No snow, no prob­lem for these mush­ers

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - FRONT PAGE - DON CROSBY World-class musher Lisa De Gen­naro, owner of Gla­cial Lake Ken­nel in Pais­ley, or­ga­nized the Sled Dog Sports As­so­ci­a­tion of South­west­ern On­tario dry­land derby Nov. 3-4 at MacGre­gor Point Pro­vin­cial Park. She came first with a com­bined time of 28.

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.

DON CROSBY/POST­MEDIA NEWS

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