FOND DU LAC -- Jim Feyen calls himself a stubborn German.
Together with his wife Judy, the Feyens run The Siberian Outpost, a working kennel that is home to only Siberian huskies, the majority of which the Feyens rescued from animal shelters.
On groomed trails that run through their farm fields and wooded acreage, Jim and Judy train the dogs year-round.
Jim explains the ideal temperature for Siberian huskies is around zero degrees.
“We worry more about 90 degree days more than any cold day here in Wisconsin,” he said.
Yukon, is the Alpha male and when he cranks his tail it moves in a circle.
“It’s the only dog I know that does that and it’s like if he put his butt in the water he’d move himself across a lake,” Jim said, joking.
It can take up to five years for the Feyens to undo damage done to man’s best friend. It's a task for which Jim's stubborn streak is well suited -- he doesn't like to let anyone down, including a dog.
Jim explains that working breed dogs such as Siberian huskies are driven by a desire to please their master.
“If you can get that desire from a dog, any of the learning and issues can come easy once they know that’s what makes the master happy," he said. "If I can’t teach a dog left or right, I’ve failed as a trainer. But, if I can’t get their dedication and devotion, I’ve failed as a human being,” he said.
Inside the facility’s warming house are countless photos and scrapbooks of dogs which have passed through the kennel. With an average lifespan of 12 to 14 years, each of the deceased dogs is honored with a bone-shaped name plaque that holds a retired harness — a ghost team of animals waiting to deliver Jim and Judy through the pearly gates on a golden sled.
A full-time business that offers dog sled rides and demonstrations to individuals, families, couples, school groups, and bus tours, running The Siberian Outpost is a labor of love. Visitors get up close and personal with the dogs, learning a bit about their different stories and dispositions and getting a feel for the amount of manpower required to keep the operation running.
The Feyens keep their doors open regardless of the season. Bags of dog food are ordered by the pallet and nylon sacks brimming with thick, fluffy dog hair are delivered to the farm -- the predator-scented odor keeps “critters” away. And keeping up with you-know-what is a never-ending battle — visitors need to remember to watch their steps and wear old shoes.
Outings at The Siberian Outpost are customized based on the interest and needs of a group, the weather, and the conditions of the dog pack. Advance reservations are required by telephone (920-960-4252). You won’t find a website or Facebook page for The Siberian Outpost.
While Jim has plans to retire at age 75 — the same year he will load up his last team of dogs and make the pilgrimage to Anchorage, Alaska for the 2025 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race — he’s currently training his dogs for the “Can’t Depend on Snow Race,” a local fundraising event held in Fond du Lac on Dec. 6.
“The Can’t Depend on Snow Race is the only dog sled race that happens, snow or no snow, because it’s pretty much a training session and is not a sanctioned race,” he said. “It’s meant to be easy and fun and gives beginners a chance to come in early in the season and see if their dogs are up to running a competition snow race.
"It’s also a nice opportunity for young mushers to get in there with young dogs because it’s a four-dog team. Four dog teams are relatively more controllable in case something gets out of line. If you have a ten-dog team and they all want to go somewhere it takes ten people to hold them back.”
Race proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The event will be held at the Rolling Meadows Golf Course in Fond du Lac (91 E. 15th St.) across from the Holiday Inn. For more details, visit http://www.fdl.com/details/event/Cant-Depend-On-Snow/december-6-2014.