When my friend Katie and I were deciding what activities to book for our holiday to Tromsø in Norway, dog sledding was one of the first things we thought of and booked. However, after the initial excitement, we developed some apprehensions: Is dog sledding cruel?
In an attempt to reassure ourselves that we weren’t about to take part in something that was cruel to animals, a subject we both feel passionately about, we did some research into the particular company we’d booked with, Tromsø Villmarkssenter, and it did reassure us quite a lot. The reviews were all really positive; the worst feedback came from people who hadn’t been able to go on the sled ride due to a lack of snow. However, they all said that they had still been able to meet the dogs, so their trip wasn’t entirely ruined. With this information, and no hint of any cruelty, we decided to stick with it.
On the morning of our sled ride, things weren’t looking good weather wise. As we drove from our house to the Villmarkssenter, we could see a lot more grass on the hills than snow. Without snow, there would be no ride… We prepared ourselves for the potential of cancellation, but when we arrvied, we were informed that the sled ride would still be going ahead, just in a different location. The dogs were already being transported to Malangseidet, which is about an hour from the Villmarkssenter, and a bus would be coming to take the customers along so they didn’t have to miss out. We had a little time to think about it – this would seriously extend things, meaning we’d have less time to do anything else that day – and we went outside to meet some of the dogs who were still at the centre.
Walking around to the back of the Villmarkssenter, we came face to face with an abundance of beautiful dogs, all chilling out at their kennels. For a split second, I pondered whether it was cruel to keep them tied up like that, but upon meeting the dogs, I realised that they were all very happy and contented. Every dog we walked up to was pleased to see us, and some were much more visibly excited than others – two boisterous dogs called Face and Tube (yes, really) jumped up and grabbed Katie’s hat right off her head and promptly tore it to shreds! And this is where things went wrong…
In the scuffle to try to reclaim her hat, Katie slipped and fell on some ice, badly hurting herself. I hadn’t realised quite how much pain she was in at first, and I continued to hang out with the dogs while she went inside to find someone to help her retrieve her hat, which was now inside Tube’s kennel. While Katie was inside, I bonded with a beautiful dog named Perle. She was a gentle girl who kept putting her paw on me. I took this as an invitation to get closer and went in for a hug. She let me cuddle her for ages!
Once Katie’s (now rather destroyed) hat was fished out of the kennel, we went inside where the staff filled out an accident form with Katie, and a first aider came to talk to her about her fall. I now realised how hurt she was, and I started to wonder if going on the sled ride was the best thing for her. Katie took some time to think about it, and the staff kindly agreed to let us join the other customers on the bus to Malangseidet – as we’d agreed to drive to the Villmarkssenter, the original plan would have been to continue the route in the car, but with Katie’s injuries, I personally thought that driving on would be a bit of a stretch for her.
The bus arrived and everyone got on. After our guide had run a quick session with those who were planning to drive their own sleds, we set off to Malangseidet. The journey there was so full of beautiful sights. The further we got out of the city, the houses were more spaced out, and the landscape was more striking. I saw countless homes I would have loved to call my own, some on the edges of the fjords, and some perched on the mountainsides. When we arrived at Malangseidet, the true magic began as we stepped off the bus and in amongst possibly over 100 excitable dogs.
Every dog I approached was friendly. They all wanted to lick and nuzzle me and most of them sat very well for photographs! As I stood in the middle of all of these stunning animals, I had quite possibly the most intense experience of my life. One dog began to howl, and this set off another, and another, until they were all howling! It was a magnificent and overwhelming sound that pretty much brought me to tears. I stopped dead in my tracks, whipping my phone out to capture the sound. I’d never heard anything like it!
Now it was time to get ourselves on a sled, but Katie’s reservations had crept back in. She was still concerned that this was cruel. I think she was also worried about injuring herself further. I persuaded her to talk to one of the staff members, and we ended up speaking to the company owner and our guide, who both reassured us that it was far from cruel. The dogs were excited! They loved to pull the sleds! Eventually, Katie decided to join me on the ride, and we went over to meet our team.
Our team included two sleepyheads called Bee and Wasp, and a lovely old fellow called Zack who had one blind eye. I totally fell for Zack and sat cuddling him while everything was getting set up. For a moment, I felt that perhaps we’d been given the “slow” team as all but one of them seemed quite lethargic, but when we got closer to the time the ride would start, they became just as excitable as all the others. It was here that we truly believed that the dogs loved to do what they do. They were all yanking on their harnesses, eager to get going. When we set off, our sled sprung forward at an exhilarating pace. I couldn’t help but squeal a little!
The ride lasted for about 45 minutes, and in this time we were dragged through the snow, weaving around (and occasionally hitting) trees as we were confronted with more and more beautiful views. It even began to snow! The only unpleasant thing about the sled ride was the smell as the dogs dropped poo trails behind them. We were a little worried some might go in our faces, but it didn’t. At the end of the ride, I felt torn between wanting to hop back on and go again, and get on the bus to warm up!
Back at the Villmarkssenter, we were served hot food, cake and hot drinks inside a really cute wooden hut, and we were also treated to another little surprise. The staff came in with three new puppies that had been born in the centre – and we were allowed to have a cuddle! The little pups were so adorable I could have snuck one away under my coat, but alas we had to leave them there. Damn!
So, in conclusion, there was nothing cruel or otherwise negative about the sled ride or the Villmarkssenter itself. The staff were so kind and professional, and could not have taken better care of us. The fact that they went to such efforts to ensure we got our sled ride really impressed me. The ride was so much fun, and watching the dogs getting so excited was an experience I’ll never forget. I would definitely go on another dog sled ride one day, and I thoroughly recommend the Tromsø Villmarkssenter to anyone wanting to try it out for themselves.