A kennel of characters: Dogs get their day with Kasilof musher, writer

One Kasilof family has turned their love of animals into a sled dog kennel where the stories of the dogs take center stage. Those stories are now going out to a broader audience.

 

Mushers Joseph and Colleen Robertia have been in the business for about 15 years, getting involved with the sport almost immediately after moving to Alaska in 2002. The two are big believers in leaving no dog behind, having gone so far as to invest in at-the-time-experimental surgery in the past to rehabilitate sled dogs that normally wouldn’t have been given a chance, Joseph Robertia said.

The animals have become more like family over the years, and Robertia said that “broken down dogs” can transform when given the time, love and training necessary.

That’s what Robertia hopes came across in the stories he’s shared in his book, “Life with Forty Dogs: Misadventures with Runts, Rejects, Retirees, and Rescues,” which came out Tuesday.

“We really tried to really push the humane angle of mushing,” he said. “We’re definitely dog lovers first and mushers second.”

From the hilarious to the heartbreaking, and everything in between, Robertia said his family’s sled dogs have provided countless anecdotes over the years, usually told over dinner to friends. A longtime writer, Robertia said he felt galvanized to turn the stories into a book at the urging of others, and set about seriously putting it together about three years ago.

“When you’re living with this many characters, you know, this many dogs … just these insane things happen,” Robertia said.

The dogs mentioned in the book represent only a fraction of the dogs Robertia and his family have known over the years, so picking the tales that would make the final cut was by far the most difficult part of the writing process, he said.

Robertia said he made a conscious decision to make the book about the dogs rather than he and his wife as the mushers.

“There were so many books out there about the Iditarod or the dog musher,” he said. “And the dogs were also included in that, but they sort of became the backstory to their story.”

Robertia said a major goal of the book, and the most rewarding aspect of having it published, is sharing his family’s personal stories about their dogs with more than just family and friends. People who bought advance copies of the book have already begun reaching out to tell Robertia how the dogs’ stories affected them, he said.

“Really, they’re the stars,” he said. “They’re the talent of this operation.”

Robertia said living with 40 dogs becomes more of a structured lifestyle than a job or hobby, and is part of what made the writing process so drawn out. He found himself jotting down stories between training and taking care of the dogs, as well as spending time with his 3-year-old daughter, Lynx.

He said he hopes the book will shine a greater light on the dogs behind the mushers, and that it might inspire others to give dogs down on their luck a second chance.

Robertia said he is currently working on another project dealing with endangered animals, and that he would be open to sharing more sled dog stories in another version of the book, should “Life with Forty Dogs” really take off.

Colleen and Joseph will host a book signing and slideshow at 6:30 p.m. April 20 at Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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