Puppy Mushers: New club at Tech will race in CopperDog

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette Adam Schmidt, president of the Mushing Club at Michigan Tech, changes the straw in one of the dogs’ houses while other club members dole out the combination of dry food and rendered beef fed to the sled dogs.

This post has been corrected to reflect that Claire Hendricks is the club’s vice president, and Adam Schmidt is the president. Also the proper name of the club is the Mushing Club at Michigan Tech.

TAPIOLA — Michigan Technological University (MTU) is now host to the only university-based dog sledding club in the country, the Mushing Club at Michigan Tech.

Club vice president Claire Hendricks said the club is open to non-students. Its main focus is getting people involved in the sport any way they can.

The club is working with Tom and Sally Bauer at Otter River Sled Dog Training Center. On Saturday, more than 20 members of the club traveled to the center, north of Tapiola, to help care for the more than 50 sled dogs — and nine puppies — currently living there.

Sally said that feeding and changing the bedding in the dogs’ houses usually takes her a total of three hours. With the club’s help it was done in less than one, with extra hands to pet and brush the dogs. Sally said the extra attention is good for the dogs, too.

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette Club vice president Claire Hendricks talks to the club about how the handler they’re working with runs the kennel while holding one of nine 4-week-old puppies currently there.

The club and kennel are working together in partnership. The club helps the kennel care for the dogs, and in return Tom and Sally teach them about mushing and let them “rent” two teams that the club plans on running in the 2019 Copperdog race.

Unlike a house pet, the sled dogs are treated like athletes.

“It’s all based on performance,” Sally said.

The dogs are fed a combination of dry dog food and a sort of raw, beef and fish stew with rice on a regular basis and are kept lean, like a marathon runner, Sally said. During races and other high-calorie consumption times, the dogs’ diet is supplemented with more food like chicken or eggs. Sally said that sometimes they have to trick the dogs into drinking more water by flavoring it with something like broth to keep them from getting dehydrated.

The Mushing Club is also planning on building new dog houses for the kennel and helping to socialize the Alaskan husky puppies, most of which will be sold to help support the kennel. Sally said that Alaskan huskies run better than Siberian huskies at the temperatures typical at the Copperdog and other races in the Midwest, which is why they use them.

The club has received donated harnesses from a group in Alaska, which they will be sorting through to determine if they need repairs or cleaning.

They are also planning on making booties for the dogs’ feet. When dogs run hard in the cold, some of them can tear open their feet or get things stuck between their toes.

The booties that mushers use to prevent that cost around $3 each, according to Hendricks. At least one for each paw on 50 dogs can become a considerable expense, so having a group of people each willing to make a few dozen can save the club and the kennel a lot of money.

If they make enough, they will sell the extras as a fundraiser.