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'Smiles for miles': N.B. man finds peace, happiness on the dog sled trail


No matter the temperatures, the snow or his mood, Doug Stoakley and his team of trusted hounds spend every day out on the trails.

“If it wasn’t for these dogs, I don’t know where I would be,” said the New Brunswick man who has been dogsledding for 15 years.

It all started with four black labs, a need for change and finding inspiration from a TV show about the Iditarod – a trail sled dog race.

“I had a job, that was a good paying job at the time, like 15 to 20 years ago, got into the mental health, depression and just hated the job,” he said. “I needed to do something different.”

For Doug, dogs have always been his happy place. He found serenity in a part-time kennel job, which only helped prove that dogs would be an important part of his life.

He then moved on to training police dogs, opening his own kennel -- which shut down during the pandemic -- and now training his own team to help pull the weight when things get a little too heavy.

“I found the more that I was training, the less the depression affected me. It seemed to, I was on all the medications, all they’d prescribe, but the medication just isn’t enough,” he said.   

Talking openly about his mental health struggles, Doug has found a way to push through some of the daily obstacles.

“The way I train my dogs, for instance, if we have to cross a creek or something like that, if the dogs are nervous about it, I’ll coax them through and show them slowly it’s nothing to be afraid of. So I thought ‘Why don’t I use that for myself?’” he said.

“Depression sits in and it doesn’t go anywhere if you don’t do anything about it. And I’m finding just talking about it somewhat therapeutic.”

Right now the team is training for their first ever competition. A 30-mile race in Fort Kent, Maine.

“I kind of want to do it this year for my dogs because, well they deserve it and I’m super proud and I just love them to death and I want to do this for them as well as myself,” he said.

Doug has set up a GoFundMe page to help cover some of the expenses that comes with the new territory.

Money raised will help go towards vaccinations to allow the dogs to cross the border, fuel, harnesses, new safe gang line and tires for the dog truck.

Although he also struggles from social anxiety, this is a challenge he says he’s ready to take on, as long as he’s got his team with him.

“With the social anxiety, the training for this race, it’s going to do two things,” he explained. “It’s getting me out with my dogs, living in the moment and just feeling the love for life again, and the other side of it is the race side. So this is going to force me to go into social.”

With a team of dogs literally pulling him forward, Doug has found a way to fight depression and social anxiety, in a way that is unique to him.

Plus, with 16 dogs as part of the family, it’s a method that works even on the days when mental illness sneaks up on him again.

“A lot of times, as people know, when they suffer from depression, just getting out of bed can be a challenge,” he said. “For me, I’ll admit I wake up in the mornings and I don’t want to, minus 25 [degrees] and I don’t want to harness the dogs up and go, but they’re my family. They need it. They want it.”

“Honest to god, the second that I pull that hook and away we go, it’s just smiles for miles.” Top Stories

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