A 2 dog night in Onset with famous musher Hugh Neff

By Matthew Bernat | May 10, 2017
Photo by: Matthew Bernat Famous dogsledder Hugh Neff speaks alongside two of his retired dogs, Walter and Amigo, in Onset on Wednesday.

Famed musher Hugh Neff gives credit where credit is due when it comes to the true champions of his sport – the dogs.

“One of my pet peeves is there’s always a lot of attention given to the human mushers and not enough said about the dogs,” said Neff.

Neff grew up in Chicago, but now calls Tok, Alaska home. He has won the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest dogsled race twice (the toughest in the sport), competed in the Iditarod 10 times and mushed across Norway in the Finnmarksløpet, Europe’s longest dogsled race.

Neff spoke about his adventures, caring for the 50 dogs he has at Laughing Eyes Kennel and life in the arctic at the Dudley L. Brown Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Onset on Wednesday. The event, called “Tails of the Gypsy Musher,” served as a fundraiser for the Friends of the Wareham Veterans Council, Inc. The group is raising funds to bring The Moving Wall, a scaled-down replica of the Vietnam War Memorial, to Wareham this August.

Joining Neff were two of his retired sled dogs, Alaska huskies named Walter and Amigo. Both received lots of love from the audience before, during and after the talk.

Neff moved to Alaska in 1998 after working as a golf caddy in Chicago’s wealthy suburbs. Growing up, Neff said the far north captured his imagination thanks to his father, who kept books chronicling wilderness tales, and Jack London.

He fell into the sport after spending time with Alaskan natives, learning survival skills and the sport of mushing.

The dogs, he said, are “the most traveled animals on Earth, they live to run and eat.” While racing, they require 10,000 calories of food a day, mostly a mixture of salmon and kibble. During long races they run between four to seven hours a day then break for a few hours before hitting the trail again.

Training requires lots of running leading up to the race, not nearly as much as during a race, but between 25 to 50 miles daily. In the off season, the dogs need plenty of exercise, too.

“They need to run every day. With these dogs, they need to use that energy or they get angsty with each other,” said Neff.

One overlooked aspect of mushing, he says, is the importance of encouraging the dogs, something female mushers excel at.

“You try to stay upbeat and positive – talk to them – the dogs see your energy and it transfers to them,” he said.

For his own dogs, Neff will play music from speakers attached to his sled. While he wouldn’t speak for the animals when asked what he thought their favorite music was, Neff noted that he enjoys B.B. King and Tom Petty on the trail.

Near the end of the talk, he answered audience questions and shared a few stories of run ins with wildlife, including one about a moose encounter and the time he and a black lab were chased by a wolf. He said he’ll never forget the wolf’s “haunting, golden eyes” that looked at him after reaching safety.

Those stories are all in his book, “Tails of the Gypsy Musher: Alaska and Beyond,” written from the perspective of some his dogs.

Neff, who received help from a number of veterans when he first moved to Alaska, ended by saying raising funds for The Moving Wall was gratifying for him on a personal level.

“I’m really glad I got to come here to help The Moving Wall,” said Neff. “Because the vets helped me when I was in need.”

For more on Neff, visit his website by clicking here.

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