A Dog Sledding Delivery Service Helps Caribou Community during COVID

A Dog Sledding Delivery Service Helps Caribou Community during COVID

Photo courtesy Hannah Lucas.

Hannah Lucas, a musher living in Caribou, has traveled many grueling miles over the years, and her journey hasn’t always been idyllic. At just 24 years of age, Hannah’s not only traded in the beaches of Virginia for the woods of Maine, but she has also experienced both homelessness and home ownership in her short lifetime. Despite all the hills and valleys she’s traversed, she says that by being in The County, she is finally living her best life.

“I’m probably the most happy I have ever been,” Hannah said. “Sometimes I think what would’ve happened if I hadn’t just jumped into things and bought a house in Maine? I think I would’ve been a bit miserable.”

In 2018, Hannah settled into a three-bedroom, two-bath house along with her fiancé David and their 18 hair-shedding, four-legged roommates. During the week, Hannah works as the store manager at the Irving Circle K in Caribou. In the evenings and weekends, she is off the clock, training her dogs while doing service for others in need. With no dog sled races scheduled for 2021, Hannah is keeping her team in tip-top shape and helping to limit the spread of the coronavirus by delivering groceries and medicine to her neighbors in Aroostook County via her dogsled team.

“It worried me a lot when the pandemic started because you could tell people were nervous being out and about. They’d come into the store and just buy milk and eggs. The thing that kick-started this for me was if they’re just leaving their house for one or two items, I could just pick up this stuff and then plan the deliveries and save these people the time, but more importantly the exposure,” Hannah explained. “This [unusual situation] has given me a lot of purpose.”

With her notebook in hand, Hannah started taking grocery requests by phone, text, or through social media. Next, she would map out a route along the state’s snowmobile trails that would allow her and her dogs to deliver to as many people as possible. 

Photo by Pete Freeman.

“What I experienced is families that weren’t currently working. So, I’d take money out of my own pocket to buy groceries for them. Sometimes people would pay me once I got to their house or I’d meet them at one of the ITS trail openings, where I can bring the dogs right off the main road. I’d tie the dog sled off to a tree, and then I’d wipe everything down with Clorox wipes and have the bags 10 to 15 feet away from the sled, so I could keep a safe distance. I’d have them go through their bags and make sure everything they’d asked for was there,” Hannah explained. “A lot of times people would get really emotional and want to give me hugs and handshakes, and I would let them pet my dogs instead, just to keep people safe, and the contact to a minimum. I’ve been homeless, so I know how it feels to struggle and live in uncertainty. I’m really just happy to help anyone out, however I can.”

With requests from as far north as Madawaska and as far south as Bradford, Hannah and her team have sometimes logged close to 75 miles on their delivery days. And almost all their deliveries are to complete strangers.

“With the pandemic, I haven’t had a chance to make friends or anything since moving here. The only people I know are my coworkers,” she admitted. “I’ve picked up prescriptions for people and run them out during the night, which works fine for me because I want the dogs to be able to go any time of day. But weekends are easier for me. Last year we were doing eight to ten deliveries on Saturday and Sunday. We really try and do as much as we can.”

Photo by Brynne Matula.

Customers have been more than grateful for Hannah and her pack of pooches. However, the response she’s received from the mushing community hasn’t been nearly as positive.

“I faced a little bit of backlash from the dog racing and mushing community because people thought I was trying to steal the spotlight away from the sport. They felt animosity towards me,” Hannah shared. “I never expected anything [I was doing] to go viral, but I’m happy to use this little platform I have to advocate for the sport because it is so much fun and a rewarding experience. I just thought me helping the dogs reach their potential and do what they were bred to do, while also helping other people by bringing their groceries to them so they don’t have to possibly get sick, was a win-win.”

In February of 2020, Hannah placed 14th in the Can-Am Crown International Dog Sled race that was held in Fort Kent. Coming in the middle of the group was exciting for Hannah because she said, “A lot of mushers are using Alaskan Huskies or Eurohounds, which are breeds bred for different speeds. My dogs are all pure-bred Siberian Huskies, so they’re a little more slow and steady, and keep going over long periods of time. I’d like to be more competitive, but they have the superior genetics being able to breed Alaskan Huskies and Whippets.”

Hannah’s dogs are far more than a race team. They are her family. When it’s time to renew her kennel license, Hannah can rattle off each of her dogs’ names and birthdays, just like they were her kids, without looking at their paperwork.

“I hate to say I have a favorite, but I do have a dog that is close to my heart. Her name is Acacia. She’s more calm and collected and laid back. But she has this switch where she’s 100 percent into her work. Anytime we’re out running, she’s in the lead spot, leading my team. Last year, she ran 603 miles just in races for my sled team,” Hannah explained.  “Like Acacia, the rest of them are all named after trees because I love nature. I love spending time outside. I think that’s why I love dog sledding so much.”

“The main thing I wanted to do was slow the spread of the virus up here as much as possible, so things could just go back to normal,”she said. “I really like to give the credit to the dogs. They’re pulling all this weight. I’m just the driver. It’s them doing all the work.”

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