free winters dovetailed well with running a dogsledding tour business, and so we took the plunge – for the second time!
As they say, the rest is history! We are just starting our 10th year of life with Siberian huskies, and our 4th year offering educationally oriented rides, longer tours, and workshops for individuals and groups of all types – and yes, internships for children who have the same curiosity that Elizabeth did! We've had 4 more litters of puppies, adding Morgan, Juno, Beau, Misty, Cam, Amber, Cleo, Aster, Getta, Atlas, Kimmi, Kasey, Hope, Faith and Grace to the Braeburn family. This made now 13 year old founding dog Alexandra a great grandmother! Five other dogs have also made their way to us: Dahlia (Skye’s sister!), Coal (Alexandra’s nephew!), Anakin, Jinks, Kenzie (Hera’s granddaughter!) and our loveable rescue boy Kuff. 35 dogs and counting? Time will tell!
It is an extraordinary amount of work to take care of 35 dogs and the infrastructure that supports them, and run the tour business. However, when something is a passion it doesn’t feel so much like work, but more as a gift. Yes, there are days when I arrive home from teaching depleted or when Alex comes in from the field bone weary, when it is raining, when the kennels need mucking, and when we would love a hot cup of tea with our feet up. But when we arrive at the kennels, the weather, the messy poop and our fatigue become irrelevant as we are greeted by unbridled enthusiasm and unconditional love. And as for mushing 13-14 dog teams on a winter day … well, as fellow musher’s know, there are no words that can fully describe the experience.
Neither Alex nor I can imagine a day without our canine companions and the laughter and solace they give us each and every day. Elizabeth has entered the world to pursue her own dreams, having facilitated her mother’s dream with a child’s interest. And I remain committed to following my heart, a journey that began when I adopted a golden retriever puppy named Sean 39 years ago.
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