Dog days in NH

Chinooks in Sandwich on June 3 play Simon Says with their owners. Photo by KATHY CLEVELAND

MILFORD – When his family adopted a dog in 2005, Bob Cottrell did what few dog owners do: He researched its ancestory.

The dog, Tug – short for Mountain Laurel Tamworth Tugger – is part of a rare breed called Chinook, and his lineage is noble.

Cottrell gave a slideshow called “Harnessing History: On the Trail of New Hampshire’s State Dog” at the Wadleigh Memorial Library recently and talked about how Tug, and all Chinooks, are descended from Admiral Robert Peary’s lead sled dog for his Greenland expedition, a husky called Polaris.

They were bred by an adventurer named Arthur Walden, who owned an inn in Wonalancet, part of the town of Tamworth. Walden had spent time in the Alaskan Yukon during the Gold Rush days, and he wanted to create a sled dog that had strength, speed, stamina and a gentle temperament.

Walden bred Polaris to a mastiff-type dog called Kim. One of the puppies was named Chinook, and he developed into an outstanding sled dog who was also gentle with children.

“A phenomenon of nature,” as Cottrell calls him.

Chinook was then bred to shepherds and Belgian sheepdogs, Canadian Eskimo dogs and perhaps other breeds, and their offspring were bred back to Chinook and to each other until the Chinook breed was established.

Walden founded the New England Sled Dog Club, and his teams dominated the racing circuit for years. Chinook led the first dog sled team to the summit of Mount Washington.

Admiral Richard Byrd appointed Walden his lead driver and dog trainer for his 1929 Antarctic expedition, but the 12-year-old Chinook was lost during the expedition. In his memory, Route 113A from Tamworth to Wonalancet still bears the name The Chinook Trail.

There are now about 1,200 dogs of the breed – the only dog breed ever developed in New Hampshire – and one of the few created in the United States. A few years ago, the Chinook was named the New Hampshire state dog at the urging of a group of seventh-graders at Bedford’s Ross A. Lurgio Middle School.

Cottrell told the story quickly and with humor, weaving his family’s tales about Tug, who died this spring, with the history of dog sledding in New Hampshire and the Chinook’s role in the story.

“They just start out really cute, and then they get cuter,” Cottrell said, describing how their fierce love of running contrasts with an extraordinarily gentle nature and sharp intelligence.

Cottrell holds a master’s degree from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture in Delaware. He is the founding director of the Remick Country Doctor Museum in Tamworth and is the curator of the Henney History Room at the Conway Public Library.

The Wadleigh Memorial Library program was brought to Milford by the New Hampshire Humanities Council.

Chinook owners and their dogs were at a “mini-Westminster” event sponsored by the Chinook Owners Association in Sandwich the weekend of June 2-3.

“They are wonderful dogs,” said Steve Kramer, who came there from Rockaway, N.J. with his dog Saba. “They are incredibly friendly, love their humans, but they’re working dogs, too.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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