PORT CLINTON — It may have been one of the hot and humid dog days of summer, but kids who attended a recent Ida Rupp’s Summer Library Challenge program at Music on Madison (MOM) got to hear about the cool sport of dog mushing.
Three-time Iditarod competitor Karen Land of Indianapolis visited Port Clinton on July 18 to talk about her experiences in Alaska’s most famous race.
Land dispelled a lot of misconceptions about dog mushing, including the idea that mushers run with large, furry dogs. Land was accompanied by one of her many sled dogs, a short-haired Alaskan Husky named Noggin.
“Noggin is not what people expect to see. The dogs we raise are different than people are expecting,” she said.
Alaskan Huskies are mixed-breed dogs with happy personalities
Land said Alaskan Huskies are mixed breed dogs which are bred for good health, intelligence, endurance and happy personalities. Dog mushers prefer short-haired dogs in the 40-to-60-pound range. Long hair can make the dogs too warm in the challenging sections of a race, and cold weather can be easily addressed with doggie coats, belly protectors, leggings and booties.
“I go through about 2,000 dog booties in an Iditarod,” Land said.
Sled dogs used in races like the 1,000-mile Iditarod love to run.
“Our dogs are bred to pull. We don’t have to train them to race and pull. We have to train them to rest. We have to teach them to take naps, like toddlers,” Land said. “The gasoline of the sled is the dogs’ pure joy, drive and love of running.”
A team of race dogs can cause damage if not tied down right
Their excitement to run has to be kept in check at all times. Land showed the crowd large snow hooks she must use every time she dismounts the sled. Otherwise, the dogs may take off without her. The snow hooks are very effective, as long as they are secured well. Land told of a time she secured the dogs to a tree, and they took off. She jumped on the sled, looked back, and saw the uprooted tree dragging behind her.
“One time I tied the dogs to someone’s bumper, which I regretted, because I peeled the whole bumper off,” she said.
Land explained how she keeps herself and her dogs fueled for races by carrying hot dogs and chunks of beaver meat on the sled for the dogs and juice boxes and candy bars for herself.
“I live off Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups when I’m racing,” she said.
Land grew up in the big city of Indianapolis and became intrigued by dog mushing when she read the book, “Winterdance” by Gary Paulsen.
“That inspired me to go to Alaska and learn how to mush,” she said.
Land shares her story to inspire children
Now, Land is inspiring children to take an interest in the sport through school and library talks like the one she did for Ida Rupp. Eleven-year-old Jaxon Curren of Shelby was fascinated by Land’s description of dog mushing.
“I thought it was pretty cool. I learned that there is a lot of stuff to take on the little sled. I was surprised by how much you have to carry,” Curren said.
Curren enjoyed learning about dog mushing, but he said it isn’t something he would like to try.
“It seems like a lot of work, but it’s still a pretty cool thing,” he said.
Ida Rupp’s Summer Library Challenge has been widely popular this year. The theme is “Oceans of Possibilities.”
“We’ve had 150 to 275 people at our programs this year,” said Assistant Director Courtney McGrath.
The Summer Library Challenge’s final program will be a carnival at MOM on July 29. The event will include carnival games, face painting, balloon animals, popcorn and dunk tank.
Contact correspondent Sheri Trusty at email@example.com.