Athletes of the cold


Photo by Sam Arendt

Photo by Sam Arendt

PATRICE HERZFELD’S Alaskan malamutes Calvin and Mira have won several local, regional and national competitions in different categories. Photo by Sam Arendt

By MITCH MAERSCH

Ozaukee Press staff

Patrice Herzfeld of Grafton was looking for more than a slobbering, tail-wagging family pet.

The Milwaukee native grew up with a multitude of big, active dogs and after her six children were grown wanted another canine for more than just a companion.

“I wanted something big, active and happy,” Herzfeld said.

She found it in Alaskan malamutes.

Activities and competitions with her malamutes Mira and Calvin have taken Herzfeld on hiking trips and to competitions in Kansas, Florida and other places across the country.

Mira is 56 pounds and has won three national weight pull competitions.

Mira and Calvin have reached American Kennel Club Grand Champion status multiple times over in showmanship and obedience.

The furry creatures recently returned from 125 miles of hiking with backpacks. Eighty-pound Calvin — he looks bigger but it’s mostly fur, Herzfeld said — carried 25 pounds of gear while Mira carried 18 pounds.

The dogs traveled 12 to 15 miles per day.

“It took me six months to condition them,” Herzfeld said. “We treat them like athletes.”

The two dogs also pull a sled with Herzfeld on the back.

To practice when they were puppies, Mira and Calvin would pull a tire down the sidewalk after it snowed, drawing reactions from some neighbors.

“Can you go around again, Patrice?” they asked in hopes of avoiding having to shovel.

In the absence of snow, Herzfeld uses a three-wheeled cart that can travel on bike paths and the sidewalk.

The activities help the dogs get back to their roots, Herzfeld said. They were bred to be pull-and-pack animals in the snow 4,000 years ago. People’s livelihoods depended on dogs pulling freshly killed seals back where they lived.

“I think it’s just really cool to see a dog doing what they were bred to do,” Herzfeld said, “and I get to be a part of that.”

The malamutes’ history helps train them to pull.

“You can’t make a dog do this if they don’t want to do it,” Herzfeld said of pulling the sled. “She wouldn’t be pulling 2,000 pounds if she didn’t want to do it.”

Mira, 6, had an instinct to pull since she was a puppy. Calvin, 3, isn’t quite as instinctive and doesn’t like to pull alone. He sometimes turns to Mira to watch what to do and looks back at Herzfeld.

“He needs that reassurance. Mira leads Calvin in so many ways,” Herzfeld said. “He has a big ‘I want to please you, mom, attitude,’ but it only lasts a nanosecond.”

Calvin and Herzfeld have won a host of awards and are the No. 1 owner-handler in the Alaskan malamute category in the country.

Mira is unsure of children but the dogs like humans and are calm at shows with thousands of people. They are not fans of their own kind, so Herzfeld doesn’t take them to dog parks.

Showing her dogs is work but remains fun, Herzfeld said.

“It’s not our job. We’re not making money,” she said.

“You teach them how to stand pretty, prick their ears, stick out their chest.”

Those tasks come at a price.

“My dogs don’t work for free. They work for treats,” Herzfeld said. “It’s just a fun game.”

She is careful when and how to train her dogs. Winter weather is fine — Herzfeld learned to like the cold — but she doesn’t work them hard when the temperature rises to 40 degrees, and her cutoff is 60.

Showing dogs is nothing new for Herzfeld. As a child, Herzfeld participated in a variety of competitions with large dogs such as Gordon and English setters, dobermans and an Airedale terrier.

Attending shows and competitions across the country has allowed Herzfeld to bond with more than her dogs. She has made friends with people in Israel, Sweden, Norway and Ireland.

“It’s really neat that my world has opened up exponentially because I have these two dogs,” she said.

Winning, Herzfeld said, doesn’t matter.

“Every day we go home with the best dog in the show whether they win a ribbon or not,” she said, “because it’s my dog and the one I love.”

Herzfeld feeds her dogs high-calorie, high-protein Farmina kibble, and Calvin sometimes gets raw food.

String cheese and Usinger’s and Klement’s sausages are treats. At a show, Herzfeld can go through a pound of string cheese.

“We represent Wisconsin pretty well,” she said.

Malemutes can get confused with huskies, but are different in purpose, appearance and personality.

Huskies have ears on top of their heads while malamutes’ ears are on the sides, and malamutes never have blue eyes.

Huskies get along better with other dogs and were bred more for speed — they make up the bulk of the field in the famous Iditarod race.

If a husky escapes a yard, Herzfeld said, look for it on a straight line three counties away. If a malamute gets out, she said, check out the nearest grill.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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