By Melinda Munson
It’s raining cold, large drops that pool on the treacherous ice, making it the kind of day that discourages dog walking. Regardless, Mo Mountain Mutts pulls up to Seven Pastures in their shiny white mini bus and nine dogs of varying sizes disembark. They shed their leashes and head to Skagway River under the direction of Mo and Lee Thompson, forging their own path through the foliage. Once the pets reach the sand, they sprint, sniff, wrestle and socialize.
Mo offers advice for introductions with the canines whose names range from Whiskey to Tater.
“Don’t stick your hand out, be indirect.”
“Don’t put your face in their face.”
“While they’re sniffing you, do nothing.”
“You cannot win them over by trying to talk to them and touch them.”
Basically, everything the average person does to greet an unfamiliar dog is incorrect.
Mo says she grew up in the dog world. Her stepfather was a musher and breeder involved with the American Kennel Club. As a 12-year-old, Mo showed and handled dogs. Running a full-time dog training and walking business in a small Alaskan town is her dream come true.
Last year, Mo was working two jobs: cutting hair and walking dogs, picking them up with a minivan. She was approaching burnout.
“I had to choose one or the other. I mean, it’s not too hard to choose between playing outside with a bunch of dogs and staying inside a building,” she says.
She quit cutting hair in August 2021 and committed to dogs full time.
Lee also took a gamble, turning down a city job with benefits to help drive and manage canines. He also wants to be available when their child is born. Mo is about seven months into her first pregnancy.
When the Thompson’s van broke, the couple invested in a 14-passenger bus that captured the attention of the internet. Now, it’s common to see clips of Mo and Lee on social media, welcoming their dogs onto the vehicle, issuing flight attendant-like directions: “please keep your tails out of the aisle” and distributing complimentary liver.
They have their own Instagram, Youtube and Facebook accounts. One of their Tik Tok videos has received over 6.5 million views. They’ve been featured on Go Fetch, Right This Minute and The Mirror. MTV has also been in touch with the duo. Companies have reached out for product placement and BarkBox gifted a load of toys.
The walkers exercise three to five dog groups a day. Each two-hour slot allows for a 45 minute walk. The packs generally contain around 12 dogs.
The clients get picked up from their homes and secured to a bus seat by their leashes. The bus travels all two miles of Skagway’s roads at about 25 miles per hour.
Dogs must have a certain level of training to participate in the walks, such as stay and recall. Some of Mo’s mutts wear e-collars. Mo emphasizes that her collars are high-end tools. For pack walks, she uses them mostly when the animals are out of hearing range or are distracted.
For Mo, the hardest part of the job isn’t controlling the canines, it’s dealing with people.
“The dogs are always the easiest to train, it’s the humans that are harder to train,” she says.
Her favorite aspect of the work is when a dog learns a new skill and owners “can finally see their dog’s potential.”
While the puppy bus elicits a plethora of smiles, there are some criticisms. Several residents contacted The Skagway News but none would go on record. Concerns ranged from using municipal trails for commercial gain, which is against municipal code, to feeling uncomfortable using the same area as the pack dogs. Some questioned the feasibility of large pack walks when tourist season begins.
Mo says they do their best to make their own trails and to stay away from other dog walkers. As of deadline, no official complaints against Mo Mountain Mutts have been filed with the borough manager, police chief or the Public Safety Committee.
Mo says she looks forward to the return of tourists.
“I love when tourists come to town, it helps me proof my distraction training. It’s actually been harder to train dogs without them and I am so happy to have them back.”
“I have the best job in the world,” she adds.