Husky pack leader looks back over his fascinating career working with Angelina Jolie and other stars
Hike on! Gee! Haw! Those are words that bring joy to the ears of Hugh Finnegan.Until two years ago Hugh, now 79, would spend every winter weekend racing through the forest with his husky pack at speeds of up to 25mph.
Unfortunately a degenerative lung condition has put paid to the racing – at which Hugh and wife Miriam were highly successful.
And the pack has reduced to just one husky, their beloved Logan, who is now 17.
But they have the most wonderful memories. The walls of their Southbourne home are adorned with photographs and paintings of the 12 huskies – and other dogs – they have had over the years.
One particular picture has pride of place. It's a shot of Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie with a warm hand-written message to Hugh.
He says: ‘Working on the film Tomb Raider was probably my proudest moment.
‘The dogs have brought me great joy over the years, I don’t half miss them, but I was getting old.’
The fantastic gig came about when the British Sled Dog Association was asked by producer Simon West to provide dogs for the big-budget film adaptation of computer game, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
Along with other husky owners, Hugh was asked to take his eight-strong pack to Pinewood Studios.
He says: ‘After we’d been there a few days, Simon West said he’d picked the teams and we would be on Angelina's team.
‘I was so proud. We spent three months with her and she was on the sled with them. She was a really nice girl, a really nice person.
‘Angelina’s father, John Voight, Daniel Craig, and Ian Glen were also in it. Ian was scared of the dogs! But there is really nothing to be scared of.’
Hugh’s dogs have appeared on the silver screen, the small screen and in adverts.
There have been stints on Good Morning Britain and London Weekend Television.
One of their late dogs, Ferdy, even took to the Mayflower stage as Sandy, the dog in Annie.
‘She was brilliant at it’, recalls Hugh with a smile.
Hugh and wife Miriam, who have been married for almost 60 years, were the leaders of the pack.
And their children and grandchildren all adored the huskies, who were an intrinsic part of the Finnegan family’s lives.
Winter weekends would be spent racing and there would be training during the week.
Miriam says: ‘It all started in 1976 when I read an article about huskies and how much you could do with them. You race on three wheels in a specially-made buggy, with two to eight dogs.
‘Two was enough for me. You stand up and shout the commands and they go up to 25mph. It’s terrifying, especially if you go downhill.
‘They slow down eventually but it’s absolutely exhilarating.’
The couple, who are both originally from Portsmouth, met at a dance on South Parade Pier in 1959.
They have three children and four grandchildren. And all of them have been involved in caring for the huskies.
Hugh says: ‘The dogs had a big enclosure at the bottom of the garden, with climbing frames and trees.
‘In fact I have only just taken the trees down.
‘When they got to the age of 12 we retired them and they came into the house to live with us.’
As well as working with the huskies, Hugh was a plumber and worked on building sites all his life.
So, were his mates on site a bit star-struck about the actors he was working with?
‘Not at all’, laughs Hugh. ‘They couldn’t have cared less.
‘But what it meant for me, because I was self-employed, I could just drop everything and do a job with the dogs.’
One of the most unusual jobs was advertising for Quebec, Canada.
‘For 12 years we did the Destination Quebec stand at the tourism show.
‘It’s quite funny really that they used British huskies for the job’.
But now it's just Logan, who slowly meanders across the room, his racing days long behind him.
Hugh says modestly: ‘I count myself very lucky. There are better dogs than mine but I have been picked for so many interesting things. The dogs have brought us so much joy.’