The dog bus attracts hearts and attracts the attention of the Internet
By Melinda Munson
It’s raining cold, big drops that collect on the treacherous ice, making it the kind of day that discourages dog walking. Either way, Mo Mountain Mutts pull up to Seven Pastures in their shiny white mini-bus and nine dogs of varying sizes disembark. They drop their leashes and head towards the Skagway River under the guidance of Mo and Lee Thompson, forging their own path through the foliage. Once the animals reach the sand, they sprint, sniff, wrestle and socialize.
Mo offers tips for introductions with canines whose names range from Whiskey to Tater.
“Don’t reach out, be indirect.”
“Don’t put your face in their face.”
“While they’re sniffing you, don’t do anything.”
“You can’t convince them by trying to talk to them and touch them.”
Basically, anything the average person does to greet an unfamiliar dog is incorrect.
Mo says she grew up in the canine world. His stepfather was a musher and breeder involved with the American Kennel Club. At the age of 12, Mo showed and handled dogs. Running a full-time dog training and walking business in a small town in Alaska is his dream come true.
Last year, Mo had two jobs: cutting hair and walking dogs, picking them up with a van. 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 pack of dogs and staying inside a building,” she says.
She quit cutting hair in August 2021 and went full-time into dogs.
Lee also took a gamble by turning down a city job with benefits to help drive and manage dogs. He wants to be available when their child is born – Mo is about seven months into her first pregnancy.
When the Thompsons’ van broke down, the couple invested in a 14-passenger bus that caught the internet’s attention. Now, it’s common to see clips of Mo and Lee on social media, welcoming their dogs into the vehicle, issuing flight attendant-like instructions: “please keep the line out of the aisle” and distributing free liver.
They have their own Instagram, YouTube and Facebook accounts. One of their TikTok videos has received over 6.5 million views. They have been featured on Go Fetch, Right This Minute and The Mirror. MTV has also been in contact with the duo. Companies solicited product placement, and BarkBox gave away a slew of toys.
Walkers exercise three to five groups of dogs daily. Each two-hour slot allows for a 45-minute walk. Packs usually contain around 12 dogs.
Customers are collected from their homes and attached to a bus seat by their leashes. The bus travels the two miles of Skagway Roads at approximately 25 miles per hour.
Dogs must have a certain level of training to participate in walks. Mo Mutts wears electronic collars. Mo points out that his collars are high-end and produce more of a “vibration” than a shock. She says she mostly uses them when animals are out of hearing range or distracted.
For Mo, the hardest part of the job is not controlling the canines, but managing the 18 press release.
“The introduction of this legislation provides another tool in our toolbox should the need arise. It also sends a message to the world that Alaska is ready and excited to welcome visitors to our state this coming season,” she said.
Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata is warning Skagway residents to “not get distracted by numbers that don’t suit our community”.
Cremata referred to figures in the media last year which suggested Skagway received around 110,000 cruise passengers. He said those numbers were based on the capacity of ships going up the Lynn Canal. In reality, the ships that docked at Skagway were filled below capacity. Most ships carried 60% or less of actual capacity.
In addition to the capacity figures, cruise lines had a few ships hampered by bad weather towards the end of the 2021 season. One or two ships changed their plans halfway through an itinerary due to an emergency of passengers or unfavorable seas.
Cremata stays in regular contact with cruise lines and organizers.
“We’re probably going to see a slow start in May,” he said, citing the normal booking time for early-season cruises that bumped up against the latest COVID-19 Omicron surge.
“Now the sales are skyrocketing, so we might start with 40-50% capacity, but go up to 70%,” he said.
This could mean around “more or less” 750,000 passengers, not counting motorway travel.
“It’s going to be a good season,” Cremata said.