With all of the snow falling over the northern hemisphere this winter, good snow sports venues should not be difficult to find.
Dog sledding is no longer limited to dedicated mushers or people competing in the Iditarod. More and more people have discovered it as a great hobby and family activity. Sled courses and competitions are becoming increasingly popular.
Malamutes and Huskies are the Dogs of Choice as sled dogs, but many other breeds and mixed breeds over 30 pounds can be taught to pull the sled. Competition teams can consist of one or more dogs.
It is an excellent way to exercise and bond with dogs, get out into the wilderness, and involve the whole family in a fun activity. Teenagers especially are often reluctant to do family activities, but few can resist the adventure of dog sledding, especially when the family honor is at stake in a sledding competition.
Over the past 15 years there has been almost 100 percent increase in the number of dog-sled events. The sled-dog market has grown an average 10 to 15 percent annually.
The costs involved put it at the high end of family activities. Keeping dogs, depending on the number, can cost up to $1000 a month. Unless you have experience, you may need to hire someone to train you and your dogs. Race equipment, maintenance, and transportation can add hundreds more and, if you choose to compete, entry fees can add another $200 or so per event.
Which makes it considerably less expensive than…oh, I don’t know…yachting, racing thoroughbred horses, polo…but this gives you a small idea of the financial commitment of the mushers in the Iditarod.
They did pretty well for a while. And then they were banned from the race.
It all started when Alaskan John Suter bought three standard Poodles in 1976 and found they loved running in the snow. Instead of just enjoying sledding with his dogs (and possibly he was hoping for a movie deal), he became serious about being a Poodle musher and turning his Poodles into racing sled dogs.
He brought in experienced sled dogs and mushers to teach the Poodles who (of course) learned very quickly. After spending thousands of dollars of his own money, he appealed to Poodle owners to help finance his plan. His main purpose he said was to dispel the “wimpy image” of Poodles.
Poodle owners who for the most part love the social graces and strong verbal skills of the breed were not concerned with their “image.” Having them compete in an activity foreign to their natural breeding seemed pretty senseless. So there was not an outpouring of support.
Suter’s efforts did bring publicity to the Iditarod. But it was not the kind of publicity that some traditionalists wanted.
Eventually, however, Poodles did well in the marathon race where even finishing is an accomplishment.
In 1988, with a part-Poodle team, Suter placed 38th out of 52 starters in the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He subsequently ran the Iditarod with an all-Poodle team; his team entered and finished the race in 1989, 1990, and 1991. Source
This feat combined with the wins of Susan Butcher in 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1990 made the unofficial slogan, ”Alaska, where women win the Iditarod and men mush Poodles,” very popular.
As the Poodles continued to draw attention, murmurings from the other mushers began quietly and got louder, whether they were concerned for the Poodles’ well being or for some other reason. No one doubted they had the heart to race. The question was did the breed have an unfair disadvantage.
After one Poodle was frozen to the ground while a TV crew was filming (the dog was freed quickly with no ill effects), it was determined that Poodle paws and their coats, which lack an undercoat for warmth, were not suited for competition in the harsh northern climate.
For whatever reason, all dogs except Northern Breeds are now banned from running the Iditarod.
Someone (no doubt a Poodle person) suggested in a forum that mushers didn’t want Poodles kicking Husky butt.
One of the beautiful experiences in life is watching dogs do what they were bred to do. And few activities showcase the pure Joy of Dogdom like the Iditarod, called "The Last Great Race on Earth."
From the thousands of sled dogs that have been bred through the program, all going, “Pick me, pick me,” only the supreme few are selected to run the race. These are the superstars.
I’ve always been a fan of the Iditarod and the magnificent dogs that run in it, but this year I have a personal connection. My veterinarian has been chosen as one of the volunteer veterinarians. [OK, technically he is my dogs’ veterinarian, but only because he won’t treat humans.]
When he was chosen I interviewed him for a story for a local magazine and I’m looking forward to writing about his experiences when he returns.
Volunteer veterinarians examine the dogs prior to the race. After the race begins, the veterinarians are flown to the various checkpoints where they examine the dogs at each phase of the race. At the judgment of the veterinarians some dogs may receive medical treatment while others must drop out.
