Christmas may have come early this year, at least for dog mushers.
Tug-Line, a new kennel organization software package, recently was released, and its designer promises it to be a complete, expandable, flexible, database product for dog owners to assist them in keeping track of all events and details for each dog.
"It wasn't difficult to do," said Peter Kristeller, the Fairbanks computer programmer who developed the software.
Kristeller does not mush himself, but said he enjoys looking for a marketing need and then creating a product to satisfy that need.
"Mushing is uniquely Alaskan, and I've always been intrigued with coming up with something uniquely Alaskan that we could export out of state," he said.
However, Kristeller, who also teaches basic programming at University of Alaska Fairbanks, doesn't take full responsibility for the inception of the Tug-Line software. He gives some credit to one of his students.
"The homework was to bring in data to put into software," Kristeller said. "A student Maureen English brought in data to keep track of her husband's dog team."
"We got to talking and it sounded like a neat idea for a project," he said. "She did the legwork and got input from several mushers. She came up with a list and we incorporated the list into the software."
Some of the ideas incorporated into the software include specific individual information for a dog such as a description, parental lineage, history and a photo.
A dog list keeps track of schedules for breeding, vaccinations and feeding regime, including diet ingredients and how well the dog eats. There also is an activity sheet to quickly track and record information, such as training runs and race results.
A sled layout displays graphically the dogs and their position on the team, such a lead, swing, team or wheel. There also is a people list included to keep track of vets, handlers, breeders and others who interact with the dogs.
Software that stores that much information may sound intimidating, but Kristeller said he kept in mind who would be using it.
"Most mushers are into dogs, not computers, so we made it to be easy to use," he said.
Mitch Michaud, president of the Peninsula Sled Dog and Racing Association (PSDRA), said ease is definitely one of the perks of the software.
"I tried it, and I like it," said Michaud, who previously had favored Microsoft Excel spread sheets to keep track of his notes. "This is slicker, sexier and flows much better. You don't have to be good at spread sheets to use this, either, which is good because some mushers can barely check e-mail."
He also said that although he found spread sheets to be fine for individual dog records, they couldn't interact with each other or be compared in the manner that Tug-Line allows.
"Everything is in the right order, too," Michaud said. "You can tell that the guy who did this talked to mushers."
Michaud also believes the software will be a benefit to professionals and novices alike.
"For competitive mushers that want to have so many miles on their dogs by a certain time such as 500-miles for the T-200 or 2,000 miles for the Iditarod. They can keep track of that with this program," he said.
As for newcomers to the sport, Michaud said, "People just starting out in mushing need to keep records and we want to do what we can to make things easy in any way so we can get people into the sport."
Copies of the Tug-Line software package retail for $90, but an agreement has been made between Kristeller and clubs like PSDRA to allow the dog groups to sell the software to club members for $10.
For more information on the software, check the Web at www.tug-line.com. To obtain a copy of the software from the PSDRA or to join the organization, contact Mitch Michaud at 252-5350. The $10 price is for PSDRA members only.
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