Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Robert Forto & Ineka

Who is in the photo at right?

My name is Dr. Robert Forto and I am a professional musher, public speaker, business coach and father of three. I live in beautiful Colorado with my family and we own and operate several business including Denver Dog Works. The picture is of me and my 12 year old Siberian Husky Ineka.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I was given the wonderful opportunity to share my story on Coffee with a Canine.

What's brewing?

Since it is the week of Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season, I thought it would be appropriate to brew up a pot of Eggnog coffee purchased from a specialty grocery here in Denver with a scoop of Maple Sugar and a dash of cream.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

No goodies. I am in training for the Iditarod in the next couple of years so I am watching what I eat, especially treats!

Any treat for your dog on this occasion?

No, Ineka is very finicky when it comes to treats. The only thing that he really likes is cheese. He and I have been sharing cheese since they day he came to us from Washington. I remember when we used to live up in the mountains in Bailey, Colorado, we used to have our office in the basement and that’s where I would spend most of my time. We also had a refrigerator down there and I am a huge cheese nut! Every time I would head to the fridge, Ineka would run in and follow me and he and I would share a hunk of cheese. The smellier the better! Our favorite has always been garlic cheese from a mom and pop operation out of Wisconsin (of course!).

How did your dogs come to be united with you?

I had just recently moved from Northern Minnesota to Bailey, Colorado and I wanted to start up a dog sledding team here. I started scouring the Internet for Siberians for sale of rescue and came across a lady in Washington State that was fostering a male Siberian that was up for adoption. He was supposed to be 2 ½ years old. After numerous calls and email, I arranged to have the dog flown to Denver so that I could adopt him. He arrived on a cold March morning and was not what I or my wife, Michele, was expecting. He was a large 60-pound black and white male with striking blue eyes and missing one of his canine teeth. The lady in Washington said he was pure white!

We loaded him in the truck and headed back up the mountain to Bailey and talked about what we would do with him in training for the next racing season. Neither Michele nor I held much hope for this new member of the team but we wanted to see what he was made of. We already had thirty Siberians so it would be hard for the new dog to make the team.

How did he get his name?

Ineka, pronounced IN-eck-A means rescued friend in a northern Canadian dialect.

What's an ordinary day like for your dogs?

While Ineka is now retired I would like to share a quick story about Ineka’s first days as a member of our family. The morning after we brought the new dog home a storm rolled in and dumped several inches of fresh snow in Bailey, so I decided to take the team out for a run. I started putting the harnesses on the team and the new dog, which now had his name, and he went nuts! He was barking and jumping around like mad and I made a comment to Michele, “I think he has done this before!”

I hooked up the team and placed Ineka in point position, right behind Zerlina, one of the lead dogs. During the five-mile run Ineka knew just what to do and even responded when I barked out commands from behind the sled. Ineka was a natural -- a rare find, and he showed promise to the up-and-coming team with hopes of running the next season.

During the warm spring and summer months Ineka took on the job as the kennel Sergeant. His unbridled confidence was shown in his “strut” around the kennel and he would keep all the dogs in line when they started to make a ruckus. When the new puppies were able to join the kennel, Ineka took on the job as mentor for the little guys.

As the snow fell the next October and I made up my team line ups for the racing season, I had learned over the summer training runs on the cart that Ineka could be placed just about anywhere from leader to wheel. This is rare for a dog to hold that many positions and do well. The racing season didn’t go as expected and I didn’t qualify for the Iditarod as I had hoped, but Ineka was right by my side through it all.

Can you briefly tell us about your radio show?

The Dog Doctor Radio Show is a weekly radio program that can be heard on It is a worldwide show with a different topic each week. We talk about everything DOG on our show. We are not your typical pet radio show: we have covered such topics as breed bans, Michael Vick, therapy dogs, service dogs, canine sports, working dogs and of course dog sledding. Our show can be heard every Saturday morning at 9:30 am MST or you can download it anytime from our website or through iTunes -- just search Dog Doctor in the iTunes store. We welcome callers and guests. We have a live chat room and people can email us questions, stories and show topics to

How well does Ineka get along with others?

Ineka is been called the Sergeant of the dog kennel, whether it be my sled dog kennel in Bailey or our training school at Denver Dog Works, Ineka has an uncanny ability to keep everyone in line. He is a true alpha dog and any dog that comes in contact somehow knows that immediately. I have seen the biggest, toughest dogs move out of the way when Ineka “struts” on his toes and his tail held high.

Ineka also has an ability to be one of the best therapy dogs I have ever seen. We have taken him many times on visits to different places and he lets anyone just grab on to him and hug him. I remember one time we went to a nursing home for people with Alzheimer’s and he sat there patiently while they petted his soft fur and asked questions about sled dogs.

What's Ineka's best quality?

I dedicated my doctorate dissertation to my friend of friends, Ineka, he who has taught me the definition of unconditional love. In addition to Ineka, I dedicated my opus to all other sled pups that have unselfishly provided comfort, compassion and unparalleled commitment to humans. This dedication is generally without measure of our right to such gifts or of our own commitment to reciprocate.

It is this affection that has given me the ability to survive, with relative sanity, in an often difficult world. The power of this unconditional love has been the inspiration for my dissertation and the project that produced it. May this project bring power to those who want to chase their dreams. May this project also give us a better appreciation for those creatures with which we share the earth.

What's Ineka's proudest moment so far?

Ineka is now retired and spends most of his days lounging around the house or at Denver Dog Works where he still tries to be the boss. Most mornings he can be found with me in my home office working on my first book, Run With Poodles; it is about overcoming adversity in business based on the principles of leadership on a dog sledding team. I had no idea just how difficult a project it is to write a book from scratch!

Ineka is the inspiration behind our service dog training organization, aptly named, The Ineka Project. The Ineka Project is a service dog training organization that trains service dogs for children with Autism, although we have placed several dogs with other disabilities such as PTSD, bi-polar, and mobility. Every day when we are training dogs a little bit of Ineka is rubbed off on the new members of the team.

Ineka is now twelve and he is showing his age. While it will be the most difficult thing for me, when he passes his legacy will live on. He truly is my inspiration and he keeps my drive alive. I have named my Iditarod team, TEAM INEKA and plan to run under that banner when I attempt the 1000+ mile race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska in 2013. And if Ineka has passed on by then my goal is to spread his ashes along the Iditarod trail. If he has not passed, he will be 16 at the time, he will be waiting for me at the famed arch in Nome with my wife and kids!

Visit the Denver Dog Works website and learn more about Team Ineka.

Listen to The Dog Doctor Radio Show.

--Marshal Zeringue