Art the sled dog retires after an exemplary 13-year career
“The Dude on the Cot” becomes “The Dude on the Couch”
Art “Arthur,” “King Arthur,” “Ol’ Art,” “The Dude” was mostly unwilling to move from the couch the day after his retirement. His new owner, dog musher Nate Harvin describes him as an aggressive cuddler and said not only is he unwilling to move, but he also typically takes over the entire couch. As a sled dog with an illustrious 13-year career, Art concluded his working days by running lead during the final run of the season on March 14, with his son Blaze by his side.
“Did you see earlier? Blaze was trying to half ass and Art was giving him Hell,” dog musher Clark Dodd said on the final day.
Jason Matthews, who was Art’s owner for the last seven years explained that Art is a legend and likely has more nicknames than any sled dog in the world.
“He’s a pro. There’s no doubt about it – he knows the job,” he said.
This big move comes after Art had been toying with the idea via semi-retirement for a few years. When dogs would be harnessed in the mornings and get ready to work, Art would disappear and lay on the cot in the wall tent, where the woodstove was going.
“Then all the sudden it’s time to get going. We don’t call him or anything, he can just tell it is time to go run. He bolts out of the tent and comes and gets in the middle of a team and he will go do a tour. Then he might take off for the next day or two if he doesn’t want to run again. It was always up to him,” Matthews said and explained that it was this behavior that earned him “The Dude” nickname.
He is prone to getting a little cold, so he could usually be seen around camp sporting a harness and a little dog jacket, he said.
Dodd corrected him with a chuckle: “Art wears a cape, the rest of them wear coats.”
Harvin said Art is one of the best leaders he has ever known, though he is “not particularly pretty,” he is smart. Matthews said there is a distinct difference between the classic fluffy Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Husky.
“He is obviously some sort of mutt. Well, he’s a little bit of Husky, a little bit of bird dog, who knows what all is bred in there, right? But he is a good representative of what a modern-day sled dog looks like,” he said. “He is a good ambassador for the sport.”
Physically and by temperament, he also presents a solid example of the famed “Targhee Hound” of history. Those were the sled dogs used in the early 1900s to deliver mail in the area.
“They used to deliver mail from the train station from Ashton to West Yellowstone and through the Gallatin Canyon,” he said. “They were the dogs that early Montanans and people in Idaho had. I think it’s pretty cool just as a tribute to the rural sort of older school lifestyle of this area – Art is a good representative of that.”
Although there are a number of things that Jack London got right when he delved into the dog mushing world, there is one thing that he missed, though perhaps intentionally to create a more dramatic storyline: sled dogs leads are not selected because they desire to be alpha or are particularly aggressive. They are chosen because of a willingness to run straight and true; a sort of unwavering forward focus and desire to see what is around the bend. Leaders have the guts to go out front, unthreatened by what is ahead and not requiring the comfort of being a follower, Dodd explained. That has been Art’s noguff nature his entire career. It is fortunate that he found his calling to be a sled dog because the only thing he is not afraid of is hard work and forging ahead. A fish once flopped on the Yellowstone River and it sent him running wide-eyed and terrified back to the car. Art’s famous bug-eyed look surfaces when he is scared, in trouble or sees human food. Despite his occasional qualms, he is tough in his own right.
Last year, he sustained a severe injury from a freak accident. Harvin said it was a terrifying experience. If Art were a lesser dog or the human team were less caring of their older canine co-worker, that accident would have been his end. Instead, he received solid care, healed up and went back to work.
Matthews said he is a perfect representation of the Alaskan Husky breed: fierce and hardworking on the trail; kind and lovable to guests and comfortable on a couch.
Not all sled dogs are so adaptable.
Art’s work history includes racing with John Gunderson, who became Sheriff of Soda Springs, Idaho. In those first five years of his life, he helped clinch a win at the American Dog Derby – started back in 1918, it ranks as the oldest continually operating dog sled race in the world. When he transitioned to a touring dog with Matthews, Harvin estimates he has probably easily run over 10,000 miles. Then Art embraced semi-retirement as “The Dude”– and now, he continues training fiercely to become a champion couch cuddler.