About the musher: Tom Terry, Sioux Lookout, ON
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Once I had the opportunity to really ‘become something’, my only real desire was to be a bush vagabond. However, as a child, and because I loved dogs, and because our family had a very good friend who was a vet, I dreamed of being a veterinarian. In fact, my first paying job was at a boarding kennel. Now, with dog mushing, I can both wander the bush and care for some dogs. The best of both worlds!
How did you start running dogs? Was it hard to get started?
As my kids say, we got sled dogs because I refused to buy a snowmachine (as I thought it would become only a toy for them). And, now that we have had sled dogs for almost 20 years, we also have a snowmachine and a quad in the family, but they are used almost exclusively for work related to sled dog training and trail maintenance.
The hardest part of getting started in mushing for me was the learning about it. There were few mushers around our area when we started, and therefore not many opportunities to learn from others. We have since met more people from whom to learn, and I have to admit that since our son Jesse became involved in the HBQ Race, we have learned a great deal, both from the people we have met, and from the knowledge that Jesse has sought out as well as gained on his own.
And I’m still learning every day – which I hear is the way it is supposed to be in life!
What leisure time activities are you involved with?
I have been a life-long wilderness paddler, and it is likely that love which brought me to sled dogs. The longer sled runs and camping with the dogs are not unlike canoe trips in many ways, with the flow of travel, the unfolding of landscape throughout the day, and the ‘new home’ each night (if you get to stop!). Though both paddling and sled dogging can be a lot of hard work, in many ways I consider them leisure activity because of the benefits I receive. They are what I do to get away and have a good break from the other work which each of us must do in life.
I also love good books, and working with wood (we’ve built every sled we run). One of these days I might have a good workshop rather than some of the improvised spaces I use. Now that would improve my leisure time!
What are your greatest accomplishments in the dog mushing field?
Assisting and seeing my son succeed in two previous Hudson Bay Quests. All aspects of the preparation, training and racing require significant time, energy, money and commitment, but the rewards are worth it.
I feel my greatest accomplishments with mushing are the extended wilderness camping trips (up to 10 days) I’ve participated in.
If you had to pick a favorite, and only one of your dogs could be your favorite, which one would you choose and why? Which dog is the most playful?
It is not a favorite specific dog for me, but rather a favorite kind of dog. These are the young dogs that show an abundant love for sledding right from the start. They are the first ones out of their house and howling to greet you in the morning, first ones out begging – sometimes screaming — to be hitched up NOW! They always wag their tails, even at the end of an unusually hard day. Honestly, they inspire me, because I’ve seen how hard they work, what we’ve made them go through, and they are still loving it! Amazing!!
How can you tell your dogs are smart? Which one is the smartest, and how can you tell?
You can tell your dogs are smart in much the same way we can tell the same with people. They respond right away to their name, and pay unusual attention to you. Their ears perk up when they hear voice commands. They are ‘on the ball’ and always attentive. Beyond that, you can tell by how much they learn from the experiences they have – which you put them through, expose them to. And as the miles go by underfoot for a dog, you see them becoming smarter so that by the time they are veterans they appear to be simply natural-born sled dogs – which I am sure some of them are!
What are you known for professionally? What do you have a knack for?
Professionally, I have worked for more than 30 years leading wilderness trips for both tourists and with youth-at-risk programs out of remote and isolated First Nations. When not in the bush (which regrettably is more often than not in recent years), I work with communities and agencies in remote and isolated communities in northern Ontario in program development, both in health services and outdoor programs.
I am a Wilderness First Aid Instructor for Sirius Wilderness Medicine, and teach wilderness canoe tripping as an Ontario Recreational Canoe and Kayak Association Instructor.
In addition to newspaper and magazine articles (usually related to wilderness paddling and indigenous travel routes) I co-published The Canoe Atlas of the Little North in 2007, a comprehensive atlas of 44 National Topographic Series maps documenting canoe routes and travel conditions in remote Ontario – from the 50th parallel north to Hudson Bay, from the Quebec border in the east to Lake Winnipeg and the Nelson River in the West.
What do you do to support your “dog habit”?
I support my dog habit by trying to earn as much as possible in some of the work mentioned in the last question!
If money was no object, what would be the most fantastic alteration you think you might make to your sleigh?
How about the hot tub during the run!? That could help with the cold, but I’m not sure about the sleep deprivation which can occur during long outings. So, maybe to expand on that theme, how about heated cockpit and auto-pilot? But then again, that would take much of the challenge out of the activity, wouldn’t it. Certainly, some of the beauty and delight found in mushing is due to the simple and uncomplicated nature of it.
What advice would you give to a kid that wants to run dogs when they get older?
It is easy to agree with most other mushers here. My advice is to find a mushing kennel nearby, and volunteer. Or get a part-time job at the kennel, but never expect to make much $$. With dogs, most people get paid in ways other than financial. Do and learn. Ask questions. Be in there where things are happening and offer to help. Take on the dirty jobs around the kennel – and there are more than scooping, but that’s a big one. Being there and doing things around the dogs also helps you gain the trust of the dogs. They see you every day, they learn your voice and manners, and they know somehow that what you are doing is for them. Then, once you begin to actually work with the dogs, they know and are familiar with you, and everything goes more smoothly as a result.
And, as mentioned elsewhere, working at someone else’s kennel allows you to experience enough to make the right decision for yourself before you have 12 living creatures who you are responsible for and who depend on you for life essentials.
What is your favourite thing about being on the trail with your dogs?
As mentioned before, one of my favorite things about being on the trail is the flow of travel, the unfolding of what is so often the most beautiful and awe-inspiring landscape. And it goes on all day long! But probably most of all it is seeing the dogs perform on the trail, and it is hard not to believe that they are doing it all for you! Certainly, the joy the dogs display when running instills joy in most mushers. It does in me.
If dogs couldn’t pull a sleigh, what animal do you think you would like to try hitching up to your line?
I’d often thought I would enjoy draft horses, but they are not built for speed. Then there’s the competitive freight pull?