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The Herald July 7, 1989 Article 23
Friendly Colorado dog-sledder shares breakfast stories
One great thing about being on the road is the endless variety of people you're bound to meet. I was having breakfast in a Sterling, Colo. restaurant when I overheard the man in the booth beside me cutting up with the waitress. I could tell right away that the man was friendly and outgoing, so I elbowed my way into a conversation with him.
I told him that I was in the midst of a bicycle trip from South Carolina to Utah, and he listened with wide-eyed interest. He then told me that he has his fun outdoors, as well. He is a dog-sled racer.
Ken Moss of Conifer, Colo., makes his living as a truck driver, but in his off-time he earns enough money on the professional dog-sledding circuit to make it worth his while. Ken's breakfast sat in from of him and got cold while he enthusiastically described his sport to me.
Is sport humane?
Since I was utterly ignorant to dog-sledding, my first question was about the well-being of the dogs. Is it humane to hook dogs to a load and make them run for miles on end?
"You don't make them run," smiled Ken. "I have never used a whip. The dogs simply love to run. In fact, it's all you can do to get them stopped most of the time."
He told of a race where things got out of hand. The event was held on a frozen lake that was covered with only an inch of snow. That's tricky because the sled's brakes are basically a stick the driver lets dig into the snow. An inch of powder is not enough.
Ken also noted that a team of three or four dogs is fairly manageable, while six or more leaves the driver only marginally in command. On this day, Ken was running seven dogs, and an arch rival of his was running eight.
Ken's team was running well and he pulled up beside the other sled to make a hard-earned pass. "It would have been the first time I passed him all year," Ken laments. At that very moment, a dog got loose from one of the spectators in the crowd and ran out toward the racers. Most event planners prohibit spectators from bringing dogs to the race for this very reason.
Stray made mistake
Ken said the stray dog quickly realized his mistake and headed for the hills. Unfortunately for Ken and his rival, the teams joined up to give chase. The 15 dogs dragged the two sleds literally miles across the lake in the wrong direction. At some point in the melee, Ken's sled turned over, but he hung on for dear life. He got pretty banged up in the process.
Ken figures that disaster cost him hundreds of dollars in purse money, but he still defends his dogs. "They're my babies," he says with great feeling. "I know and love each and every one of them."
He likes to treat his babies to something special after they do well in a race. He usually takes them to McDonald's. He remarked, "You should see some of the looks I get when I order 20 hamburgers with nothing on them."
Ken tries to keep about 17 dogs in his kennel. He races some and sells some. His pups bring top dollar, and there is a waiting list anytime he is ready to sell.
He had a dog that gave birth to a one-in-a-thousand puppy, a gargantuan Malamute that made the rest of the healthy litter look puny by comparison. He kept the big one and sold the rest.
A friend of Ken's bought the last dog in the litter, and the man's girlfriend came with him to get it. The lady scolded the man all the way home, saying that Ken had cheated them. "Look at this dog," she snarled.
Did you see this dog's so-called brother? That thing was huge. Ken tricked you into buying this dog. This is nothing but a Dwarf Malamute."
Ken laughs at the very idea. To his knowledge, any Malamute is a very large dog.
The "dwarf" grew like a bear and inspired Ken's friend to take up racing and kenneling. The man now keeps 20 dogs. The disgruntled lady herself became involved in the sport enough to edit a dog sledding newsletter called The Musher.
Ken's buddy leaked the Dwarf Malamute episode a long time after it happened. Strictly as a prank, Ken bought advertising space in a major dog publication he knew his friends would see. He put down the legitimate name and address for his kennel. The punch line was, "Alaskan Huskies and Dwarf Malamutes."
The joke backfired when Ken got calls from prospective Dwarf Malamute buyers nationwide. One caller from the Northeast said, "I have always loved the big Northern dogs, but I can't keep one in my small apartment. I was thrilled when I was your ad for Dwarf Malamutes." Ken had to explain the joke more times than he cares to remember.
Ken drew national attention one other time at Redstone, Colo. He calls the Redstone event his lucky race, because he somehow wins it nearly every time. One year, the race coincided with HBO"s filming of a special about the 'Great Outdoors', so they sent a crew in to cover it. In lieu of his past performances, Ken was interviewed on camera as the favorite to win the race.
The interview with the HBO lady was perking along just fine until one of Ken's dogs urinated on the lady's pants leg. The dog did it so discreetly that one of Ken's competitors had to bring the matter to their attention. When the lady saw what the dog had done, she flew into a rage that totally ended HBO's coverage of the sled race before it started. The crew packed up and left.
Always true to his babies, Ken defended the guilty dog's sense of morality. "He only did it because he liked her. She smelled good, so he marked her".
Ken noted that the interview, minus the unpleasant ending, still gets occasional airtime on HBO.
Ken's tale reminded me of one of bicycling rules of thumb. If things get boring, add some dogs.
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