- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Sarah Dobbrastine has three words for this winter: Keep it coming.

That’s because Dobbrastine is spending her first season giving sled dog rides with her dream team, according to the Traverse City Record-Eagle ( https://bit.ly/NRBaAM ).

But Second Chance Mushers isn’t just any sled dog team. It’s made up of dogs Dobbrastine rescued or fosters: Siberian husky and Alaskan malamute mixes abandoned after being tied to trees or mailboxes, surrendered because of their high maintenance, or unwanted because of overcrowding.

And a life with Dobbrastine isn’t the life of just another sled dog.

“They’re more pets,” said Dobbrastine, 29, whose dogs lop on living room couches surrounded by doggie art, slurp from a steel pail of water in the kitchen and spend the night on her bed upstairs instead of being banished to outdoor kennels.

She started the dog sledding business a year ago as a way to pay for the care of dogs she increasingly found herself rescuing. She deposits a third of her salary as a registered nurse into a doggie account, but that doesn’t begin to cover the bills for their veterinary care or feed, which is automatically delivered to her house every few weeks in 45-pound boxes.

“She was working three jobs at one time,” said Dobbrastine’s sister, Lisa, who sometimes helps with the business. “She’d go some stretches at 36 hours. And the thing that drove her was that she could provide a good life for these dogs.”

Now the dogs help earn their keep by giving rides at places like the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. Their presence also helps spread the word about Dobbrastine’s rescue work, which involves vaccinating, spaying or neutering, and microchipping every dog she fosters.

She has adopted out three of four foster dogs so far. One, named Demon, remains. Two more are waiting to be fostered after Dobbrastine recovers from an injury.

“Sarah is outstanding with our guests but the unique side of her business is the adoption side, which we’ve never had,” said Steve Timmer, marketing director for the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, where Second Chance Mushers gives guests thrilling 20-minute rides on The Bear golf course during winter weekends. “The ability to help Sarah and Second Chance is something I like. She brings photos of the dogs and shares elements of each one’s personality. It’s good all the way around.”

Nordic dogs are known for their high energy and independence - some call it stubbornness. That makes Dobbrastine’s work with the dogs all the more admirable, said Mike King, her friend and fellow musher.

“My dogs might come in to the mudroom on really cold nights but they don’t come into the house,” said King, owner of the dog sledding business Pets That Pull. “I think it’s amazing that she can keep these dogs exercised enough that they can be in the house without destroying things.”

It was her dogs’ exercise needs that inspired Dobbrastine to take up dog sledding 10 years ago.

“I had four dogs and I couldn’t walk them all at the same time,” the musher said. At the time she cared for the dogs, including her older brother’s wooly Alaskan malamute “Panda,” on her family’s farm near Lansing.

“I hooked them up to a John Deere lawn mower and they pulled it up and down the driveway.”

She eventually hooked up the dogs to a bike, then a sled.

“Once I started dog sledding, I fell absolutely in love with it,” Dobbrastine said. “It’s the speed, and I love to watch the dogs get so excited. My favorite thing is going out in the early morning, the birds chirping. It’s quiet and serene and no one’s out but the dogs. It’s heaven.”

She began training herself and the dogs by practicing right-hand turns for a week at a neighborhood park.

Her favorite sledding spots include 200 miles of snowmobile trails near her neighborhood in Thompsonville and part of the Michigan Shore-to-Shore Riding/Hiking Trail near Lake Dubonnet in Interlochen.

For all its fun sledding also can be dangerous. Dobbrastine sat out part of this winter after a snow hook on one of her three dog sleds hit the ground and bounced back, breaking her elbow. And she and the dogs once got lost for seven hours in a blizzard near Lake Dubonnet.

“My cellphone died, my headlamp died. I was petrified,” she said. “I couldn’t tell any direction because it was snowing so hard.”

Even taking care of the dogs can be an adventure, one Dobbrastine is writing a book about in another effort to raise money for their care. The longest chapter is devoted to “wild child” Malakai, whose exploits include devouring a pot of chili, chewing through three Japanese maple trees and dribbling pink ink from a mangled pen onto Dobbrastine’s pale carpet.

Dobbrastine said she hopes publishing a book will help make potential owners think twice about buying a husky or malamute unless they have the time to properly care for it.

Of her nine rescued dogs, who wear personalized pastel green or lavender collars according to gender, Dobbrastine holds a soft spot for her first. The night she picked up Kodah, the puppy was ill with canine parvovirus, a serious, often fatal, viral infection. He managed to recover and now helps anchor the sled dog team. Panda, now 12, often hitches a ride.

Lisa Dobbrastine said her sister doesn’t just give a loving home to dogs who need them but also gives them an important job: pulling children for free from organizations like Michael’s Place and the Great Lakes Burn Camp.

“She does it because it’s just who she is,” she said.


Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, https://www.record-eagle.com

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