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    Born To Run | Winter 2011 Out Here Magazine

    Pulled by rescued sled dogs, musher is happy to be along for the ride

    three dogs pulling Amanda along an exercise trail
    Rather than fight her dogs' tugging tendencies in walking them, Amanda Stanoszek uses a scooter setup so her dogs can go as fast as they want.
    Out Here

    By Noble Sprayberry

    Photography by Martin Lerman

    A 1-year-old mix-breed puppy, spinning in whirling dervish circles, barreled out of the animal rescue shelter's kennel before bolting wildly down the hall, pulling leash-holding Amanda Stanoszek along for the ride.

    "A lot of people would have looked at that dog and thought he was just horrible," she says. "I thought, that's going to be a great sled dog."

    Stanoszek, 25, is not an Iditarod musher or an Alaskan sledder — she lives in Hinckley, Ohio, outside Akron. But, she fell in love with dogsledding as a way to both bond with her growing dog pack and to experience the outdoors in a new way.

    She named the energetic rescue dog Loki, for the Norse god of mischief. She knew animals that might otherwise go unwanted could find good homes and live happy lives, if given enough exercise and challenges.

    The lessons did not come overnight, however. A professional trainer at a large pet store, Stanoszek did serious dog research after moving from Columbus, Ohio, with her husband, Byron, to a more rural home.

    "Growing up, I always loved the outdoors, and I loved to camp and kayak," she says. "But to us, the dog was just a family pet that laid around on the couch and that you taught a few tricks and gave treats. Our dogs were just lazy pets."

    With a home that allowed more room for a dog to roam, however, Stanoszek wanted a different type of pet.

    "I had always loved huskies. I did a lot of research on the breed and I thought I was ready," she says. "I went on Petfinder.com and adopted a dog. Lo and behold, Willow needed 10 times the exercise I was expecting and when we would walk she was pulling me down the street every step of the way."

    "I wanted to be able to at least have a chance at placing in a race," she says. "But, I don't really care if we do as long as we see new trails and meet other mushers."

    Rather than fight against Willow"s tugging tendencies, she turned again to the Internet and found a scooter setup that allowed her to ride behind the pulling husky. "I took her on bike trails and on bridle trails," she says. "It was really fun, and I thought about how much more fun this would be with two dogs."

    From there, the transition into sledding in the snow came naturally.

    Bandit came next, another rescue husky mix breed, but one that did not immediately take to pulling. Then Loki arrived. The original plan was to foster the dog, giving him good care until he could find a permanent home.

    After a month, the weather began turning cooler and she decided to try him with her team. "He was amazing, a natural who pulled like crazy," she says. "And once you get to three dogs, you start thinking you need four, because you run in pairs."

    She entered her first sled dog race — a small, local event — in 2010. "It was only a 3- or 4-mile race, but I was absolutely terrified," she says. "We came in dead last, and I didn't care. I just wanted to know that these rescues that I'd trained from scratch could just finish a race."

    Later, she integrated dogs from a breeder specializing in sled dogs, which added to the team's performance. "The dogs teach each other," she says, "and Loki is our morale booster."

    Now, she has six sled dogs and a shifting number of dogs that she fosters. "I wanted to be able to at least have a chance at placing in a race," she says. "But, I don't really care if we do as long as we see new trails and meet other mushers."

    OTHER BREEDS CAN BE SLED DOGS

    Anyone considering a similar path should understand the challenges. "Be prepared to give these dogs lots of exercise," she says. "They were born to run and they can go for miles at a time without getting tired."

    Huskies are not the only option. Airedales, pointers, and others can make good sled dogs. "When I'm looking for a dog, I want one that is attentive to me and that is open to learning," Stanoszek says. "If I walk them on a leash, I want them to be trying to pull me."

    She trains her dogs from September to May, but will not run them when temperatures in Ohio rise above 60 degrees. But, warm-weathered dog lovers do have options. Dry-land sledding clubs are scattered around the country, giving an outlet for shorthaired dogs adapted to hotter weather.

    "I even know of a sled dog team in Jamaica," Stanoszek says. "I think they're running native mutt breeds from the local pound, so they're used to the heat."

    One misperception Stanoszek defends against is the idea that sled dogs fail as family pets. "All of our dogs are house trained and crate trained," she says. "I have them in the house every single day and they live with my five rescue cats."

    "They actually make wonderful pets if the people do enough research to understand them and if they get enough exercise," she says. "No dog should be an impulse purchase, but even retired sled dogs make amazing pets. Once they learn what a couch is, there's no going back."

    Georgia writer Noble Sprayberry is a frequent contributor to Out Here.

     

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