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Meet Ramy Brooks
Member of a Racing Dynasty

Name:
Kennel Name:
Birthplace:
Home Town:
Occupation:
Ramy Brooks
Kami Kennels
Fairbanks, Alaska
Healy, Alaska
Dog Musher

Introduction

My family consists of my wife, Cathy, and our two daughters, Abby (5) and Molly (3). I was raised in the Fairbanks and Rampart areas. The majority of my youth was spent along the Yukon River where we operated a fishwheel in the summer and mushed dogs in the winter.

I grew up watching and helping my mom, Roxy Wright, compete in the sprint races. During the winter of 1982-83 mom also trained her dogs to run the Iditarod. I remember thinking it would be neat to be a champion dog musher – maybe even an Iditarod champion some day. I had the opportunity to race the junior sprint races starting with the one-dog when I was four. By the time I was fourteen I had won every class available. As I finished high school I left the state and spent a few years in the Navy. On a Christmas break I came home and helped mom train some of her young dogs. It rekindled my love of running dogs and made me realize how much I missed Alaska and the dogs. My grandpa, Gareth Wright, had been training dogs to compete in the Iditarod and we were able to work together for a few years before I headed out on my own.

Cathy grew up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania and developed an interest in sled dogs while working on her degrees at Penn State. She came to Alaska to learn more about the sport of dog mushing. After handling the first winter and patching several jobs together she managed to get a position at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. As the 4-H youth development specialist for Alaska she began to have a growing desire to see mushing education programs developed for young people. Our marriage, the birth of our children, the need to relocate for training and several jobs has caused a little delay in progress but she still retains a strong interest in seeing more accomplished.

We currently live near Healy, Alaska. Healy is the bedroom community for the entrance to Denali National Park. Prior to moving to Healy two years ago we lived in the Fairbanks area. We spent one winter training in Delta Junction and another living in Eureka. The Healy area has offered an excellent school system, training trails, and a summer tourist season for economic opportunities.

Background

What is your primary sled dog activity or area of interest?
Distance Mushing

How long have you been involved with sled dogs?
My entire life with the exception of a few years away at school.

What sparked your initial interest in sled dogs?
Early memories

If you remember your very first time behind a team of dogs, tell us about it.
I have memories of riding in the sled bundled in a sleeping bag while mom trained dogs.

Who have been your mentors?
My mom, grandpa, and my uncle, Curtis Erhart. Several folks were helpful when I began my distance career including Charlie Boulding, Martin Buser, and Susan Butcher.

Kennel Management

What size kennel do you operate?
60 to 80 dogs

What type of tether/bowl system do you use?
We use a 5 foot chain connected to a bolt/swivel system. Each dog has its own #10 can. In the summer we try to make sure the bred females have several cans of water. During the cold winters we remove the cans after the dogs are fed or watered.

What are the most important considerations in housing sled dogs?
That the dogs are dry and warm. We can sometimes experience strong winds so its important to have their houses facing the right direction and that we keep the area as clean as possible.

Give us an overview of your feeding program.
We use Annamaet (32/20) as our base dry food. It is combined with different meats or fish and rice depending on the time of the year and availability of the meats. The race dogs get about 1 lbs. of Champaine Race Diet with wheat germ oil and corn oil +/- depending on the metabolism of the dog.

Summarize your basic kennel management style.
Hands-on. The dogs you are racing need to know you and trust you. They need to know you will care for them. You need to know how they are eating, drinking, sleeping, running,etc.

The Dogs

What breed(s) do you work with?
Alaskan Husky

What physical characteristics do you look for in your dogs?
Build, gait, good feet, coat, attitude, and their drinking and eating habits.

What mental or emotional attributes do you require in your dogs?
They need to have the proper work ethic – every one needs to be willing to carry their portion of the load.

Tell us about an all time favorite dog or two.
Sam was my first one-dog leader for the junior races – he was pretty special to me.

Puppies

What criteria do you use for selecting breeding stock?
The best to the best. We are conscious of keeping new blood coming into the kennel.

Do you use any pre-training evaluation of puppies?
We do a basic health check-up.

What method do you use for starting pups?
We start with walks and runs on the four-wheeler as well as having them haul wood. Generally we are just keeping them happy and teaching them basic manners (no chewing the lines).

What is the most important thing you look for in a young dog?
Speed, gait, and attitude.

At what point do you decide a youngster is likely to make it in your team?
I usually wait until they are at least a year old unless some of the characteristics I look for are not there.

Training

What is the training/racing philosophy of your kennel?
Training should be harder than the race so that when we get to the race it is easy for the dogs.

Do you have specific training goals for your team(s)?
In training I want to teach the dogs what is expected of them so they are prepared mentally and physically for the race.

What do you consider most important to accomplish in training?
I think that in training the things I want to accomplish are slowly working the dogs up in mileage so that we can build muscles but also maintain good speed. The dogs also need to learn how to camp so they know how to rest out on the trail.

It is important to try and replicate race conditions so that the dogs won't get depressed when you get out on the race. This may include things like going through checkpoints, eating and sleeping in harness, running in wind, etc.

What is the most indispensable training equipment you use?
In the fall I think that the four-wheeler is the most indispensable equipment so that we can start the training early and also keep the dogs under control until we get enough snow to use sleds.

Racing

How do you choose which races to enter?
We try to pick races that we think will help prepare us for Iditarod. My goal is to win the Iditarod so we try to keep that focus in the races we select. We do try to participate in some fun races in the spring if the schedule allows – especially for our young dogs.

What are your strengths as a racer?
Efficiency on the trail – always working to get better.

What do you consider your weaknesses, if any?
The pre-race care of myself. I tend to over-do-it and wear myself down.

Do you having a mushing career goal?
To win Iditarod.

What does it take to win?
Hard work, the right dogs, and ability to believe even when it doesn't look so good.

The Future

What is your vision of the future of sled dog sports?
I would like to see the sport grow similar to NASCAR with races like the Winston Cup series. The more the sport attracts sponsors and mushers can find the endorsements, the more depth and competition in the events will attract the crowds- ultimately the care of the dogs improve with that.

What can individual mushers do to support and promote the sport?
Education. We need to be continually sharing what we do and why we do it. I also think that it is important to look at other professional sports and use them as examples of how we can improve our image.

What part do clubs and organizations play in sport development?
We need to look at how other sports promote themselves and share information with each other on things that are done to improve the race including finding funds.

What advice would you give a beginning musher?
Don't overload yourself on "give-away" dogs – it is usually too hard to afford and to build a quality team on them. ASK QUESTIONS!!!!


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