Doggy Style

The Siberian Husky Club brings the Iditarod to Ohio

Riding a dogsled is a bit like skiing: You have to bend your knees and help steer around the corners. Fail to do this, and you might wind up in a snowdrift, as the nine-year-old granddaughter of Joann Macias found out for herself.

"The dogs made a really nice turn," Macias, president of the Siberian Husky Club of Greater Cleveland, remembers cheerfully.

The Husky Club was co-founded in 1960 by Marie Wamser, who wanted to share her interest in the breed with other area enthusiasts. Macias joined in 1967, after she agreed to go shopping for a Siberian husky with her neighbor, Bobbie Palmer.

"I just fell in love with them," she says. "So I had to get one, too." Macias points out the beauty and temperament of the dogs, noting that they're good with families -- especially children and older people. The cold-loving canines are also widely recognized as sled dogs.

"Siberians were meant to race," Macias acknowledges. So it was only natural, one day, with plenty of snow and a dog meant to race, for Macias and Palmer to hook up their animals to a sled and go for a spin around the block.

It may seem strange to associate this part of the country with sled-dog racing, but the club's members are determined and enthusiastic. During the long, gray Cleveland winters, they can be found around northern Ohio, Pennsylvania, and as far north as Michigan's upper peninsula, searching for trails with enough snow to ride. In 1979, the club planned its first regular competition, and today about a quarter of the club's 40 members continue the sport.

"We have a lot of interested people, but not a lot of snow," Macias admits, adding that the Cleveland-area trails are more than adequate -- when nature complies.

Macias retired from racing at the age of 65, but her dogs -- she now has 10, ranging from 2 to 13 years old -- aren't ready to stop. Macias's daughter, Ellie Yanky, races her mother's huskies, with some help from her own daughters, Stephanie and Nikki. And Macias still helps out with the dogs -- her van, with its cages and other necessary equipment, is needed for transportation, if nothing else.

"They couldn't get there without me," she says.

Clearly, van is a sled dog's best friend.