Image courtesy of Wolfgang Hägele

All right, I’ll admit it: most of you probably aren’t spending much time in parks nowadays. It’s cold and dark, and when it gets warm the ground is muddy. Eew! Far better to stay clean, warm, and motionless in front of a screen somewhere. That’ll please the ghosts of our Puritan forebears. I can hear them now—”WHAT? You spent money on HEAT? How profligate! What, do you think I’m made of farthings and ha’pennies?” (Of course, the Puritans’ fireplaces lost 80% of their heat up the chimney, so even if they had sold their hard-earned souls for firewood, they wouldn’t have gotten much warmth out of it. Not that Puritans were known for warmth.)

Still, some stalwart, hyperactive souls do spend time outdoors in the bleak midwinter. Of course, they have an advantage: they’re covered with fur. Yes, dogs and their patient owners are some of the most common park visitors nowadays. But not all of them are just out to romp through their weekly mudfest. Some of them are there to work through their weekly mudfest!

Image courtesy of dogguide.net

Welcome to the world of the Boston Snow Dogs (not to be confused with Boston Show Dogs). These dogs are brought together by their owners to pull things. In theory, they’re supposed to drag sleds through snow, but as you might have noticed, snow isn’t always available. During Massachusetts’ ever-lengthening Mud Season, the Boston Snow Dogs’ owners hook their canine beasts of burden up to three-wheeled scooters or bicycles. “We mush all year long,” says Kristin McGillicuddy, Boston Snow Dogs president. “…Dogs can mush wherever a mountain bike can go.” If you want to see what scooter-mushing looks like, check out the Boston Snow Dogs urban mushing video.

Any breed of dog or human can join the Snow Dogs, according to McGillicuddy; they just have to love to work. I, for one, would be delighted to see the first Boston Pekingese Snow Dog team. Who’s with me?

Image courtesy of petlittle.com

The Boston Snow Dogs partner with organizations including the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Friends of Wompatuck State Park to hold public mush events and demonstrations to educate the public about dog-mushing—that is, what it’s like to run into a pack of dogs dragging a scooter. “Sometimes there’s trepidation,” McGillicuddy said. “The demos help people feel more comfortable.”

The Boston Snow Dogs will be meeting up next in Rutland State Park this Saturday, December 17, and at the Groton Town Forest on Sunday, January 8. For dogs with a competitive streak, try out the New England Sled Dog Races January 14-15 2012 at the Trustees of Reservation’s Appleton Farms. For a lot more information, visit the Boston Snow Dogs Meetup.

Image courtesy of Wouter Decaluwe

And if you do say warm, dry, and still in your house while all this panting, drooling, and running is going on, ponder this: dogs are some of the most frequent park visitors around. Their owners are a vast pool of park supporters. As a community, we need to make sure parks accommodate dog owners’ needs as well as traditional quiet motionless enjoyment.

And whether you feel trepidation or crazed delight at the sight of happy huskies barreling down a trail at you, I can guarantee you one thing: the sled dogs are definitely on-leash.