No snow, no problem for these mushers
Barking dogs strained at their leashes at the start of the third annual MacGregor Point Dryland Sled Dog Derby.
Cold winds coming off Lake Huron and temperatures near freezing didn’t discourage the dozens of mushers during the opening day of the event.
During the derby, each team competes in the same race class, with the same dogs, in both the Saturday and Sunday races. The fastest accumulated time determines the winners.
Lisa De Gennaro, the event coordinator, has been racing for six or seven years.
“Our event is growing, the sport I’m not so sure about. It’s a little sport. It’s a little community. We’re just hanging on,” she said.
There were 62 classes this year.
“We have race rs from Pennsylvania and all over Ontario and New York. We’re pulling in quite a wide crowd. They are coming from all over. So the event is definitely getting a good name for itself,” said Degennaro, who operates Glacial Lake Kennel near Paisley. She ran six dogs on the weekend, and was fisrt in the four dog rig event.
De Gennaro loves the bond that exists between musher and dogs and the time they spend together.
“You need to trust them and they need to trust you. You couldn’t ask them to do certain things on the trail. If they are not sure about something and you give them a command, that trust has to be there for them to follow through with that command, and it has to be the same the other way round. I have to trust them and they have to trust me that we’ll get through this together,” she said.
Emily Ferrans, 18, from Pittsburgh has been racing dogs competitively for five years. Her father got her into dog racing at the age of eight, when she helped him as a handler.
She said it’s a great atmosphere and the dogs are great teachers. “They teach you a lot of independence, a lot of responsibility, compassion to them, to other people, also to communicate better, solve problems better, just by watching them racing they are really good examples,” she said.
Ferrans said there is a very close relationship with her lead dog. She’s been training for almost three years now and they have developed a very close bond.
“I trust her with my life. She will turn on a dime. She knows what to do.”
Her favourite event is skijoring, a winter sport in which the dog pulls the musher on skis.
Jo-Ann Hutchison is a good friend of De Generro’s and uses some of her friends’ dogs in the competition.
She said the stronger dogs are called the wheel dogs and are located closest the rig, or the wheel. The front dogs are the lead dogs and you can have one or two. They have to be able to follow commands, know the commands really well and set the pace, she said.
Not all dogs in the dryland event are huskies. Kaitlynn Tidwell of Sprucedale, near Huntsville, was running euro hound mixes she calls speed demon. Three of them were German short haired pointer crossed with Alaskan husky and a lurcher, which is a greyhound deerhound mix.
“These are 18 mile an hour dogs easily, some of the faster one will be upwards of 20 easily,” she said.
Race marshal Jim Cunningham was running his second dryland event of the year on the weekend, but he’s looking forward to 10 snow events in the winter. He’ll be in Quebec, Ontario, France, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Quebec has about six dryland races in a season but the local event is the only one in Ontario.
“Instead of training your dogs and never going to an event now they are training their dogs and they are getting to come to dryland, and the dogs get exposure to other dog teams, they get used to passing other dog teams, they get used to going to the starting line before they get ready for the winter season.”
Cunningham raced for 18 years before becoming a marshal 14 years ago.
“I just love the interaction with the dogs. I miss it a lot from when I used to race, but to watch the people interact with the dogs and seeing the little guys running their dogs that is a big joy watch them too,” he said.
Jim and Kathy Murray of Sauble Beach were among a handful of spectators at Saturday’s event. They came to see their grandson Adam Boaks and his wife Gina Donker compete.
“We don’t see our grandson that often so it’s double pleasure” said Jim.
Donker said she likes getting out with the dogs. Wearing them out makes them happy.
“It’s an adrenal rush. It’s fun, a good hobby to get into. Iit’s a good lifestyle, a good way to keep active,” she said.
Tracy Bithell was at the weekend event to observe. She has two dogs and has been running them on her own, but has never raced them. Now she is thinking about getting into the sport.
“I’ve seen people doing that. I think I can do that,” she said. “It looks like fun. It’s exhilarating to get behind a dog and it pulls you and they love it so much. I love it,” she said.
The MacGregor Point event ended the dryland racing season for most competitors who will resume racing in February on snow.