For the love of dog

Mushing is a tough sport if you love dogs, says Colleen Robertia. "Like any sport you see some good things and some evil things." And there are some people who shouldn't have dogs - just like there are some

DAWSON CITY

Mushing is a tough sport if you love dogs, says Colleen Robertia.

“Like any sport you see some good things and some evil things.”

And there are some people who shouldn’t have dogs – just like there are some people who shouldn’t have children, she said, hanging out with her huskies in Dawson.

The Alaskan rookie has a bunch of rescue dogs on her Quest team.

“When I started, all I had were pound dogs and runts,” she said.

The original plan was to be a recreational musher.

But Robertia had too many unanswered questions.

“I always doubted whether a 1,000-mile race is OK for dogs,” she said.

“So I decided to try it, before I talked bad about it, because I could always drop out.”

Preparing for the Quest was tough, especially with such a small kennel.

“I don’t have 60 dogs to choose from,” she said.

“And it’s a huge challenge to be competitive and keep every dog.”

Robertia also holds down a full-time job working with severely emotionally disturbed youth.

These kids have been neglected and abused at a young age, she said.

“And their brains are wired differently.”

Robertia sees some of the same symptoms in her rescue dogs – animals that haven’t been socialized as puppies, or were abused.

“When I was little, I wanted to be Florence Nightingale,” she said.

Robertia used to adopt toads and tote them home in her pockets.

It eventually led to a degree in environmental biology.

“I like science,” she said.

“But a lot of it is statistics and technology.

“And I just knew I needed to be around animals.”

Robertia wound up working at a wildlife conservation centre that specialized in breeding endangered animals that don’t reproduce well in captivity. That’s where she met her husband.

“I love working with large hoof stock, like rhinos and elephants,” she said.

But eventually she was ready to move on.

“Once you’re in it, you see things you don’t like,” said Robertia. “It’s like anything else.”

The couple decided to move to Alaska and get into climbing.

But they ended up surrounded by dog mushers on the Kenai Peninsula, and it wasn’t long until Robertia was handling for some of the professional mushers in the area.

A few years later, she ended up with more than 30 dogs.

“Slowly, all the climbing gear has been converted into mushing gear,” said Robertia with a laugh.

Most of her dogs are spayed and neutered, because there are so many unwanted dogs in this world, she said.

Robertia pointed at one of her dogs, relaxing on her chain in Dawson.

She’s straight out of the pound, she said.

“She’s never raced before, and she’s on my team in Dawson.

“Every dog from the pound has turned into an amazing leader.”

When she was just starting out, Robertia would hook up her motley crew of mutts and run in front of them along the trails.

“I was the lead dog,” she said.

“We’re a family.”

Robertia’s biggest fear was letting down the family in the race.

“But I’ve realized it’s not whether a 1,000-mile race is good or bad, it’s the decisions you make,” she said.

Out on the trail, Robertia and the team have suffered some highs tand lows.

“The highs are really high, and the lows are really low.” And that’s what’s unique about mushing – the raw emotion, she said.

“It brings out that animal side in us, and we’re so far removed from that now – but as humans we need it.”

The race was as much a journey for the dogs as it was for Robertia.

“They’re looking at the views and really taking it in,” she said.

“And I have never doubted I was doing right by them. If they need 10 hours rest, then I have to make sure they get what they need – that’s my job.”

Robertia arrived in Fairbanks just after five on Thursday morning with a great looking team. She finished in 12th place with 11 dogs.

“I could never push as hard as I need to place anywhere noticeable,” she said.

“Sometimes I still feel I love the dogs too much, and this is maybe not the sport for me.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com.

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