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Santa Paws: South African canines sled on sandy beaches

By Jamie PYATT
South Africa Depending on the day, husky sledding can attract quite a crowd of spectators.  By alessandro iovino (AFP)
NOV 13, 2021 LISTEN
Depending on the day, husky sledding can attract quite a crowd of spectators. By alessandro iovino (AFP)

Muizenberg outside Cape Town can boast of many things -- golden sands, colourful beach huts, great surf. But this popular spot has something its rivals can't even begin to match -- teams of up to 30 huskies pulling sleds.

Every Saturday, tourists and joggers are treated to scenes straight from the Arctic with dogs that have swapped snow for sand.

Locals and holidaymakers alike are stunned to see the barking teams of huskies mushing along the white beach at up to 25 km/h (15 m/h) with a blue sled at the rear.

It's the brainchild of husky lover Sam Gunter, 43, who realised the breed, though very popular locally, were not getting the amount of exercise they needed.

He built two sleds and started inviting husky owners to bring their hounds to Muizenberg beach outside of Cape Town each Saturday.

Eleven years down the line, there are now around 100 huskies that regularly sled on different weekends.

This Saturday, 23 black-and-cream thick-furred huskies turned up with their owners -- some having driven for up to an hour to the beach.

Gunter straps them into blue harnesses.

Once all are safely in, he gives a shout of "go" and the dogs do what comes naturally. Always in a straight line, they run up back and forth, pausing briefly to rest.

"It is the perfect exercise for huskies who were bred to pull sleds and they just love it," said Gunter from Strand, a small resort town located 40 kilometres (25 miles) up the beach.

"They get so excited... and can't wait to get going. And after working hard all week it is my weekly therapy and is just wonderful to see," Gunter, a financial broker told AFP.

'Huskies need exercise'

Popular for their thick fur and bright blue eyes they "can easily get neglected," he warned."Huskies need lots of exercise... they need to do up to 20 km a day".

"This way at least once a week they get a five kilometre run for between 35 and 45 minutes"

The dogs only run in the evening or when temperatures are 15 degrees Celsius or lower, because they are Nordic dogs, "so you have to be careful in the South African climate not to overheat them".

Depending on the day, husky sledding can attract quite a crowd of spectators.

Gunter says he is the only person in Africa doing husky sledding, "and the looks you get from some sunbathers when 30 huskies come past with Santa hats pulling a sled, is one to behold."

"At this time of year people would be looking out for reindeers pulling a sleigh through the sky but in our case we have huskies pulling a sled on a beach!"

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