(Above image courtesy of Mel Andrews and Nigel Garner )

Mel Andrews and Nigel Garner are two British nationals based in Norway since November 2009. They decamped to that country to breed dogs and build the worlds best sledge racing team. Gary Farrelly met the couple on a recent trip to Vestre Slidre. Farrelly interviews former British army medic turned arctic dog breeder Mel Andrews.

Gary Farrelly: Do you have a mission statement?
Mel Andrews: To have an active and healthy lifestyle. To respect the environment and animal welfare. To develop the relationship between people and animals. To combine scientific advances with tradition. To enjoy the fruits of hard work, commitment and long term planning.

GF: How many and what kind of dogs do you have?
MA: We have 32. All our dogs are either Alaskan or Siberian huskies.

GF: How do these two breeds differ from each other?
MA: Siberians are a pure breed and have to be verified and registered as such. Alaskans are not strictly speaking a breed and are only defined by their function as highly efficient sledge dogs.

GF: Do genetic considerations come into breeding a world class sledge team?
MA: Good pullers have a high red blood cell count and a high VO2 max. Alaskans and Siberians poscess these traits. We breed based to optimize diet, working attitude and good feet.

GF: Some of your dogs are Norwegian. You instruct the dogs in English. Did the dogs have to learn English?
MA: The commands are international. Basic ones include: “hah”= left, “gee”= right, “em by”= ignore (an animal or trail).

GF: What is the longest, most challenging dog sledge race you have participated in?
MA: La Grande Odyssé in France is 1000km, takes ten days to complete and is raced on a 25000 meter incline.

(Above image courtesy of Mel Andrews and Nigel Garner )

GF: What are the calorific and dietary requirements per dog per day on such a challenging race?
MA: Between 10000 and 12000 calories per day depending on the dog. We feed them kibble, raw meat and fat (either horse or whale).

GF: What does one pack when embarking on such a race?
MA: There is a mandatory equipment list which I stick to. Items on the list include: arctic sleeping bag, knife, axe, maps, compass, reserve dog food, head torch, batteries, windbag, cooker and avalanche transceiver.

GF: Is there anything that is forbidden to bring?
MA: Drugs, booze and mobile phones are against the rules for obvious reasons.

GF: Where will this project be in 5 years time?
MA: Podium placements and allot of charity work.

GF: Charity work?
MA: I have been approached by Veterans In Action to become a patron of their charity and to participate in fundraising events. I have a strong interest in working with veterans who have lost limbs whilst serving their country.

Gary Farrelly, Fagernes, Norway.

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