The beauties of the North at home in the woods

By Laura TomassiniLex Kleren Switch to German for original article

They are known for their piercing blue eyes and their dexterity in the snow: Huskies are becoming a common sight in Luxembourg as the sled dogs enjoy great popularity. However, the packs of adventurer Raphael Fiegen and the breeder duo Andrée Birnbaum and Franck Chabriac show that other breeds are at least as capable.

One rather cuddly and skittish, the other cautious but clever, the third stubborn but endlessly loyal: Alfa, Nayeli and Kenai all belong to the same pack that lives under the care of adventurer and sled dog handler Raphael Fiegen on the Escher Gaalgebierg. Right next to the forest school, a fenced enclosure is their territory, but the polar snouts feel comfortable wherever they are together. "I'm actually completely superfluous here, à la 'clean us up, give us food and then you can leave'", Raphael imitates his dogs' potential thoughts with a wink.

Since the age of 18, almost everything in the Luxembourger’s life has revolved around his animals. Raphael got into dogs through his father: "The whole thing started in 1993, when my father went on a trip to the magnetic North Pole." During the preparation phase, Raphael was allowed to sniff a bit of adventurer air now and then and saw a sled dog for the first time on a VHS video cassette. "From then on, I knew I wanted to have a husky someday", the 32-year-old recalls. When his parents divorced and Raphael's father found a new partner, the time finally came for sled dogs to move into the Fiegens' lives.

Malamutes, Laikas and Greenland dogs

While his peers went out partying on weekends, Raphael preferred to spend his free time with his dogs from then on. "I've always loved being out in nature, and I also learned a lot about outdoor life from my training in the Army", says the 32-year-old. For three years, Raphael accompanied the original owners of his four-legged friends on their travels until he started doing his own thing in 2010. "At first I had so-called Alaskan Malamutes, but they've all died by now. Nayeli is a Greenland dog, and the other two are East Siberian Laikas, which are all Nordic breeds", Raphael explains about his team.

Unlike the popular blue-eyed huskies, which are mainly used for fast sledding over short distances, Malamutes, Laikas and Greenland dogs tend to be more powerfully built and can handle heavy loads on longer routes. "Up north, of course, huskies are mostly used because tourists like it fast", Raphael says. For expedition purposes, however, he definitely prefers his polar dogs. Alfa, as the name already suggests, is with ten years the oldest and thus highest-ranking female in the pack, Kenai, in Indian "black bear", with his seven the only male and the same-aged Nayeli, whose name in Indian means "I love you", the one who makes the trio complete with her intelligence.

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