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Team of sled dogs takes visitors on guided tours in Timmins area

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A new business near Timmins is offering tours of local trails with some unique guides: a team of sled dogs.

Jacob Betker, owner of Abitibi Sled Dogs, said demand is growing for dog-powered snow tours and there are no other offerings in the region.

Before ATVs and snowmobiles, dogs and sleds were an important form of transportation to help settlers get around snowy terrain, especially in northern Ontario.

Betker said canines bred for those jobs have largely been laid off over the decades -- and options for guided tours have been disappearing in the province.

Originally racing sled dogs in his free time, Betker decided to start his own business to give dogs and humans the chance to go back in time.

“We want to preserve, kind of, the history and keep this alive and in a capacity where they are actually able to travel the northern Boreal, like they used to,” he said.

With a team of about 13 dogs — and two litters hoping to grow it into up to 30 — Betker is preparing to offer a small number of tours on two local trails to start with.

He calls the experience a balance between perfection and chaos, particularly as the team gets excited to run.

“It’s almost like a group of football players running onto the field and banging helmets and that kind of thing,” Betker said.

“And then, as soon as we take off, it’s complete quietness and you literally hear the footsteps and the panting of the dogs … and you’re gliding overtop of the snow at about an inch and a half, just above the trail.”

Provincial regulation changes last summer made it expensive to start up the business, which Betker said was unnecessary.

But he said the most important thing for him is keeping his dogs healthy and taking people on a calm yet thrilling ride.

“You become one with the dogs,” he said.

“You literally become one unit, where each member relies on the other to travel across this land like people have for generations.”

Betker said he wants to offer longer excursions that would take people on trips lasting several days, for a more immersive experience.

He hopes to be in full operation, with more young and energetic dogs, sometime next year. 

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