A Canine Ranger is Born


SCA Intern Marinell Chandler Welcomes the Season’s 1st Puppy at Denali’s Sled Dog Kennels

The next generation of Denali’s wilderness protectors has arrived!

This past week, the kennels became a whir of activity preparing for – and finally, celebrating – the arrival of Sylvie’s due date. Late at night on August 9th Sylvie 

gave birth to a single pup, continuing the tradition of Denali’s sled dogs and the vital role they play in protecting this park and its unique wilderness character.

Many have begun to ask: why did she have just one puppy? Though it may surprise you, having a single pup in a litter is not unusual. Litter sizes can range from 1 to as many as 13, so having a single puppy in a litter is no different than having four or five. Both Sylvie and her pup are happy and healthy as our new little man continues to grow. Right now, his eyes and ears are closed, and he weighs less than a pound. He spends 90% of his time sleeping and 10% eating, all while snuggled up close to mom. There is a big blue tarp surrounding their pen to give them privacy for the first few days after birth, and even kennels staff limit ourselves on how often we go inside, not wanting to disturb them unnecessarily.

When we do go in, we don’t want to leave.

I could spend hours just watching him sleep and listening to the sounds he makes as he begins to learn how to move around in his new world. It is amazing to have been with Sylvie all throughout her pregnancy and to see what has arrived, a puppy we’ve all been waiting for. Recently a visitor asked me how excited I was about the puppy and I replied, “It feels like kennels Christmas.” And it does. Even the other dogs in the kennel know something is different, that another generation has been born to continue the tradition of protecting and defending the park as they have been doing for decades.

It was a team of sled dogs led by local musher Harry Karstens that brought naturalist Charles Sheldon into the Alaskan wilderness. He came to study the quickly diminishing population of Dall sheep that were being killed for meat by market hunters. When Sheldon returned to the lower 48, he would move to Washington DC and lobby for the protection of the land for the wildlife and wild beauty he had so fallen in love with. It took him ten years. In 1917 Mount McKinley National Park was established.

When Harry Karstens later became the park’s first Superintendent and had to patrol all 2 million acres of the park by himself, it was a team of dogs he relied on to do it. He knew that the only way to patrol in winter was by sled team, and so he established the sled dog kennels in 1922. With a team of rangers and several teams of dogs, they were able to bring poaching in the newly established park to an end.

These sled dogs have defended the wilderness of this park and are a big part of the reason why we are stll able to experience such an incredible place today.

When my grandchildren come here with their little ones – maybe even with grandchildren of their own – I hope that they will be able to see the kennels and sled dogs of Denali. I hope that my family is able to walk into our kennels building and see the names of the dogs that I have had the pleasure to work with, hanging from the walls – dogs from past and present that devoted their lives to protecting the park for us and for them.

Each puppy that is born here in the kennels brings us that much closer to my dream being realized – another generation to carry on the legacy and tradition of Denali’s canine rangers, preserving and protecting the wilderness character of this park for years to come. I am thrilled beyond belief for the arrival of our new pup, and can’t wait to see what an incredible dog he will become.


Photos without Marinell by Marinell. Photos with Marinell by SCA member  Kelly Bell.