NIAGARA FALLS — As visitors to Goat Island walked along in the snow-turning-to-slush Sunday afternoon, they were greeted by members of the Siberian Husky Club of the Niagara Frontier, and invited to pet the friendly huskies.
"This is better than the Falls," one passerby said with a smile.
The Western New York club, which has been in existence since the 1980s, made its first formal visit to Niagara Falls State Park Sunday, gathering near the entrance to the Cave of the Winds attraction in an effort to do what it does at many wintertime events: Educate the public about the breed.
And the petting and nuzzling is a big hit, too.
"I like them because you can go sledding with them, and they're playful," said 9-year-old Rachel Linnane.
Rachel spent some quality time cuddling and posing for pictures with 6-year-old Huskies, Skye and Brin, who Tim and Sue Ray brought from East Aurora.
"She loves huskies, they're her favorite," said Rachel's mother, Elizabeth. "We were coming down to see the Falls just because of the weather, and it was like a lucky surprise."
Christina Derry and her family made the trip from Erie, Pa., thinking that they might see the spectacular ice formations created during winter's deep freeze.
"I'm a husky fan," said Derry. "We actually came to see the Falls because they were supposed to be frozen, but this was kind of a great surprise. It's beautiful though, because my sister has a husky and she's so energetic and the sweetest thing. I like the color range of them — I've never seen any huskies that are these different colors. And it's cool to see see the sleds that they get to pull."
The club's appearance was part of an event billed as the "Dog Days of Winter," but Mother Nature capped off her temperamental week in Western New York by supplying highs in the 50s on Sunday, a tremendous turnaround from single-digit temperatures just days ago.
The bitter cold stretch was hard on most two- and four-legged Western New Yorkers, but the huskies couldn't have been happier. That's the climate they're built for.
"It was their weather," said Dennis Brundage, who had two of his five dogs on hand, 4-year-olds Gus and Sam. "As soon as I let them out of their kennels, their energy … there is a definite difference in the way that they react in the cold weather. I don't think there's ever been a day in WNY that these dogs would be cold."
Brundage said that 10-below is the ideal temperature for huskies to run. He snow-blows his yard in Lockport into paths and huge snow piles. "They're racing down the yard and jumping in piles," he said.
On Sunday, part of the club's plan was to conduct a dogsled demonstration, but the 50-degree temperatures didn't allow for a makeshift track to be set up.
"Our dogs are disappointed they couldn't run today," said Sue Ray.
The club did a dogsled demonstration when it participated in Alden Winterfest on Saturday.
"People get excited," to see the demonstrations, said Mike Cap, who was wearing a University of Connecticut "Huskies" pullover. "And so do the dogs. It's a lot of fun."
The club also attended similar events in Clarence and Grand Island this winter, and does presentations at libraries across Western New York throughout the winter.
"A lot of it is so people can learn about Siberian huskies and what they're like," said Bobbie Cap, the club's vice president and Mike's wife. "So people understand that they enjoy pulling sleds, and they're a working breed, and they enjoy working. And they're also very friendly, and great with kids."
For more information on the club and its events, go to shcnf.com.