The Iditarod race was inspired by a life saving event that took place in 1925. In the middle of the frigid Alaskan winter, a deadly strain of diphtheria broke out in Nome. It was learned by telegraph that the nearest serum was in Anchorage, a thousand miles of frozen Alaskan wilderness away.
Twenty volunteer sled dog mushers in relay were able to brave the fifty-degree below zero temperatures to bring the life saving serum to Nome in just over five days. Lead dogs Balto and Togo became legendary.
As modern transportation took over Alaska, the heroism of mushers and sled dogs was passing into oblivion. Then in the early 1970’s the Iditarod Trail Committee was formed. The plan was to stage a race that would commemorate the life saving event which was part of their Alaskan heritage. The race would start on the first Saturday in March in Anchorage and end in Nome to celebrate the traditions and heroism of the Alaskan sled dogs and the mushers.
In 1973, the first race winner completed the course in just over twenty days. Winners today cover the same course in less than ten days.
Although some improvements in racing strategies and equipment have been made, the primary difference has resulted from breeding better sled dogs, superior nutrition, and veterinary care.
Tens of thousands of dollars go into the breeding programs to produce and train the fastest and healthiest dogs. Currently, around eighteen thousand dogs have been bred through the programs, from which the Chosen Ones are finally selected.
The trend in breeding is to produce stable dogs of 40 to 60 pounds instead of the heavier dogs of the past years. Mushers know they can only race as fast as the slowest dog.
By race day teams of sixteen starting dogs are chosen and ready to race. The rules state that five dogs from each team must remain in the race, even if the last dog rides in the sled, or the team is disqualified.
The 1112-mile race starts March 1. You can follow the progress here.
Be careful what you make fun of. It could someday rule your life.
Probably no one ridiculed Poodles more than I did before Misty the alpha Poodle entered my life through a series of unlikely circumstances and put a spell on me.
Nothing has been the same since.
I realized quickly that she understood everything I said…and thought. She can do inductive and deductive reasoning. She’s so smart, it’s scary. She is a good teacher and intelligent enough to be an incredibly charming, eager to please companion.
In my pre-Poodle years, I thought I had a lot of reasons to ridicule them. First is the name. Poodle is just a funny sounding name. Other dogs get to have distinguished place names like Yorkshire Terrier, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Maltese, but the Poodle is named after a pudel, the German word for puddle, something you might find on a sidewalk after a shower.
Several years ago they were officially called French Poodles, with all the courage and valor associated with that particular country. French was dropped when it was established that Poodles originated in Germany and France dropped out of favor.
The word Poodle is associated with lap dog, wimp, someone who carries out the wishes of a more powerful person.
We can’t overlook the “no bad, silly or yappy dogs, only bad, silly or yappy owners” truism that sometimes applies to Poodles. At one time they were the trendy dogs of the day, the spoiled Darlings of the Silly Set.
And of course the Poodle haircut. At first, I considered having her trimmed like a terrier, but I soon understood the historic and totally logical reason that the Poodle clip has been around for thousands of years. I even wrote a post explaining my theory on the origin of the Poodle clip.
However, I still wasn’t a fan of the show clip. There are so many cute and practical pet clips. The show clip seemed to be over the top.
Partly it is the hours and hours of grooming, the sacrifice of puppy hood that the show dog endures while they stand still for endless grooming. What a boring way for human and dog to spend time together.
BUT, to be perfectly honest here, whenever I see a dog show, I fall under the spell of the Show Poodle Presence. In their centuries-old-clip, Poodles are the dogs people notice, the beauty queens, the fairy tale princesses, the Prince Charmings. No other dog can match their unique Poodle-ness, their striking bearing and prancing paws.
That’s when I wonder how much it would cost to have a pet groomer come to my house for a few hours every day…
Then Misty the alpha Poodle smiles at me and says, “Don’t even think about it.”
According to Stanley Coren in “The Intelligence of Dogs:” the Border Collie is the smartest dog breed. The Poodle is second, but my Poodles have been trying to get a rematch for years.
