For Jason Hussong and his fellow mushers, it’s the dog days of winter.
As team leader of the Free Spirit Sled Demo Team – part of Free Spirit Siberian Rescue based in Harvard – Hussong and his team of about 15 spend the season demonstrating their sport to both raise awareness of the rescue group and keep mushing alive.
His love of mushing began with his dogs, and there’s no place he’d rather be than at the helm of a sled pulled by his huskies. He now has five dogs, three of which are active racers.
“It’s a very addictive sport. You get involved, and it just becomes a part of you,” he said. “I consider it even more fun than snowmobiling – than doing any other winter or fall activity – because of the dogs. The dogs really enrich the experience.”
The Free Spirit Sled Demo Team will host mushing demonstrations as part of the Winter Wonders lineup at Campton Hills Community Center from noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 8. Admission is free, and all events take place with or without snow.
Mushers use carts on wheels when snow isn’t available, which allows them to start their season in the fall and extend it into the spring.
Hussong became interested in mushing in 2006. He’s been at it ever since, spending just about every weekend from the fall to the spring either demonstrating the sport or racing in it. Although a single dog potentially could pull a young racer, most mushers use an average of four dogs.
Hussong has raced up to 14 dogs, reaching speeds of up to 20 mph. Professional teams reach speeds of 25 mph, “which in a car doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you’re on the back of a sled, it is a lot,” he said.
Why does he do it?
“The dogs, first and foremost,” Hussong said. “And I guess it’s just something different.”
Aside from the excitement the sport brings, it draws attention to Free Spirit Siberian Rescue. Free Spirit rescues huskies and husky mixes from animal shelters where they’re in danger of being euthanized.
A friendly breed, the husky also is a working breed that needs to be active and can be stubborn. Hussong recommends that anyone considering adoption research the breed and enroll the dog in obedience classes.
Sled dogs don’t have to be huskies, said Hussong, who fell in love with the husky breed based on an interest in wolves. He also has family in Alaska, where dog mushing is popular, and he works part time as a dog trainer.
Becoming a musher simply takes practice, he said, and a good teacher.
“It’s a learning process that pretty much never stops,” Hussong said. “It takes time. It takes patience. You’re going to make a ton of mistakes. … I still learn to this day. The minute you think you’ve figured this out, you figure out how much you don’t really know.”
At Winter Wonders, people can meet huskies, go on a nature scavenger hunt, and enjoy storytelling, flint knapping, s’mores and hot chocolate among the activities.