THESE DOGS GOT PULL

A cacophony of barking dogs in the parking lot of Cold Spot Feeds, the hottest dog mushing hangout in Fairbanks, Alaska, is not unusual.

Neither is having fluffy white stuff falling through the air onto the ground.But it’s not something you typically see on the last Saturday in May.That was the scene on May 31; however, as the fur flew while Saint Bernards and malamutes from the Interior Freight Dog Association blew their winter coats practicing for Fairbanks’ first-ever summer season of weight pulling.

The IFDA built a wheeled cart that will make weight pulling a year-round sport in Fairbanks and the event at Cold Spot Feeds marked the first opportunity for the club to practice before competing in the summer’s first competition, the River Daze celebration in Nenana, Alaska on the first weekend in June.

Carts have been used for training, but not in competition, according to IFDA board member Dennis Preuett. After Nenana, the next scheduled competition is at the Tanana Valley State Fair in August.“Hopefully we’re going to add a Halloween pull where all the handlers and all the dogs have to dress up,” Preuett said.

“Depending on if we get the snow, it’ll either be with our ice-sled or with the wheeled cart. Now we’re set up with both.”The non-profit club had been inactive for a few years when the Preuett family’s Subzero Saints Kennel of Fairbanks started looking for a way to work their Saint Bernards. Through research, they discovered the inactive club and with the help of long-time Interior pullers like Ray Fox of Nenana and Dan Bates and Larry Miller of Fairbanks, they established a board and started holding competitions again in 2007.

Despite Saturday’s practice being dominated by larger breeds such as Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards and Alaskan malamutes, all breeds are welcome to compete.Musher Michael Wagner, who last summer relocated his Running Wild Kennel from Pennsylvania to Fairbanks aspiring to run the Iditarod, finds the weight pulls a good recreational diversion for his family to fill in the off season.“We got a couple of bigger dogs that just can’t keep up,” Wagner explained.

“Since we have them, and they are part of the family, why not do this too.”After missing out on races at the beginning of the winter because of lack of snow and facing other logistical problems, the rookie musher is looking forward to a little competition this summer. He arrived at the practice with an eager young puppy Klondike and Dakota, a veteran of winter pulls.

Both are fine looking sled dogs but appear extremely small next to the Newfoundlands of Ray Fox or the malamutes of Marie and Dave Kerner.Competition is for dogs 1-year-old and older. It is broken down into four weight classes:

• Ultra Light: 25 to 60 pounds• Light Weight: 60 to 90 pounds

• Middle Weight: 90 to 125 pounds

• Heavy Weight: 125 pounds and over

Only voice and hand commands by the handler are allowed. The dog must pull the weighted cart or sled 25 feet in 60 seconds. The fastest time determines the winner if two dogs pull the same weight.

Go to www.interiorfreightdog.com for more information on the organization and a schedule of competitions. Sam Harrel is a photojournalist and musher’s spouse living in Fairbanks. He can be reached at subarcticsam@hotmail.com