As the saying goes, “You never know where life will take you,” but sometimes we need look no further than our own backyard. At least that’s how Joe Monninger, PSU associate professor of English, his wife, Wendy, and son, Justin, came to get involved in the dog sledding business.
Monninger’s family business, Country Dogs, will be featured on WMUR TV’s Chronicle news magazine scheduled to air at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, January 31 on channel 9. Based out of their home in Warren, Country Dogs offers adults and children the opportunity to take a championship four-dog team on a six mile run, no experience necessary.
“Dog sledding has grown in popularity as both a competition sport and a recreational one,” says Monninger, “as has the related sport, skijoring, which is one or two dogs pulling you on cross country skis. The Chronicle segment will focus on the recreational aspect of the sport.”
It is through Justin that the Monningers got involved in dog sledding. Monninger explains, “The old Warren railroad line runs right behind our house. My son would hop the fence to watch the teams go by, help folks out with the dogs, and one day a couple offered to give him a ride.” And so began a friendship with Bob and Julie Noyes from Vermont.
The Noyeses gave Justin his own team with the gift of three Alaskan sled dogs—Muppin, Charlie and Willow, today ranging in age from five to 11 years—and a puppy Justin named Laika. Laika, age three, is named in honor of the only dog sent into space by the Russians and not brought back (intentionally), notes Monninger.
Team Monninger started going to races, and in 2003, Justin won the New England Sled Dog Four-Dog Championship. Although they liked racing and the people involved, Monninger admits it got to the point where they didn’t want to spend all weekend racing. Noting that whenever friends came over they wanted to try their hand at dog sledding, Monninger put an ad in the Critter Exchange advertising dog sled drives, and got a huge response. Thus, Country Dogs was born.
Five years later, the Country Dogs team runs once or twice a day, three to four times a week during the winter season, taking “wannabe mushers” on the ride of a lifetime through New Hampshire’s northern forest. “Each run is six to seven miles long,” notes Monninger, “at 30 miles an hour in the initial burst.” He says they drop the team and drivers at the starting point, “and the dogs know the way home.”
Since not everyone who comes to New Hampshire in the winter is a skier, Monninger says dog sledding is a fun, recreational alternative. Working with the Sunny Grange Bed & Breakfast in Campton, Country Dogs offers sled and stay packages. For more information call 603-764-9882.
And what about Justin’s racing career? Monninger says his son, now 16 years old, is planning to participate in the upcoming Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby, six-dog run in mid-February. Provided there is snow, of course.