Folks who race dogs competitively are breed elitists

Posted: Wednesday, February 28, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- If the truth were told, the folks who race dogs competitively are breed elitists.

Owners of Alaska huskies and the ever-so-popular pointer crosses tend to look down at the folks who choose to have fun with dogs that don't technically meet the qualifications of the ''sled dog'' tag.

That meant little to many competitors who showed up Tuesday with nontraditional dogs on the first day of the International Federation of Sleddog Sports Skijor and Pulka World Championships.

''I wanted to meet that dog,'' Chris Dubois of Fairbanks said as he approached a canine named Andy. ''You're just what I'm looking for.''

Not everyone breeds dogs for blazing speed or uncommon endurance. Dog racers look for other aspects when they take to the trail. Sona Klikarova and Jiri Suchy of the Czech Republic went with Andy and Kelt, a pair of Czech Mountain Dogs.

The dogs are a new breed, a mix of existing Czech and Slovak breed officially recognized in 1985, making the dogs essentially a new entry into the staid pedigree world. The breed has been tested in all kinds of situations, from mushing in Siberia to field trials for other working breeds.

Dubois was attracted to them because of their size and sturdy build. The Czech racers -- Klikarova finished fifth in the women's short skijor event, Suchy finished sixth in the men's short skijor -- like them for their brains, which come in handy when they're careening wildly around the trails or hanging out at the finish line in large groups of people.

''I can leave her,'' Klikarova said of Andy. ''I can say 'stay' and she stays.''

She also can move. Andy turned around the 13-kilometer course on the Jim Whisenhant Trails at more than 20 kilometers, or 12.4 miles, per hour. That was the best of the nontraditional times, but certainly not the end of the list for the atypical.

A pair of Americans crossed the finish line in the women's skijor simultaneously and watched as their dogs pitched into the snowbank to cool off from the day's extremely warm temperatures. Kirsten Ballard's Australian shepherd seemed to feel the worst of the heat with her extremely thick gray, brown and white coat.

The Anchorage resident had a pair of hot-to-trot German short-hair pointer crosses in the truck, but she chose the Aussie for the race.

''I like her because she's intense,'' Ballard said. ''She's got a lot of drive and desire. She likes to race, she knows she's racing.

Jetsun also knew he was racing, but the hilly trail was something new for the Belgium Malenois. Jetsun and his owner, Pam Hahler, came up from Denver, only to finish last in the women's short skijor. There was a simple reason, though.

''You can sure tell he's used to four miles,'' Hahler said as Jetsun rolled in the snow. ''Me, too.''

That doesn't mean the brindle brown dog isn't a champion. Though the breed was designed for police and guard work, Jetsun has made the transition to skijoring quite successfully. Before arriving in Fairbanks, he had won 32 gold medals in the Colorado races.

''He's won a lot in Colorado,'' Hahler said, assessing her position in the field Tuesday. ''Well, he got me here at least.''

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