An Interview with Kennel Manager and Adoptions Coordinator, Mackenzie Ross

What’s your role and what’s your main priority?

My role is the Kennel Manager and Adoptions Coordinator at Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours. I’m responsible for, and my main priority is, the health and well being of all of our dogs. 

Describe a typical workday…

Kennel Manager at Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours with MegadeathMy day starts with immediately checking on all of our dogs and administering medication to dogs that need it. Not only do I administer medication to our dogs with chronic conditions, but I follow up and reevaluate dogs with conditions that are improving. It’s important to know when to place dogs on medication, and when it’s the appropriate time to take them off of their meds. I also follow up on any injuries, or wounds that might need cleaning. While I’m going through meds, the guides are running around the kennel doing poop cleans and feeding the dogs their breakfast. When morning chores are done, dogs that are going to work for the day are loaded onto the trailers. All the dogs that remain at the kennel for the day are left in my care.

After the crew rolls out, I give water to the remaining dogs at the kennel. In the winter, we give the dogs hot water baited with kibble to make sure they stay hydrated. After the dogs have had their soup, I go around and collect all the bowls then, it’s time to do another poop clean. It’s crucial to do multiple cleans throughout the day, as we don’t want our dogs getting ill. After, it’s time to free run! I get 2 large buckets of clear hot water, go into the kennel, make sure all the gates are closed and then set the dogs loose! This is so important as it allows the dogs to socialize with each other, play and let off some steam. Usually, near the end of the free run, most dogs are already sleeping in front of their houses before I call them back to hook them up.

Summer at Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours Kennels in Canmore 3During free run, there are multiple tasks that can be completed on any given day. Checking straw and making sure the dog’s beds are all nice and fluffy, trimming nails, brushing dogs, and of course, the necessary poop cleans. Monitoring the dogs behaviours, diets and recording the female’s heat cycles are also part of the Kannel Manager’s job. Other common duties are general tidiness and upkeep of the kennel, monitoring how much water is in our tank, checking on the septic, etc are a few things that have to be regularly checked to make sure operations run smoothly at the kennel.  

Depending on the day, I may meet with families involved in our adoption program and answer any questions they have. I handle all the email inquiries and online screening for our adoptions program. Initial meetings with families hoping to adopt are held with the owner, Jereme and myself where we introduce the dogs. Should the families bond with one of our dogs (and vice versa… the dog does have to like you!) all other kennel visits are done with me. During these visits, we see how the dog and family interact together, how well they handle the dogs on leash etc. Part of being an adoptions coordinator is also following up to see how our dogs are doing on day walks and sleepovers! We pride ourselves on doing everything we can to ensure our dogs find a safe and loving home and that it is a good fit for the adopting family!

Towards the end of the day, I’m preparing the kennel for the arrival of dogs returning from tours. That means more poop cleans (poop cleans are done approximately every 2 hours at the kennel), preparing the evening soup and placing out bowls. When the dogs that worked that day arrive back at the kennels they are unloaded back to their homes. I check on any dog that might need attention and then I go through my evening meds routine. 

How did you get into the field of work? Where did you work before this?

Kennel Manager at Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours in CanmoreI’ve worked in animal care my entire life. In the past, I worked with giraffes, rhinos, lions, cheetahs, ostriches, kangaroos/ wallabies, zebras and other various hoofstock animals (I was a zookeeper at one point, can’t you tell?). I’ve also worked with horses and cattle (primarily calves). Prior to moving out west from Ontario, I was working at a farm where I was responsible for medicating and monitoring the health of all the calves.    

I’ve always had a love for animals and working with them has always been a passion of mine. As a kid, I volunteered at my local stables and worked with horses, and when I was in high school I volunteered at a veterinary clinic that specializes in small animals. No matter what job I have I’m always eager to learn everything possible about the species I’m working with to expand my knowledge.

What do you love most about your job?

The dogs of course! There are so many different characters and personalities running around the kennel! Definitely have a fondness for a lot of our shy dogs, once they get to know you, their personalities really shine and they can be pretty hilarious.

What’s one of the challenging things about your job?

Mackenzie Kennel Manager at Snowy Owl Sled Dog ToursOne of the challenging things about my job is the dog’s diets. Making sure the dogs are getting the right amount of kibble for their workload and making sure adjustments are being made regularly can be a lot when there are over 160 dogs! Keeping in mind that each dog has a different metabolism. Some of our dogs can put on weight really easily (or struggle to lose weight), while others can lose weight pretty fast. Another factor is variety, we try to find treats or different meals for the dogs so that they don’t get bored but we have some pretty picky eaters so it can be a challenge making sure they get all the calories they need!

What advice would you give to someone who is considering this career path?

I’d advise anyone who’s considering getting into the animal care industry to get out and volunteer. That’s the only way you’ll find out if it is a good fit for you and if you’re ok doing all the tasks involved in caring for them. Pretty often I hear people say they love animals and would love to work with them but they don’t want to pick up the poop – newsflash… that’s like 75% of the job! Volunteering’s also a good way to get your foot in the door and eventually gain actual job experience. Be wary of facilities that have a high turnaround of full time staff (many places operate with seasonal contracts, but always have a core crew of full times) as there usually is a good reason. Be sure to do your research into the facility to make sure that their core values in animal care align with yours. Good facilities can be hard to get into and the top notch ones will want to make sure you have ample experience in caring for animals.

Any memorable stories you’d like to share?

Mackenzie from Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours ice skatingMy most memorable moments at the kennel so far have been when the shy dogs get comfortable enough around me and actually get excited to see me. It’s really good to see those dogs develop that trust and see their playful personalities come out. I remember the first time Bear ran up to me during free run and I remember the first time Nome not only came up to me but sat on a house with me while free running. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I finally won over Fester!

Is there anything about your role that you think people would be interested in learning about?

That’s a big question! I think the medical attention these dogs receive is a big one that people would be interested in. It’s definitely what I love to hear about when I ask about animals at other facilities. I’m very proud to work at a facility that is well above industry standard and prioritizes the dogs over everything else. For me, I love getting right into the medical stuff – learning what’s causing the issue, what we can do to fix it/manage it, learning all about the medications and how we can prevent the issue from recurring in the future. It’s great to work closely with the amazing team of veterinarians that Snowy Owl uses and find solutions. 

Experience dog sledding for yourself! Check out our tour options.