2/9/2018 11:32:00 AM Sled dogs are a labor of love for Hackensack's Gapinski
By Ally Garbe of the Press-Citizen
There are a number of outdoor sports for Minnesotan's to enjoy in the winter: ice fishing, snowmobiling, sledding, ice bocce, skiing and snowboarding, to name a few. One activity that some Minnesotan's may not think about is sled dog racing.
With the Mid Minnesota 150 in Remer last week, I took the opportunity to talk with an old friend, Teri Gapinski of Hackensack. She has actively participated in the Mid Minnesota in the past and would love to have been there this year, but had already committed her time with her dogs to a fundraiser event, Leech Lake FrostFest.
Gapinski's first race was the Mid Minnesota 30 mile race in 2011. In order to fill out a 6-dog team, she borrowed a few from a friend to see what it would be like. In 2013, she took second in the 60 mile race behind her mentor.
"I get a little excited talking about my dogs," Gapinski admitted. "They are amazing!"
How many dogs do you have?
I have 14 dogs, two of which are retired, and eight seven-month old pups.
How long does it take you to get ready for each race (practicing, training, loading)?
We start training in September - usually once the temperatures drop between 50 and 60 at night. This means getting up by four or five to get them out before it gets too hot or the sun is up.
We start off going only about two miles and gradually build up. They actually pull the four wheeler in gear fairly slow to begin with. We do this to build back up their muscle strength from having a few months off.
I usually start running every other day and then by mid-November run two days on and one day off.
After a few runs, it doesn't take long to load them. I can let them off their pivots, tell them "trailer," open their doors and most of them jump right in. They know where they're going and no one likes to be left behind.
How long do you practice with a dog before he/she is "race ready"?
The "race" team can change often throughout out the season. As far as being race ready... each dog is different. There is no magical age.
I have a brother and sister and the male was pulling like crazy last year at one year old, but the female just wasn't "getting it." This year she is doing really well. Much more coordinated and confident. It's important to take it slow with some young ones and run them with smaller teams so they don't get overwhelmed.
What's the average age of your dogs? Are any of them from the same litter?
Of my adult dogs, the average age is almost eight years. I have two 11 year olds that still out-pull some of the younger ones.
I have several dogs that are related - half siblings, siblings, a mom and two of her pups (not bred at my kennel) and other line bred dogs - meaning somewhere down the line they are related. For example, the litter I have, their great-great grandma is one of my main lead dog's mom, who was also my first dog.
The pups I have now is the only litter I have bred.
What's the main characteristic you look for in a lead dog?
I think the main characteristic of a lead dog is confidence. They need to be smart and responsive to you, but it takes a lot of courage and strong will to hold out a line of 10 or even more barking, jumping dogs behind you while they are all getting hooked up.
Do you have extra/alternate dogs at races in case you need to swap out prior to the race?
Some races allow you to have an extra dog checked at the vet check, but prior to the race they will mark out (with a color crayon on the muzzle or forehead) whichever dog you decide not to run.
If I intend to run an eight dog race, I will train at least 12 dogs to be ready for racing.
What kind of training do you do during the summer to keep the dogs in shape?
The dogs generally get April through August off, at least mine do. I have a large area fenced off, so they get free time to run and play. And a kiddie pool, too!
What's the longest race you've run?
We have run the John Beargrease Mid Distance race three times. It's 120 miles of breath-taking trails up the North Shore.
What's the longest you've taken the dogs for practice/enjoyment?
I think what I enjoy most about training is camping out with them.
We practice "wilderness" checkpoints where we run for 30-40 miles, find the most remote trail, snack and water them and just camp out for a few hours. Then re-booty them and run another 30-40 miles. It's incredibly peaceful.
My favorite times to run are full moon nights and at sunrise - you just can't beat it!
"Running sled dogs is truly a labor of love," Gapinski mentioned. "We feed, water and scoop a lot of dog flops all year long for really just a couple good months of 'sled time.'"
Having the opportunity to watch Gapinski's passion for sled dogs over the years due to high school sports and friendships with her daughters has been my absolute pleasure.