“It's my favorite day of the school year because it’s sled dog visit day!” said third grade teacher Jen Reiter, welcoming the third graders to an assembly in the Lower School courtyard.
Special guest Catherine Benson, co-founder of Maryland Sled Dog Adventures, brought her four-legged friend, Rita, a Siberian husky who likes to be held up by her front legs while standing on her hind legs. She had much affection for Reiter, who brought her passion for the Iditarod to Gilman about 10 years ago and held a divisionwide fundraiser for dog booties earlier this school year.
Benson showed the students different types of harnesses that the dogs wear when racing, noting that the ones made of neoprene dry more quickly when they get wet in the snow. One third grader asked why the harnesses have padding. “The dogs are pulling very very hard; they’re using their whole bodies to pull,” Benson explained. The pads protect the dog’s skin and fur. She also brought booties, which were passed around, and explained how they protect the dogs’ paws.
Three students were recruited to dress Rita in a harness, and several more eagerly volunteered to be stand-ins for the dogs by carrying the ropes — referred to as lines — on the sled that she brought. Benson talked about each dog’s position and job. Lead dogs — the two in the front — have the most tiring responsibilities, and so leaders often are rotated. Second in line — swing dogs — are “lead dogs in training.” Similar to the lead dogs, they have to take commands from the musher (sled dog driver).
After the assembly, each class got a turn to meet Benson’s whole team of dogs.