Dog sledding is the newest urban trend for one Knoxville homeless man who plans to mush two huskies more than 2,000 miles despite locals claiming mistreatment of the dogs.
George Cutright has been training his dogs, Sarah and Lobos, in Knoxville to prepare them for the harsh conditions they will face on their journey to California. Cutright rides in a fold out chair sitting atop on a longboard while holding the dogs by their leashes.
“My training, I kind of kept it loose. I just leave it up to the dogs. During the runs, I can tell when they’re getting tired. They’re going to want to slow down a little bit, and that’s fine,” Cutright said. “At first, they’re very rambunctious, and they like to speed. I’m cool with that, and that’s fine for a little bit, but we’re going to take it nice and slow.”
Many Knoxvillians saw Cutright training the rescue dogs on Cumberland Ave and on Gay Street. Shawna Gibson, an employee at a convenience store on Cumberland, saw Cutright many times before he left.
“He was coming in here daily just buying basic things, and he kept asking me if I had seen the article about him in the paper come out yet,” Gibson said. “He seemed nice. He really loved his dogs.”
Cutright said he chose to train the dogs on Cumberland Avenue because it is one of the busiest parts of Knoxville. Since he will pass through more populous cities than Knoxville in the course of his trip, Cutright wanted to prepare the dogs for traffic. However, the dogs won't be traveling with the cars but as pedestrians instead.
“Of course, I’ve been doing this all over the country in different cities, but I want to get them acclimated to the traffic,” Cutright said. “Now, they stop at a red light. I don’t have to do much when they hear the beep of the green light, which is the walk signal. They’re ready to go like a service dog would be.”
On change.org, a user who goes by John Smith created a petition against Cutright’s mission. Smith’s goal is 1,000 signatures and, as of Monday, the petition has received 713 signatures from across the world.
“This is cruelty and exploitation of two innocent dogs,” Smith said on the site. “The husky breed are designed for cold weather and snow, not hard asphalt and traffic.”
Cutright is not discouraged by the criticism. He said that, as a dog lover, he is encouraged by the care others have for his dogs.
“Well, all I have to say is I want to prove them wrong. I love the criticism to be honest with you. It keeps me on my toes. It’s going to make me just that much more aware of what’s going on around me,” Cutright said. “I wish it was a little bit more constructive criticism. A lot of them have been pretty hurtful, but I understand, and we need people like that out there to watch over our animals.”
Even though the trip will be difficult for Cutright and his dogs, he said he has owned dogs his whole life and knows how to care for them even though he is homeless.
“Even though I am a homeless man, I care for my dogs way better than most people do. They’re outdoors almost all the time. I feed them very, very well, and I give them all the love they can take,” Cutright said. “I’m really owned by them if you want to get down to it. Like, my whole life revolves around these dogs. I love them.”
Cutright, who is a Californian, hopes to make enough money to become self-sustaining from his GoFundMe page and the documentary he plans to produce. As of Monday, his GoFundMe has raised $770 of his $20,000 goal.
“Well, I’m going to try not to touch my GoFundMe, and if I do, it will only be for the dogs,” Cutright said. “So, I’m hoping that my GoFundMe will have enough money in it when I’m done to maybe get a fresh start. By that I mean get housing, find a job and be able to take care of these dogs at the same time … I just want, at the end of this, to be sustainable.”
Even though Cutright has honest goals, there are some that believe he will not make it across the country.
“I mean they were huskies, but they’re not exactly sled dogs. They weren’t trained, so I don’t think they will do what he expects of them. I think he’ll give up,” Gibson said.
Cutright said he is not worried about those who oppose or do not believe in him because he thinks he is attempting something great.
“I kind of read the petition myself and kinda chuckled at it,” Cutright said. “Anything that anybody has ever done great has had a lot of opposition, and I look forward to the opposition.”