I see a lot of “Border Collie: “Free to good home” ads, but I think they may put the ads in the paper themselves when they find that their owners are insipidly dull couch potatoes who don’t provide the mental and physical stimulation that the breed needs.
They love work. They don’t like days off. They don’t like to sit and watch TV. If forced to be inactive, they can become quite annoying.
They were bred to herd cattle, but some can be trained to transfer their skills to birds. When the dogs work, the birds think they are being hunted and fly away. Because BC’s have herding rather than hunting or killing instincts, they work well in places where the birds should be shooed away without being harmed.
Geese can be disgusting and scary when they walk around in areas meant for people. The Border Collie doesn’t harm the geese. If they can’t fly, the BC will herd them safely into areas where they should be confined.
At Southwest Florida International Airport, Radar the Border Collie has a life mission to keep the birds out of the way of the airplanes. Working with operations agent Rebecca Stansifer, they form a team as the airport’s certified wildlife management team.
Birds and airplanes can make a deadly combination.
Almost 200 people have been killed worldwide as a result of wildlife strikes since 1988, according to Bird Strike Committee USA, a volunteer group with members from both military and civil aviation.
The committee also reported that each year, wildlife strikes cost the world’s airlines more than $1 billion, mainly through aircraft damage and fuel dumping before making precautionary unscheduled landings…
And, the risk of strikes is heightening with greater air traffic and bigger bird and mammal populations, as environmental conservation efforts pay off.
Stansifer and Radar are making the ponds and canals less inviting to wildlife around the runways. Mowing grass to a height that makes alligators and otters more visible also tends to attract birds.
Southwest Florida International is the first commercial airport in the nation use a dog to keep birds away. The cost for Radar was $6000 including training.
Radar is proving to be well worth the expense, not to mention he is having a very good time being a working Border Collie.
It’s been two years since Vivi the Whippet escaped from her crate as it was being loaded for a flight home to California after she competed in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
She was last seen on Feb. 15, 2006 running across the tarmac, through a barbed wire fence, and disappearing into the marshland of the 4900-acre complex at Kennedy International Airport. A Whippet can sprint over 35 mph, which is faster than a white tailed deer.
Vivi, whose full name is Bohem C’est La Vie, was ranked among the top Whippets in the country. She had earned an invitation to the 2007 American Kennel Club National Championships.
Animal rights groups delight in releasing show dogs from cages to free them—to panic, run into traffic, get injured, lost or killed—but there was no sign that this was anything but a terrible accident by the airline.
Vivi was a seasoned traveler, comfortable in her crate, which had a security bar.
A massive search was conducted, including by helicopter. When she wasn’t found, her owners sadly returned to California, but the search went on. Rewards, flyers in seven languages, and a media circus turned up no sign of Vivi.
Delta Air Lines paid out $2,800, as it would for a lost piece of baggage of that size and weight. Vivi’s value was estimated at $20,000.
Today her whereabouts remain a mystery. She isn’t a dog that can be easily disguised or hidden in a purse.
At one time 35 pet psychics were involved. They all have their own visions, such as: Vivi grew tired of her life as a show dog and just wants to be a companion animal someplace on a couch in Brooklyn where she is well cared for and raising a litter of puppies.
RNL Bio, a South Korean biotech company, will offer a chance to clone your dog, at a price that can be up to $148,000 for one puppy.
RNL Bio is affiliated with Seoul National University (SNU), the lab that produced the world's first cloned dog. They expect to deliver a puppy in about a year to a U.S. woman in her 50’s who saved DNA material from her beloved Pit Bull.
Although their first cloned puppy, Snuppy an Afghan Hound, was a verified success, and was Time Magazine’s “most amazing invention of 2005,” the SNU lab has been implicated in a criminal case for deliberately fabricating data in studies on human embryonic stem cell research.
RNL expects it can clone about 30 pet dogs a year at present and increase that number to about 200 by 2010, with costs going down as the cloning technology increases in efficiency.
Lee Byeong-chun, the Seoul National University professor who has led previous canine cloning projects, said of the partnership: "Within one or two years, we will see costs drop to a reasonable level."