Learn about life as a volunteer here at Arctic Adventure Tours
‘The earth has music for those who listen’ – William Shakespeare
Over the 20 plus years of running Arctic Adventure Tours, PT and Hege have welcomed many volunteers from all walks of life into their kennel and into their Arctic family. From travellers to students, engineers to marine biologists, we love to learn everyone’s story and teach them how we live up here in northern Norway.
For everyone it is a big step to leave your home and embark on a new adventure.
Read about some of our volunteers’ experiences:
Where are you from and have you always enjoyed working with dogs and being outside?
I am from Gdansk, a beautiful city in the Baltic sea region. Dogs always have always had a special place in my heart and I previously volunteered at the local animal shelter for some time.
What made you choose to work here at AAT or why did you want to come to Norway?
I love travelling to the Nordic countries. Ever since my first visit to Norway I have just kept coming back as often as I can. Most visits were just as a tourist, so this time I wanted to see what it would be like to live there for a longer period.
How did you get on contact with us and how did you hear about the volunteer job?
I took sabbatical leave from my work and was looking for an adventure. I was scrolling through workaway.org placements and a photo of a smiling husky face popped up in the recommended section. From the very first moment I knew this was the place for me.
What were you first thoughts about the kennel (the environment, the dogs, the surroundings etc)
I remember I spent the first night staring through the window at huskies sleeping under the midnight sun. It was almost unreal, yet felt strangely like home.
How did you find working with people from all over the world?
Fun! The other volunteers all came from different countries and backgrounds, everybody brings a different skill set (and cooking recipes) so it was fun to get to know everyone. There is also a team of experienced guides who supervise everything and teach you, so you never feel left alone. At the beginning you get a step-by-step instruction on every task and also loads of reading materials to learn about the dogs and the kennel and the area in general, so you begin to feel more confident when the guests arrive.
What tasks did you do at the kennel?
Everything from chopping wood, gardening and cleaning guest areas to running the Husky Hiking trips with the guests. But the most of the time is spent on dog care – preparing food, feeding, grooming, cutting claws, giving meds, exercising the dogs, raking the yard, fixing dog houses… and picking up poop! (but don’t worry, you get professional equipment for that!!) Socialising with the dogs is a very important task, in particular with the puppies. Yes, for sure, my favourite assignment was socialising with puppies in the garden!
You can be sure you will learn some unique skills in the kennel to tell your friends and family back home, like cutting frozen meat with an electric saw, but I don’t want to give out too many spoilers!
Were you worried about anything before you arrived and how did it work out?
I tend to be a bit of an introvert, so I was worried about meeting so many new people and how it will work out. But everybody was so friendly and supportive I felt very welcome from day one. We got all along immediately, hanging out together after hours and having dinners together. We also went to parties in the city once or twice.
What was the accommodation like?
We got a cozy room (my boyfriend was also volunteering at the kennel as well), with a fancy electric fireplace in what we call the ‘Service House’. Our room was right next to the communal kitchen, so I had a hard time not snacking all the time. As the ‘Service House’ is right in the middle of the kennel so you save a lot of time on commuting to work! On the other hand living in the kennel means being on “howling duty” some nights. But you know – with great power comes great responsibility!
How did you find interacting with the guests, any funny stories
It is always hilarious to see how small kids react to the puppies (not only small kids, to be honest). Everyone melts, as they are just so adorable, and if they are cuddling them, they never want to give them back!
But the one experience I remember most was a guest who was completely blind. I gave him a tour of the kennel describing everything I was seeing. He loved cuddling the dogs and kept asking about the colour and the character of every dog he touched. He also told me all about his guide dog in Germany. It was a very precious moment.
What will you miss the most from your time with us?
A lot of things. I made some friends and we keep in touch still. Also the place is beautiful – Kvaløya has both mountains and sea, you can go hiking, fishing or kayaking among other things. Tromsø is a vibrant city. Sommarøy is stunning, on a sunny day you feel like you are in the Caribbean.
But most of all I miss the dogs. I regularly harass staff still working in the dog yard to send me pictures of my favourite dogs!!
Will you come back? And why?
Absolutely! And I actually did the following winter. The first sled ride was so exciting! Also I was so happy to see the puppies that I had looked after all grown up after a couple of months.
What is your top tip for anyone thinking of volunteering?
Work on your physical condition. The work involves a lot of walking and hiking. Also the food buckets are pretty heavy, so doing some weight lifting training before won’t hurt!
What was the hardest thing about the job?
Some of you may know me now as the Office Manager at AAT. However, like many of our staff, I actually started off here as a volunteer, worked as a Dog Handler for a few seasons, and then a Guide, before starting to work more in the office.
My arrival at AAT was, as Hege described ‘like you fell out of the sky!’ – I had actually been travelling in Norway for a few weeks and planned to travel up to the northernmost part of Norway. Here I had a volunteering post organized, that at the last minute suddenly fell through. So, I found myself on a plane heading back to Tromsø, with 2 weeks to kill and no plans.
