Wonderful Winter Fun With Rescued Huskies
DOING GOOD ON A DAY OUT IN THE FOREST
Latvia is a wonderful place for a winter break. But what is there to do near the Baltic when the weather isn’t warm? How about husky dog sledding in a snowy white forest near Riga? Just outside the country’s cool capital, you can meet some of these beautiful and eager dogs for a perfect winter day out.
If you are like me, making sure that your travel experiences are sustainable, respectful and responsible is extremely important. So when my family found out that dog sledding was an option on our recent winter break to Latvia, I needed to make sure that it was an ethically sound outing. But how can you tell? What does that mean? Must love dogs for a start. And these Latvians do. So will you.
RESCUED SNOW DOGS
Working dogs by nature and nurture, Huskies and Malamutes require lots of exercise and activity to keep them happy. What happens when a family takes home one of these beautiful energetic dogs and can’t keep up with their needs? Often, the animals are given up. Here in Latvia, this is unfortunately true. Enter Sniega Suni, which literally means snow dogs in Latvian, owners Kristaps and Iveta began with one rescued husky and now have taken in 16 of these stunning animals. As requests to rescue dogs come in all the time, they have plans to try to help more in the future.
“I have already been called by three owners during this last month, unfortunately, I could not pick up the dogs, sent them to the shelter where they are now living, and as soon as we build our larger dog houses, we will take them,” says Iveta Preisa-Imaka, owner of Sniega Suni¹
Iveta believes that the responsible touring of visitors gives the animals the workouts they need while helping to pay for their feeding, maintaining and vaccinating. The dogs are obviously well-loved and cared for and have become part of Iveta’s family. She explains (in Latvian, translated by our tour guide Janis) that the dogs took a little while to get used to each other, but now are an inseparable pack and don’t like it when any of the group has to leave for any reason. You can hear it when some are hooked up to the sled and then again when the sled returns. Happy barking when the gang’s all back.
Iveta has trained the dogs for community outreach and works with local senior groups. She has goals to create a safe place where at-risk children can come engage and interact with the animals for free, because she feels that everyone opens up with a dog. Spend some time with these and you will too.
LET’S GO FOR A RIDE
Time to hit the track and do some dog sledding! A small sleek sled affords a tour for two people at a time. One person in your pair stands in the back stepping right onto the rails and acts as the driver. Your partner sits in front and enjoys the ride. We are given instructions on how to steer and how to stop, but are recommended to only use the foot brake if we might run into the dogs when they slow. It’s clear that they are eager to run and when instructed, take off with a surge down the path. Iveta’s partner Kristaps jumps in his van and drives ahead down the path to help turn the sled around and let the touring team change positions before returning to the start. I feel safer knowing that he is ahead if anything were to happen on the sled mid-track. It’s a 3-kilometer loop that takes about 15 minutes depending on how frisky your furry friends are feeling. I found they were fastest in the last 15 feet hearing the barks of their buddies.
TIME TO MEET THE DOGS
While two of our group slips down the snowy forest track behind their furry pack, the rest of us have plenty of time to love on the animals left waiting their turn. We learn which ones are Huskies and which ones are Malamutes. There is a mother-daughter pair and a step-brother/step-sister in the pack. Some are loud and bark for attention. Others quieter and snuggle in when you step up to pet them. All of them so so sweet and savor the attention. We were in heaven. And so much fur!
RESPONSIBLE TREATMENT OF SLED DOGS
- Sniega Suni dogs are healthy and happy.
- Dogs are rotated between tours to get appropriate rest periods.
- The dogs are not required to go fast or very far.
- Sled tours are weather dependent and won’t run when too warm to keep dogs from overheating.
- These dogs are clearly treated with respect and love.
Iveta said that each dog may run up to 3 times per day, 6 days a week. They give the dogs one day off, not for physical reasons but for their mental health. She thinks they could run every day. When we have all had a go on the sleds, we get to reward the pups with a treat. We get a warm cup of tea plus a last bit of petting and then we’re all grins on our ride back to Riga. Ask any one of our family and we’ll all tell you it was our favorite thing we did in Latvia. We wouldn’t have won any races, but the dogs truly won our hearts. Husky dog sledding in Riga rocked.
We booked our sled dog tour through Red Fox Tours who picked us up from our apartment in Riga and drove us the 45 minutes to the forest where we met Iveta and Kristaps and their dogs. Janis was our extremely helpful and informative guide for the afternoon giving us tons of great local information and history about Latvia and Riga. He also acted as translator and tasty tea purveyor at the end of tour. Red Fox Tours were extremely accommodating and can create specific tours to entertain everything you might want to do in the area.
GOOD TO KNOW:
COST | starts at 50 €/ per person for 2.5 to 3-hour outing that includes:
- Hotel pick up/drop off
- Safety and sled-driving instructions
- 3 km or 5 km sledding
- Tons of time for interacting with dogs
- Lowering of blood pressure
- Slap-happy grins
- Support for local outreach programs
- Memories for a lifetime
NOTE: Red Fox Tours work with two different dog sledding companies and I can only offer my opinion about Sniega Suni, which run options on the 3 km track.