“God Bless Dogs and Children”
North Hope Sled Dog Kennel was founded on the basis of the orphanage at St. Nicholas parish in the north-east of Kostroma region as means of social and psychological adjustment and rehabilitation of orphan kids.
“We could never thought we would deal with orphan kids, not to mention sled dogs”, says Mother Paraskeva, the founder of the kennel and the guardian of the boys living in the orphanage. She and the former nuclear physicist Father Bartholomeo started the kids-and-dogs idea in 2004.
“One day when children from the Neya state orphanage started to come to our Sunday school at the church we got to know the stories of their past and the horrible truth of their present. Then we started building our first orthodox family orphanage for the kids that attended the church and wanted to lead a Christian life.
The sled dog idea was given to us by an orthodox friend of ours from Australia, Leon Gubin, running Siberians and it started to materialize surprisingly soon. All our efforts faced the sneers, misunderstanding and sometimes even reproach from the people around but we moved on. And soon enough we got our first two dogs to start the kennel: a young and well-trained Siberian husky Belka (sent from Australia) and a charming rescued Malamute Chuck with many dog shows regalia”.
Psychologists rate orphan kids as a “risk group”. These kids lacked parental warmth and care and they faced the cruelty of life and acquired asocial skills very early.
“It’s a great pity”, says Mother Parakeva, “but our kids missed out on some things in their childhood. They even lacked physical warmth which a mother and a father are supposed to give. They could miss out on emotions and feelings. So they told everything to a dog, they cuddled it. And the dog warmed them.”
Dealing with sled dogs, which void aggressiveness towards human beings by nature, bore amazing fruits – children gained self-assertion, the lack of love in the past got made up for, they learned to be kind, persistent, responsible, merciful, they learned the art of being a team and a real friend.
Kids learned to take care of the dogs, raised puppies and taught them basic obedience and mushing commands, trained teams, participated in sled dog events, went hiking and backpacking with dogs, met new people and learned how to successfully communicate with them.
“I liked my life with dogs much more. Before I had taken care of cows and horses, but then I got keen on sled-dog racing. I loved its extremes,” he confessed.
“In 2005 Leon Gubin introduced us to his friend, an experienced dog musher from the US, Terry Hinesly, that became the first sled dog mentor for our boys and later the Race Marshal of our annual North Hope Stage Sled Dog Races.
Thanks to the friends from Russia, Australia and the USA the kids got access to the world of dogsledding and were able to take part in sled dog competitions and dog shows and see different parts of the country and the side of the world they could have never imagined to be real when living in the awful conditions of the state orphanage.
They made new friends, got a picture of the world of normal human relations and became able to adequately orientate in life situations and see its prospects.
The kids participated in sled dog races in Russia and the two of our boys were lucky to have got acquainted with the US sled dog world, see several races in the US (Eagle Cap Extreme Race, Oregon and International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race, Wyoming), kennels and sled dog touring companies and even participate in a sprint race in Colorado (organized by Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club).
Gradually they were growing up and the question of choosing their track rised up. Several boys chose cynology and veterinary as their future professions, however those who decided to become professionals in some other fields are still connected with the world of sled dogs in this or that way.
“It’s always hard to let a kid go, especially, considering how hard the life of an orphan in Russia is, the social system is so imperfect that it’s extremely hard for them to get a good education, to get a good job and have a place you can safely call “Home”. The statistics are awful: 40% of the graduates from the state orphanages get imprisoned in the first two years after graduation, 40% become drug and alcohol addicted, 10% commit suicides and ONLY 10% are those who manage to socially adapt.
When me and Father Bartholomeo were starting the orphanage our goal was to try and save at least some kids and try to ensure some better tomorrow for them”.
In 2010 the North Hope Sled Dog Center was founded and now its activities include several branches, all based on the interaction between kids and dogs. All the activities of the center are aimed at earning money to secure future life for the kids from the orphanage and to implement the kids-oriented programs of the center.
“The children are the most important thing. My own interests do not play any role any more. To my shame I sometimes don’t even have time to read the Bible. When one of the kids comes to me at 1 am and says he had a nightmare, what should I do? I hug him, kiss him, and give him some water. That’s how I live,” Mother Paraskeva said.
At present all of our kids have graduated and are gone to the big world to study and start their own adult lives but three of them came back to work here in North Hope after having finished their studies. Some of them work at the center, others come to visit and help.
Now all the activities of the center are aimed at implementing kids-oriented programs helping orphans, phisically challenged kids, children from big cities, etc through sled dogs applying the experience of bringing up a generation of boys whose life principles are based on love and mercy thanks to sled dogs and orthodoxy.
The materials from www.russiatoday.com were used in this article.