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Cool Running! Jamaican Dog Sledder makes his mark

A JAMAICAN dog sledder and his team of rescued mongrels made their mark at the annual Siberian Husky Club’s Aviemore Sled Rally last month. Devon Anderson, 42, who had never seen snow before, travelled to the Cairngorms to compete alongside 220 other teams in the rally, which took place over the weekend of 21st and 22nd January.

Mr Anderson and his four-dog team finished a very respectable 27th out of 40 competitors, with a time of 45 minutes, 51 seconds, around the Loch Morlich course. Over 1,000 dogs in various teams raced during the course of the weekend.

A spokeswoman for the event praised Mr Anderson saying: "He has done really well considering he has never taken part in anything like this before."

The Caribbean is too hot for huskies so Mr Anderson trained a team of mongrels rescued from Kingston's dog pound.

Mr Anderson also runs Jamaica's first dog sled team, which it is hoped will compete in the dog sled world championships and eventually the Winter Olympics in 2010.

Mr Anderson’s dog sledding aspirations have captured the world’s imagination. To take part in the Winter Olympics would be reminiscent of the success of the Jamaican bobsleigh team, which took part in the 1988 Games in Calgary and provided the inspiration for the 1993 film Cool Runnings.

Looking at the snow on the top of the Cairngorms a few days before the race, the novice ‘musher’ admitted the pressure is on. "I want to be an inspiration for other young Jamaicans," he said.

"There is a lot of talent in Jamaica and a lot of interest in what I am doing. If I can put up a good show I'm sure other guys will want to have a go."

Inspiration for a Jamaican dog sled team came from entrepreneur Danny Melville, who owns a travel company called Chukka Adventure Tours on the island. While he was in America looking to buy dune buggies for a resort he owns he had the idea of dogsled tours through the cane fields and sand dunes of Jamaica.

Mushers train their dogs all year round and, in the absence of snow, compete using a tricycle in place of a sled. Realising that the absence of snow was no bar Mr Melville imported the rigs and the know-how to run the tours - and set up a national team.

Under the guidance of a Scottish champion sledder, Alan Stewart, the first Caribbean dog-sled team was formed. It was sponsored by the country music singer Jimmy Buffet, who also owns a chain of restaurants on the island.

Instead of importing pedigree huskies used to operating in temperatures of minus 40C and unlikely to cope with the heat, the team searched closer to home for their dogs. They found them roaming the streets of Kingston and now have nine strays in training.

"They're all mongrels, not a single pure breed among them. As Jimmy Buffet said, 'They look just like what a Jamaican sled dog should look like'," said Mr Melville.

Fortunately for the Jamaicans, there was a complete absence of snow at Aviemore last weekend. Almost every other competitor had spent the past few weeks praying for snow as, along with three-wheelers, each team also has a traditional sled. However, in the history of the event, there has only been snow once.

The biggest event of its kind in Europe, the two-day race runs over a four-mile course around Loch Morlich with teams of between two and eight dogs running at speeds of up to 20 miles an hour. Sets of Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds and Eskimo dogs compete against the clock.

"When we started 23 years ago we had just eight teams competing but this year we have 222 teams with around 1,500 dogs," said Penny Evans, the organiser.

"I'd have liked the chance to experience a sled on snow but I was relieved there wasn't any," said Mr Anderson. "The dogs are so powerful I don't know how I would handle them."