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Dogs born to run with a rare breed

At photographer Marcus Fillinger's rural home studio, mixing the dogs' dinner and delivering it out on cue is a precision operation.

About 30 stainless steel food bowls wait to be filled with a home-made mix of vegetables, fresh meat and dried dog food. And once the dogs hear the first tell-tale clink of bowls being moved on the kitchen bench, a cacophonous wall of canine sound erupts. It's a pack of hungry huskies, singing for their supper.

''They're sociable dogs, so it's one in, all in,'' he says.

Mr Fillinger and partner Shannon Mortlock run a rescue shelter for dumped huskies - dogs surrendered to city pounds by owners who find the naturally boisterous breed too much of a handful and too costly to feed. Mr Fillinger estimates he spends about $140 a day to feed the pack at his Alphadog shelter near Michelago. ''They're bred to run, with energy to burn and need a healthy diet,'' he says.

Mr Fillinger, an elite athlete who holds the world record for a solo Arctic ice dive, developed an affinity for huskies while training in Norway and Alaska. Now, he's preparing for another endurance challenge - a 1000km trek across the Alaskan wilderness to draw attention to animal welfare issues related to some commercial dog sled races and dog sled tourism.

While training with dogs in the Arctic, he was approached to compete in sled races in the United States, but pulled out when he heard stories of dogs being killed and mistreated. He was angered by video footage showing dogs that died after becoming entangled and dragged while sledders seemed oblivious to their plight. ''I want to show you can run dogs at their own pace, and enjoy the experience,'' he says.

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Mr Fillinger will travel with Melbourne vet Malcolm Ware, using a team of 12 huskies - a pack of eight sledders, with four reserve dogs - selected from US animal shelters.

''We'll take death-row dogs, and train them up to do the run.'' Mr Fillinger met Dr Ware while working as a wildlife rescue volunteer in the weeks after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria.

It will take them three years to train the US dogs - and themselves - for the marathon wilderness mush-run.

During the 20-day journey, they'll visit remote Inuit communities, where Dr Ware will conduct animal health and vaccination clinics.

They're set to start the training phase with an introductory snow survival course for Dr Ware in the NSW high country. Mr Fillinger says his friend is ''a robust bloke'' who'll have no trouble adjusting to the isolation and sub-zero temperatures.

''Once you're out there, seeing the joy of a dog team in their element, you forget the cold, you forget there's stuff streaming out of your nose and you just get a huge buzz from being part of the pack.''