Heminway and her dogs form bond for sledding success
SHOREHAM — I hear the howls before I can even see Lissy Heminway’s house in Shoreham. Their loud cries reverberate off the trees and into my ears, making me think I’m entering into some kind of coyote reserve.
As my car pulls up to the house on Shacksboro Road and I see the huge pen of 12 or so dogs hugging the fence, I remember where I am. Today I’m going dog sledding.
Minutes later I’m in the middle of a field in Whiting, and for as far as I can see, white snow blankets the rolling hills and dusts the evergreen trees. The sled glides swiftly through the powder, carving a double crease into the snow blanket’s perfection.
As I look around me, I realize the real magic is not in the snow or the place, however, but in the dogs pulling me. The only noise for miles is the soft pitter-patter of their paws accompanied by their faint panting. For these dogs, running is more than a passion; it’s what they were born to do. I glance behind me at Heminway’s sled and watch as she enthusiastically hoots and hollers at the dogs, talking to them as if old friends. This magic is her life.
It’s true. Lissy Heminway, 41, has been dog sledding for over half her life; that special magic I felt on the sled with her is a part of Lissy’s everyday routine.
It started as a childhood fantasy. Heminway grew up on a farm with five dogs — not huskies, but mutt farm dogs. As she admits, “for some strange reason I wanted them to be huskies.”
Years passed and huskies remained a fantasy for Heminway. Then one day, when she was attending Evergreen State College in Washington, a stray Siberian husky ended up in her car after returning from a hike.
She considered it fate.
Heminway couldn’t find a home for the dog and, thus, decided to take him in as her own.
“That was the beginning of the end for me … the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “From there everything just started to fall into place.”
Heminway trained her husky dog to pull her bike to campus every day, boarding him in the kennel while she went to class. When it came time to graduate, she knew what she really wanted to do — work for someone who ran dogs, so that she could “get it out of her system.” Little did Heminway know, she was just getting started.
Heminway went to work for Ed Blechner of Addison, and after a season with him, she recalls, “fireworks were going off in my brain.”
Heminway continued to work for Blechner for another season while also beginning to volunteer at the local humane society. It was there that she began to gather her own motley team of dogs.
“I wasn’t a purebred kind of person, and wasn’t a racing person either,” Heminway said. “I loved the big strong, freight dogs that had as big a heart as the things they pulled.”
Knowing that these mutts weren’t going to be the ones that would take her gracefully down a trail, however, Heminway contacted a fellow musher in Maine and began to inherit her “rejects.”
In a few years, Heminway inherited enough true sled dogs to make her first real team — and her first real adventure. Heminway had learned some things from other mushers in the area, but as she put it, “when you get a passion, nobody can tell you otherwise how to do it.”
So Heminway began to teach herself. She learned from her dogs and they learned from her, creating the unique bond between mushers and their dogs that is impossible for anyone else to comprehend. Heminway even believes that some of her dogs are telepathic; without any commands or direction, they know which way to go.
After six years of running her dog team, Heminway had a revelation: “It became clear to me that this was my calling … that this is what I should be doing to make money,” she said.
So, at age 28, with 10 dogs, Heminway began her dog sledding business — Vermont Dogsledding — running day and half-day trips for tourists who wanted a slightly different Vermont experience. Dog sledding is, Heminway tells me, the second most popular tourist attraction in Vermont. For that reason, her business skyrocketed.
Ten years later and with three kids in tow, Heminway decided that the business was beginning to be too much. So instead, she began to work with school groups and community service programs in the area that allowed her to educate children about her passion.
To this day, she continues to work with at-risk youth, as well as several elementary schools in the area, passing on the passion to those around her one dog at a time. She has a message for the youngsters:
“It’s OK to dream and your dreams can come true and it may not be exactly how you pictured yourself when you dreamed when you were young, but that dream can come true in many different ways,” she said. “You should always strive for that because it can happen … you can make things happen.”
But it’s not just in her words that Heminway’s message becomes clear, it is also in her actions.
“This is my passion and I’m very passionate about it. You can see that,” she said. “You can see my dogs … You can see I love them. You can see I love everything about them.”
Editors’ note: Madison Kahn is an intern at the Addison Independent.