I began to email around all the local kennels, as I had some experience working with Canadian Inuit Dogs in Canada, so knew, even if I was just picking poo and feeding dogs, I would be content for a couple of weeks.
I emailed 3 kennels, and got 3 replies. The first, ‘no thanks’ the second, that I would need a criminal record check and could join them next month, and the third from Hege, asking when my flight landed in Tromsø, and that she would be at the airport to meet me!
It all felt very surreal, but when I saw Hege’s smiling face welcoming me at the arrivals area, I felt confident everything would work out ok.
She drove me back to the kennel via stopping at the shop to pick up some supplies. She was home alone at the kennel, as the other staff were at Training Camp undertaking the autumn training. When we arrived at Tisnes, she showed me around the kennel and where I would be staying. The Service House has two large bedrooms, a staff kitchen, and communal bathroom downstairs (which was shared with the guests).
Then I got to meet the dogs. That very morning Hege had been trying to complete her office work, whilst at the same time supervising the 4 litters of puppies they had welcomed that summer. The pups happened to all be born within a few weeks of each other, so now at age 3 months were away from their mums and all hitting the ‘let’s explore and get into trouble’ phase at the same time.
And that was it. Me, 37 puppies, a large free run area and two weeks to enjoy it. I was in heaven. Playing games with them, hiking with them, feeding, grooming and cuddling them. The time flew and after two weeks, I was only hungry for more.
I returned again a few months later for a longer period of 6 weeks. During these 6 weeks in the high-season, full speed with several tours every day, when I returned to the UK again, exhausted but happy, I couldn’t think of anywhere else I would rather be. This realisation sunk in after 1 day back at home, I quit my job, dumped my boyfriend and moved over here permanently!
Now 9 years later, after a few more adventures here and there, AAT is my home.
In 2014 I met my now husband here at the kennel, after he helped out on a building project, and last winter we introduced our 15 month old daughter to dog sledding! I would certainly say; when one door closes, another door opens.
Being open and able to say ‘yes’ to new opportunities means that, although you never know where the path will take you, it could end up being somewhere magical!
Before I started my adventures in northern Norway I had no experience in working with dogs, but after working in a horse yard for several years I knew that having contact with nature makes me the happiest.
When I did my research into where I wanted to volunteer, I read only heart-melting words about AAT. I am a bit of a dreamer, for me the most important factor is the experience and the feeling. I applied to volunteer and then I chatted with Katie via Skype. After this I felt that this place is exactly my ‘vibe’. Norway is also a love at first sight place for me too.
Hege met me at the airport and helped me with all my stuff (and I had this crazy idea to take bike, ha!). Everything felt super friendly and welcoming from the beginning.
When I walked into the kennel for the first time my first thought was: “DOOOGOOOSSS!” and I felt so excited. After the excitement calmed down, then I noticed that everything is clean and organized, and people – super warm and happy. I think that’s one of the best indicators, when you see happy people, then you know this is a good place to be.
My jobs in the dog yard included harnessing dogs (catching Isbjørn when he was super happy jumping around was a challenge!) and preparing them for the tours, feeding, picking the poop, washing and drying dog booties, and my favourite – socializing with dogs. In my free time, when everything was good to go, I loved to take some photos of the dogs.
I will always remember the first opportunity I had to join the tour and go sledding! I had never done it before but it is so much fun! Definitely hard to describe in words, but it is just a mix of a boom of endorphins, fresh crisp air, beautiful pastel landscapes, a lot of excited furry huskies, and the sound of squeaky-sliding powder. Amazing.
Before I began my volunteering experience, I had so many questions in my head. Will I manage? What will it be like? But I think that is the set of questions we all have before any new experience. When I was younger, a friend of mine’s dog bit me in the face. So I was a bit scared that I would awaken my trauma but nothing like this happened, actually it made me more trusting of dogs as all of the dogs at the kennel were so friendly and well-behaved.
During my time volunteering I lived in a separate staff house that we called ‘The White House’. The view was amazing. Imagine; seeing mountains covered with snow and the fjord as your daily view, and from my bed I could sometimes even see the northern lights through my window!
All of it felt so hygge and koselig!
After some weeks of getting to know the routine, I began to feel confident looking after the dogs. However as they say: ‘every day is a school day’. In fact I had a funny story with a husky called Rolf. I was super sleepy one morning and I thought that somehow he had some poop stuck in his fur. I thought “oh nooo”, so I took a tissue to clean him up and realized that it was actually his testicle! Poor Rolf was quite surprised!
After volunteering for 1 month I was offered a paid position within the company. I was delighted and extended my stay for several more months.
For me, this whole experience was unforgettable, the people, the dogs, the beautiful nature, all of it together creates an amazing place. Now when these crazy times go back to normal I am just waiting for a good opportunity to return again. How I could not want to?
For anyone considering volunteering: just do it!