Originally, my intention was to systematically blog my entire time in Finland, I kept a diary. That blog post would progressively become a book.
So whilst there are further husky medical blogs in the works, here is a summarising post as a taster of what is to come on Mammals and Microscopes… watch this space!
‘Lessons from a Finnish Husky Farm’
I am a true believer of everything happening for a reason.
After working on a Boer goat farm for a few months, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to Finland for work. 6 weeks in a wilderness area within the Arctic circle, for a husky guide internship. Whilst friends and family exuded envy, envisioning a husky holiday, I was busy chipping away at my 10,000 word application form.
Lesson 1: Always know what you are signing up for
‘As former endurance athletes, we believe that the hardest things in life bring the most rewards and that life is far too soft, nowadays, for the young generation. We believe in creating an atmosphere in which satisfaction comes from having done a job well, irrespective of notice or praise.’
Accustomed to apologising when someone accidentally steps on my foot, I had to prepare myself for the Finnish working culture. Having worked away, lambing outdoors from 6am-9pm for 7 consecutive days, my biggest fear was travelling solo, especially the transfers. So I took 2 trains to Pembrokeshire, to the Moat Goat family, to work for a week (and see my little Fred of course).
Lesson 2: Enjoy the journey
17th July 2017.
Over 24 hours, 2 flights, and 3 transfers later, I saw the HUSKY sign and anxiously walked towards the farm, lugging my suitcase behind.
Functioning on a few hours of sleep at the airport, I was put straight to work on my arrival at 5pm. 200m walk from the farm house, were the cages and circles, home to 200 huskies. As 6 weeks is a relatively short stay to be a guide, the huge task of learning 200 names began that instance.
The ‘lean pathway’ was the exact course we had to take on circles to feed the dogs, winding between the chains to ensure no dogs were missed out during the bi-daily routines. Add carrying two full water canisters, or two buckets full of dry food and offal meat blocks, that is a challenge. A challenge I was eager to set a ‘newbie’ record for.
Aleu, Nakat, Peanuts, Arun, Aslan, Dole, Doffen, Teasers, and Hickory… in my first evening I knew a considerable number of dog names with the corresponding positions.
Lesson 3: Work hard, play hard
After a week, I could identify most of the 200 dogs as work for me did not stop at 9pm. Each night, my studying consisted of memorising the daily feeding plans for each dog (skinny +/skinny/big/small/fat/special) and to know the specific quantities. Feeding timescales did not account for reading off information on a piece of paper; knowing requirements like the back of your hand made the evening jobs far more efficient. Simba did not like dry food, so he got 3 meat blocks each day and 1 cup of dry food; Sausage the oldie had turmeric and psyllium in his small dog quantity food. Imagine the chaos when 3 litters of puppies arrived.
The dreaded combination in the evening was being allocated food preparation, sick dog area feeding (lots of running inside and outside, as the dogs had to be fed on travel chains), before going down to the farm to feed cages… all after a day of work. I would do 30,000 steps on these days. Even then, going on a hike post-work or canoeing to the campfire were still enjoyable- there is no stopping husky guides!
Lesson 4: Make difficult tasks into fun challenges/personal goals
“It’s 20% physical strength and 80% mental strength’’. Red faced, slamming down the mallet on the cleaver, cutting 6 meat blocks into a few hundred equal chunks. It took every bit of strength for most of the guides, nonetheless each time I used a stopwatch to create a new record, and I soon hit the timeline. Although it was a dreaded chore, stronger guides could take longer as it largely depended on determination.
Lesson 5: Language barriers are a challenge but they also create comedy
Lorin perfectly stated, “When a campervan or tourist bus arrives, I hope they are French.”
This meant the farm tour would be allocated to the native French speakers; there would be a sigh of relief in the farm house.
My first farm tour was to a deaf German couple, which was a challenge to hit timelines and follow the script, but with the aid of gesticulation and the good old paper and pen, I had a great review.
A few weeks later, when I was driving a quad full of Syrian refugee children around the 2k husky track, I was reminded that there are so many universal languages, and laughter is a significant one.
“I have a hole in my welly”, Damien, a French guide pronounced welly with an ‘i’. You can imagine the tears that streamed down my face during my guide training week at the mispronunciation of “sheet” of paper. I will stop there!
Lesson 6: Strength in numbers
Living in a small guide house (1 bathroom!), with 11 others, I certainly made friends for life. Tough times called for team talks, and a reminder of why we were there- personally, I wanted to push myself mentally and to survive on this husky farm, you needed strength.
Lesson 7: The proof is in the pudding
Whilst lesson 7 is metaphorical for work allocations, In Hetta, the saying is literal. Being able to cook and bake was a vital basic ability a guide had to develop. Or if you are Heidi Wilson, fall on your face with 3 plates of pesto pasta.
First, I need to clarify that ‘pooping’ is picking up the faeces. When I returned home, I forgot that ‘pooping’ was guide language.
Climbing the work ladder meant hitting the timelines on the basic daily jobs of morning pooping and watering, training 4 dogs in 1 hour, and the evening feeding.
Fortunately, I quickly took up part of the medical workload. Administering daily meds, updating records, a colossal project of re-organising the medical cabinet and doing a stock check, clipping nails, squeezing anal glands, weekly in depth dog checks, and x3 a week heat check, need I go on?
Lesson 8: There are not many vets in the wilderness
Part of my time in Finland was spent seeing practice. By seeing, I mean monitoring oxygen and consciousness and administering the anaesthetic agent propofol intravenously throughout bitch spays, and tumour removals, clipping and preparing the surgical site, doing locking cutaneous suturing and individual stitches ON A REAL DOG.
Lesson 9: “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done”
After a morning of in-depth groundwork, I cried into a large pile of poop as there was no time to dwell, the compost needed to be done to the timeline.
Why? I was disappointed with my groundwork.
In hindsight, as long as a being is not going to be harmed and that you have fixed the kennels, then dogs do not care for a perfectly straight ground. I can only imagine what goes through their mind when they dig new holes as soon as a guide goes on to the next circle.
Seeing the bigger picture, on a husky farm and in life is paramount.
An incredibly difficult, but life changing work-away.
My lessons ranged from how to use a dishwasher, to how to develop personal resilience and accept constructive criticism.
Whilst these 6 weeks were some of the hardest times, and I suggested that ‘you will cry at least once’ should be added to the guide manual, I have definitely returned to England with an even greater work ethic and motivation to overcome any personal obstacles whilst growing thicker skin.
I would encourage any other 18 year olds to place themselves into an alien place where they are pushed to their absolute mental and physical limits, to improve themselves and gain new skills.
For anyone who loves a challenge, and to be completely outside of their comfort zone, I definitely recommend travelling to Hetta Huskies.
The experience has made a huge impact on my life, and will certainly continue to shape who I am.
Lessons from a husky farm are interchangeable with life as a sixth form student, I am glad stress has been put into perspective of the ‘real world’, however.
When times are tough, your favourite dog will turn any situation into a positive. There are always the other wonderful guides to offer support and motivation, and it is an incredible opportunity to make friends for life from all over the world.
Thank you to Anna and Pasi for welcoming me to your farm; it was an honour to work on a farm with impeccably high standard of welfare for the sled dogs.
Thank you to all of the guides who shared this experience with me, you were like family!
Until next time.