If you were to hop onto the Denali National Park and Preserve website and check out its live puppy cam, you’d be sharing a moment with the approximately 1,000 other people per day who check out the live footage to get a dose of serotonin.
To celebrate this Friday’s National Dog Day — and every day until late September — people across the globe can tune in to watch Denali National Park’s next generation of “canine rangers” grow and learn what it takes to become a sled dog in one of the nation’s most-beloved national parks.
This year marks 100 years since the national park began the program of owning and raising Alaskan huskies to serve as sled dogs throughout the park. The program continues to remain the only sled dog operation in the federal government.
These four-legged park rangers have played a vital role in the park for the century these dogs have called Denali home, said David Tomeo, the kennels manager and park ranger at the national park.
Currently, the park hosts 32 dogs, including three out of the five puppies born in this year’s litter. For more than a decade, the park has shared live camera viewing online. Each year the camera seems to be bringing in more and more of an audience, Tomeo said.
From recently checking the camera’s data, he said the park has had more than 50,000 people check out the cam since it went live in mid-July, and it brings in a daily viewing average of just shy of 1,000 per day.
This year’s puppies, born June 18, share their names with the first sled dog team to ever patrol the park in 1922. The litter of five born from Denali’s lead sled dog sire, Steward, and the partner kennel-owned mother, Olive, were recently split with two of the puppies, Dynamite and Rowdy, headed back with their mother Olive to their home kennel.
Puppies Mike, Bos’n and Skipper are still with the park and all are doing well, Tomeo said.
“They’re building their confidence,” he said. “This whole late summer and early fall they’ll be going on walks with us and we try to take them where they might encounter new and strange things like climbing over rocks or going through a small creek — we want them to trust us.”
He said the pups won’t officially be part of the team until next winter when they are grown and trained, but they will spend this winter running alongside the team and camping with them.
“By late winter they are running alongside the adults, they’ll even hop in the line and pretend like they’re pulling and that’s when we know they’re ready and by the end of the winter they will start to pull on some short runs,” Tomeo said.
From there the pups will continue to hang with the older dogs until next winter when they’re official “canine rangers” and pulling the sleds on patrol with the rest of the adults. Tomeo said the dogs first and foremost serve a very important role in the park, and across Alaska.
“The dog teams are a tool that we use to get out and work in the park and we’re doing it for wilderness preservation and honoring that wilderness by using traditional tools — and dog sledding has been recognized as people have been on this land for thousands of years,” Tomeo said.
He said it’s important to the park to protect the land and uphold the promise to the American people that the park will continue to preserve the 2 million acres of Denali forest that prohibits motorized vehicles. The park does this by using dogs as a means of transportation instead.
Tomeo said it’s also important to the park to celebrate the culture behind dog sledding in Alaska and honor the tradition.
“We’re hoping to preserve the cultural heritage that dog sledding is,” he said. “It’s a part of the history of Alaska and has been done here for thousands of years by Native Alaskans and we hope to continue demonstrating this tradition to preserve that heritage.”
Sharon Stiteler, the Public Affairs Officer for the park, said she knew the puppy cam was popular since it first started, but she was surprised to see how quickly it gained popularity this year.
“Before I even worked for Denali I remember my friends going bananas for the puppy cam,” she said. “I think that when you’re working at a mundane job or a slower job, the fact that you can have a live puppy cam going in the background is kind of a nice break. One thing I really love is sometimes the staff will take the puppies and hold them up to the camera.”
She said it’s “amazing” to see how much of a strong connection that people have to the dogs and the community that the dogs have formed over the years and said she is excited for more people to find joy in the watching the dogs.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.