Friday, December 24, 2010

Karen Ramstead & her dogs

Who is in the photo at right?

My name is Karen Ramstead and I am a 'professional' dog musher. I have around 65 purebred Siberian Huskies (aged anywhere from 6 months to 15 years), a Great Pyr rescue, and a neurotic little border collie.

I had 16 dogs with me today - Jinx and Casey, See and Meg, Smartie and Boo, Kelly and Tramp, Wolvie and Crunchie, Wifi and Utin, Astro and TopDog, Roscoe and Shooter!

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Taking a break on a training run. At this time of year I am running dogs about 6 days a week on runs anywhere from 25 - 40 miles.

What's brewing?

On the trail anything tastes good as long as it is warm. I think this was Folger's Black Silk drip coffee. If I had my druthers it would be a Starbuck's nonfat venti latte, but there seems to be a lack of Starbucks in the woods of Northern Alberta, Canada.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Not today, although I occasionally pack along a granola bar when the runs are really long.

Any treat for your dogs on this occasion?

Not today, although on long runs their favorite snack is a whole frozen herring!

How were you and your dogs united?

All but one of the dogs on my team today were born in my house!!

How did the dogs get their names? Any aliases?

All the litters are named in 'themes' - Crunchie is out of our 'Chocolate Bar' litter, Jinx out of the 'James Bond' litter, Smartie the 'candy' litter, Astro out of the 'cartoon' litter....

Oh yes, a million nicknames and aliases - most of them embarrassing to mushers and rough tough sled dogs.

What's the most challenging part of the Iditarod? The most fun?

I think the most challenging part is maintaining a positive attitude regardless of how tired and beat up you get on the trail. The dogs pick up on your attitude, so being positive is very important.

The most fun is watching these dogs that I watched being born and taking their first steps rise to the challenge to become these amazing, capable athletes that are completely at home in the harsh environment and the task at hand. I am constantly in awe of them!

Have you ever encountered polar bears during a race?

No. Although there are occasionally polar bears in the area, there is no documented cases of mushers encountering them on the trail. I have seen wolves, foxes, caribou and moose. Moose are the most dangerous animal we encounter, as they will often stand and fight rather then give up the trail to a dog team.

Do you have an off-season, or do the dogs train all year?

The dogs train year around - although we never train when temperatures go above 10C.

Do your dogs' have pet-pals that aren't huskies?

Yes. We have a Great Pyr cross, Cricket, that protects the kennel and keeps wildlife at bay - and Bet, a crazy little border collie (who was a flunk out from a top herding kennel) that free runs puppies with us and holds down the couch.

If your dogs could change one thing about you, what would it be?

They would probably wish I was as tough and capable as they are. I have no illusions, I am the weak link on my team. They are much more amazing creatures then I could ever hope to be!

What is your team's proudest achievement?

No one thing stands out. I'm proud of our Iditarod finishes, for sure, but I'm also proud when get through a tough storm or overcome difficult obstacles in training.

Learn more about Karen Ramstead and her dogs at the North Wapiti Kennels website.

--Marshal Zeringue