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Iditarod fans rare in Atlanta

KEELY BROWN
Special to the Daily
Keely Brown
ALL |

One of the things I like about living in the High Country is that people up here are interested in the Iditarod. Newspapers cover it as a top story; television stations show daily film footage, and the names of Coloradans even show up in the lists of participating mushers. While there may not be a huge sled dog industry here, there’s nevertheless a cult following for the sport.

Back in my hometown of Atlanta, you won’t find too many sled dog people. There’s not much interest in the Iditarod; you won’t see daily race results on the front pages of any of the newspapers. Once, a local radio show tried to generate some tongue-in-cheek interest in an Atlanta Sled Dog Club, which met with far less response than its ultimate successor, the Jamaican Bobsled Team.

My brother Kevin and I were probably the only two Iditarod fanatics in Atlanta. We subscribed to a mail-order catalog called “Tundra” and ordered Iditarod patches, prints and bumper stickers. We read books about the race and looked forward to watching the footage every year, thanks to CNN. And I guess that this must have been about the time that we came up with the ill-advised idea of having our very own sled dog.

When we purchased Frosty, flown in to us from Valentine, Neb., we immediately began to indulge in fantasies of what it would be like to have a sled dog running in the Iditarod. Not that we were going to ship him off to Alaska, of course ” it had just become a long-running fantasy story line in our lives. We were young, and we didn’t stop to consider that, climate-wise, Atlanta might be one of the worst places to raise a Samoyed. We just figured we’d turn the air conditioner on him if he got hot.

As it turned out, the climate wasn’t the problem.

Frosty was probably the most passive sled dog on the face of the planet. He spent most of the time not even sleeping ” just staring into space, usually at the opposite wall. While it’s true that he was decidedly not well-endowed in the top story, the main reason for his unresponsiveness was that he just didn’t give a damn.

Everything bored him; even food didn’t interest him. Our black Lab, Bosco, got to where he started tossing mouthfuls of Eukanuba at him (rather as one throws pebbles at a window at night) to wake him up, and even taught him how to make his just-filled dog dish go sailing up in the air with one flip of the paw, showering the kitchen with kibble. Frosty just wasn’t interested.

As for playtime, Bosco would come up and literally shove the other end of a tug-of-war rope in Frosty’s mouth to get him to play. After he figured the game out, Frosty would give a couple of halfhearted tugs, then drop the rope and go back to bed. Bosco finally got fed-up and went off to plan his revenge, as only Labs can. The result was a barrage of daily plots, most of which Frosty completely ignored, unless Bosco was physically trying to shove him into something.

At one point, we started hiring professional dog trainers. The first four came back to us after a couple of hours and told us that their schedules for the rest of the year had unaccountably gotten booked up, and not to call them, they’d call us. The fifth was more honest, and met us head-on after the first three-hour session.

“The dog can’t be trained,” he said uncomfortably, and handed us the leash. “I’ve never said this before in my 20 years of dog-training ” but there just isn’t anything there to work with.”

We looked down at Frosty, who was pawing meditatively at the flowers in the carpet. Then without a word we took the leash.

Kevin once hooked Frosty up to a sled, thinking it might stir up some primeval mushing memories. Frosty just stood there, puzzled as to whether he was supposed to move forward, or move backward and sit on the sled. We did finally get him to take a few tentative steps, then, like Ferdinand in the bullring, he lay down and took a nap. Kevin untied him from the sled and we didn’t bring it up again.

The only time that Frosty showed any signs of interest in anything was one day when Kevin and I were watching the Westminster Kennel Club on our big-screen TV downstairs. This was one of those 1980s front-projection models, where the front extension was big enough to sleep in. For some reason, Frosty had decided to come and join us ” he usually avoided the basement because it meant he had to climb the stairs “and lumbered rather warily toward us. And, thanks to the timing of the sled dog gods, right at that moment they started judging the Samoyeds.

I remember one of us shouted, “Look, Frosty!” (he actually did respond to his name, sometimes). He looked up sleepily, and suddenly, to our surprise, his attention was riveted. He stared in rapture at the bevy of giant snow-white Sammys smiling down on him, and in the next moment he had climbed inside the front projection of the television, trying to jump into the screen. We had to haul him out of there. I guess he thought he was in Samoyed heaven.

After that, we thought there might be hope, but Frosty immediately lapsed back into his perpetual indifference. We thought of taking him to visit a Sammy farm so he could make new friends and snap out of it, but there aren’t any Sammy farms in Georgia. Besides, he wasn’t exactly a making-new-friends kind of dog.

With time, our earlier fantasies about what Frosty would be like in the Iditarod altered somewhat. We began picturing what it would be like for the unfortunate team that got saddled with the world’s laziest sled dog on the trail.

The results may not have been victorious, but they most certainly would have been hilarious.


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