It has been predicted that there's going to be Northern Lights in Levi soon. So take a look skywards! Prediction provided by Sunsää.
When Reijo Jääskeläinen first became enthusiastic about huskies in the 1970s, he probably didn’t expect his hobby to become a lifelong passion that would take him to parts of the world most people have never heard of.
– I liked animals, and I guess I read too many White Fang books by Jack London, Reijo chuckles, when I ask him how he first de- veloped an interest in huskies.
Reijo was one of the people who brought husky activities to Finland.
– It is now 40 years since husky racing started to become popular in Finland, and I have been actively involved since the beginning. My husky hobby has taken me around the world – twice, in fact, if you count the kilometres, he calculates.
This hobby has taken Reijo as far as the Eskimo villages of Greenland – Reijo, a known dog expert, was invited to join an expedition to that remote area.
For a certain period, Reijo participated in races and won several Finnish and Nordic championships. But running a kennel and dog training gradually won out and he became an entrepreneur.
– My first business was in Toijala, but I soon found that they were about to build a motorway over my place. So I took my dogs and belongings and moved to Levi in the autumn of 1990. The business I started up, known today as the Levi Husky Park, was one of the first of its kind in Finland.
Almost 25 years later, the Levi Husky Park is a popular attraction among thousands of Finnish and foreign visitors. Overnight safaris are no longer offered, but shorter sled rides are extremely popular, particularly among families with children.
–Huskies are the best dogs for this type of activity. They are social but very calm, do not have a strong guarding instinct and tolerate the cold well.
Some visitors may have preconceptions about huskies being fierce, unpredictable and aggressive wolf-life creatures.
– When people see the dogs and get to know them, they usually change their minds. Although huskies are very excitable when they start pulling a sled, the resulting frenzy and occasional very loud barking should not be mistaken for aggressiveness, Reijo points out.
– Huskies are very social and reliable, and can be safely left even around small children, he explains.
Besides running a husky park, Reijo, together with his furry friends, has taken part in several film, commercial and television productions over the years, including major international productions.
– My animals became film stars nearly 30 years ago. A Swedish TV production crew was looking for a pack of wolves but was unable to find dogs in Sweden that fit the part. We had a team of nine huskies, and over the summer I trained them to resemble a wolf pack, Reijo recalls.
– The film shoot went very well, although we had to resort to a bit of make up to make the huskies look like wild wolves, Reijo laughs. The word got around and Reijo was offered one film project after another. He and his animals have now participated in dozens of projects in total. In addition to huskies, Reijo keeps wolf-dog hybrids, Arctic foxes and an adopted reindeer called Taiko.
– Taiko was orphaned and would have been slaughtered if we hadn’t taken him in. He will pose on the 2014 Christmas calendar. Taiko loves gingerbread, so we used it as a treat to inspire a spectacular performance on screen, Reijo comments.
Training animals for film productions is a demanding task, and the trainer has to know the animals like the back of his hand. Tight schedules and changing conditions pose an additional challenge. Ingenuity is often called for.
– With animals, you have to remember that even the slightest changes require a lot of training. Each individual is different. Depending on the project, I always choose the ones I think are best for the “role”, Reijo says. Training takes time if you do it on your own, especially with several animals. Johanna Rasinaho has been part of Reijo’s team for four years now.
– Initially Johanna came to help me to prepare for a Russian Snow Queen movie. After that she has helped me to train animals for two other films as well. In addition she is responsible for taking care of the animals. Her work is priceless.
Reijo has enough exciting stories about animals to write several books. Listening to his stories, you can only admire his expertise and love of animals. What does he enjoy most about his work?
– The experiences we can offer the families who visit us. We see children here who may never have seen animals before. It’s wonderful to see their excitement. I also love showing the beautiful Finnish wilderness to people from all four corners of the globe, Reijo says.
– And I get to spend all day outdoors, he adds with a grin.
LAURA HYLE // LEVIN MATKAILU
When Tanja Poutiainen announced an end to her successful racing career in spring 2014, it was clear that this Finnish alpine skiing heroine would be no couch potato. I was keen to hear more about her plans for the future and thoughts on the past. We ended up talking about football.