Right now, they’re pudgy puppies, drawing attention for their cuteness. But as they grow, these five Alaskan dogs will be trained to work as a team of sled dogs at the Denali National Park and Preserve.
The puppies, named Cupcake, Happy, Party, Piñata, and Hundo (in honor of the park’s 100th anniversary), are cared for by Jennifer Raffaeli, the kennel manager who oversees the several dozen dogs already working there, hauling equipment, greeting tourists, and providing transportation through areas hard to reach in the Alaskan winter weather.
“Sometimes [dog teams] still prove to be the most reliable and effective means of transportation in really challenging winter conditions,” Raffaeli told CBS in a recent feature.
They also preserve a tradition. “The dogs, and the kennels where they live, represent important pieces of the American story, both the Native Alaskan and the pioneer experience in the far north,” the park’s website explains.
The dogs in the program are bred for physical traits, including long legs that can travel through snow, compact paws to resist ice build-up, and sturdy coats and puffy tails, as well as character traits, like a love of running and pulling, social skills, and tenacity.
They will work at the park for about nine years before they are retired and placed with an active family or caretaker.
“When we are on patrol together, I feel lucky and grateful to be on the trail with such competent, talented, and hard-working companions,” Raffaeli told AKC Family Dog. “These dogs are so deeply connected to the landscape, and they teach me so much.”
Watch the park’s puppy cam to follow the puppies, who were born in late July.
Read more about the Denali Sled Dog program and Raffaeli in Family Dog.