Kate Titterington: Dogsled Guide By Winter; Wildfire Fighter by Summer

What does being a dogsled guide and handler look like? A woman playing in snow with a pack of amazing huskies? Yes and no, it’s actually quite regimented. “There’s a schedule: 08:30 10:00 is breakfast time for the dogs.”

After feeding them, and cleaning up after them, it’s time to bring two at a time “ones that play well together” into a pen so they run free for a while. Some of the dogs are “Iditarod champions,” others have just returned from races in Alaska and Yukon. “It’s important to keep on top of the overall well being of the dog, mind and body.”

This involves going to a “meat shed” and using an axe to cut up raw meat or fish from the local butcher for the Eskimo dogs, and making some soup for the Alaskan dogs. “We practice what we preach, buy local.”

How does one land such a job? In Kate’s case, by going to the only woman on the island who was doing it. “I had a little cabin fever from not knowing what to be at in the winter so I Googled ‘dog sledding jobs.’” Through Google, she learned about Elaine Pinard: a woman living in a remote pocket of Gros Morne.

She went to visit the woman. Talk with her. “I ended up working for Elaine for three months. I was in a fog with what I was getting into with Elaine. She lived in a cabin she had built with scraps from the local junk yard. There was no electricity and no running water, just a wood stove and 30 Siberian Huskies.”

Kate is currently switching gears to fight wildfires all summer. She’s done so in many far flung remote places, including the Yukon and small First Nations communities. This summer she’s in Northern Ontario.

“It’s kind of a family tradition, as funny as that sounds. My older brother started when he went away to University, it was good money and it paid the school fees. I started when I went to University for the exact same reason, but now he and I are in it for the long haul. Our little brother will be starting next year, so that’ll be a laugh I’m sure.”

Photo submitted by Kate

Photo submitted by Kate

“As a Type 1 Wildland Firefighter, you are the first onscene at a wildfire, and deployed to all types of situations, regardless of the state of control or the fire class intensity. We are used in the most hazardous or complex conditions involving steep, and difficult terrain, and extreme fire behaviour, but we receive extensive training every year and must be fully capable of demonstrating it. We all must also meet the national physical fitness (WFXFit) requirement, which is easily the worst day of my life, every year!”

When asked for a memorable story, Kate says she was in North West Territories one time, fighting a fire in Wood Buffalo National Park. They’d put the fire out, thought the danger was over. “We were all talking, waiting to be picked up by the helicopter, when I felt something warm on my left cheek, I turn my head, as this huge Bison is staring LITERALLY into my eyes. The bison, however, was just as freaked as I was. Her eyes got spacey and she galloped away into the Poplar tree stand.”