Sled dogs go racing at Cooper's Lake
November 14, 2012
SLIPPERY ROCK — The dog days of summer have passed in Butler County, but racers, spectators and canine lovers welcomed the dog days of fall Saturday and Sunday at the dryland sled dog race at Cooper's Lake. Now in its third year, the race attracted about a dozen racers and dozens of spectators, whose cheers mixed with the baying and howling of countless dogs, most of them Siberians or Alaskans, eager for their chance to run. “We're getting people from a little bit further away every year. We get people from as far as Michigan and Europe, now,” said Cindy Eddy of Center Township, who grew up racing sled dogs and is one of the event's organizers. “If it gets too warm, we don't run. It's safer for the dogs that way. They're doing the work, so they're taken care of.” Professional sledders race for points in the International Sled Dog Racing Association standings, while recreational sledders vie for bragging rights. Each lines up his or her dogs in pairs, singly, or in teams of four to six, harnessed to all manner of wheeled devices, from three-wheeled carts to bicycles, to complete the two-mile course. “This is a really good spectator's race here, because you can see almost half of the course,” said James Carnahan of Indiana, Pa., who raced in the four-dog professional class. Carnahan has been competing in dog sled racing for about 15 years after picking up the sport from one of his brothers. “I took his sled down the trail with four dogs one day and I was hooked. What an experience,” he said. “My dogs (of which he has 11), when I'm ready to hook them up, they get so excited you can barely keep ahold of them.” Carnahan said racing and caring for the dogs can be exhausting, but each needs exercise to be healthy and happy. “It's not an old man's sport, but I'm too dumb to give it up,” he said. “When you're younger, it doesn't seem that (physically demanding). But, when you're older, you start to realize it.” Chris Speers of Lafayette, Ind., now in his third year involved with the sport and second year racing, competed in the four-dog recreational class. After buying a house in Indiana, he got a Husky mix with energy to spare. “I ended up buying a second dog and a cart and it just grew from there.” Speers said he tries to get the dogs out and harnessed twice a week between races, generally for a difficult run and an easy one, to strike a balance between keeping the canines in shape and not tiring them out for race days. “It's a lot of fun. You get to spend a lot of time with the dogs and they get to burn off all that excess energy in a constructive way. It's pretty exhilarating,” he said. “The only bad thing is I only get to see the butt end of the dogs, not their good side.” Though good-natured, Speers said the competition can be fierce, recounting a case when he bested a competitor, over two days of racing and several events, by 1.5 seconds overall. “It kind of adds to the excitement,” Speers said.