(This photo taken Thursday Jan. 17, 2013 shows sled dogs at the Muddy Paw Sled dog Kennel in Jefferson, N.H. The kennel takes in rescues and “second-chance” dogs and is also home to a blind dog that relies on his brother to keep up with the rest of the team. (JIM COLE/AP Photo)
When Gonzo started tripping over his food dish three years ago, no one could explain or stop the Alaskan husky's quickly advancing blindness. But a veterinarian offered some simple advice: "Run this dog."
Gonzo, one of 120 dogs at Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel, was happy to comply. With help from his brother, Poncho, he soon resumed his place pulling a sled all over New Hampshire's North Country to the delight of tourists and his caretakers, who quickly realized that if Gonzo didn't treat his blindness like an obstacle, neither would they. Given the dog's obvious eagerness, he was allowed to continue on as usual.
"Even though he's blind, he still knows when hook-ups are happening. He's still very aware," said kennel manager Ben Morehouse. "When you have a dog such as Gonzo, with such a want and a drive and a desire ... you try it, you hook up, you see what happens."
A frenzy of excited barking engulfs the kennel whenever Morehouse and other staffers haul out a sled. The chosen team is outfitted with harnesses and booties; those left behind scramble onto their doghouse roofs and howl. Gonzo and Poncho are lined up side-by-side, usually toward the back of the eight-member team - "brains to brawn" is how Morehouse describes the order.
"A lot of people say everything about dog sledding is efficiency. Gonzo and Poncho are not the most efficient sled dogs out there. They won't set a speed record, they won't pull the most you've ever seen," Morehouse said. "To be honest, they're probably some of the goofiest dogs you can put in harness. But they're just fun."
Some dogs at the kennel, including Gonzo and Poncho, were born there. But it's also home to what kennel owner Neil Beaulieu calls "second-chance" dogs - former professional sled dogs a bit past their prime - as well as dogs rescued from bad situations.
The barking continues as the dogs pull away from the kennel onto a snow-packed trail. Within a few minutes, however, they settle into a nearly silent rhythm, the sled's runners skimming through the woods. While the other dogs look straight ahead, Gonzo often lifts his head up and to the right, using his hearing and sense of smell
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