Ken & Lori Chezik of Betcha-Katcha Kennels
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Interview conducted by Adam Malicke.
Name: Ken Chezik
It's not 1,200 miles and 10 days of dog racing through some of Alaska's harshest terrain and weather conditions. It doesn't have the history and prestige of the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous or Open North American Championship. And it doesn't have a $100,000 dollar purse like some of the Stage races that are becoming very popular.
But, in the realm of 8-dog, 6-dog, and 4-dog sprint racing, there is no more significant annual race in the world than the Limited North American Championships. It's where the best limited class dog drivers look to as a proving ground for themselves and their dogs. And in the year 2003, Ken and Lori Chezik of Betcha Katcha Kennels proved they have the best 8-dog team.
I have been fortunate to have had numerous conversations with Ken and Lori about their program and specifically about the dogs they have chosen to work with. I can remember the first time I visited Betcha Katcha kennels and met Ken and Lori in the summer of 2002. I was treated to a very informative discussion about any aspect of the operation I was interested in. It was immediately obvious that the program is very professional. Every detail is analyzed and molded to be beneficial in developing a world class group of sled dogs that can compete, and win, on the most competitive sled dog trails in the world.
The following is an interview compiled with Ken and Lori during the spring of 2003 after they returned from their most successful trip to Alaska yet. Starting off the season at the Gold Run, finishing 5th overall despite troubles on Day 2, gave notice that Betcha Katcha kennels didn't travel 4,000 miles for nothing. This was proven two weeks later as Ken won the 10-dog Tanacross race.
Two weeks after Tanacross, Ken put together three very impressive runs that would ultimately land him in the number 1 spot at the 8-dog LNAC and put an exclamation mark at the end of a very successful racing season. Here is a small glimpse into the program the couple has created.
Editor's Note: A special "thank
you" to Adam for spending time with Ken & Lori to develop this in-depth
[click on any photo below to see a larger version]
I started running dogs in 1979 with my friend, Ron Seifert, in the lower peninsula of Michigan. At the time, we were both driving Siberians. In 1980 I had the opportunity to join and race for Betcha Katcha Kennels, then owned and operated by Lori's aunt and uncle, Dale and Barb Munford. Lori had been racing dogs for the kennel since 1975. We eventually took over the day to day running of the kennel in 1997.
What is your primary sled dog activity or area of
How long have you been involved with sled dogs?
What sparked your initial interest in the sport?
Who have been your mentors?
What size kennel do you operate?
What type of tether/bowl system do you use?
What are the most important considerations in housing sled dogs?
One of the more unique features that we incorporated into our kennel is that, since I do irrigation work, our dog yard and puppy pens have their own irrigation system. We have sprinklers through out the yard and puppy pens. We feel it not only keeps the dust to a minimum, but also helps with flies and keeps the dogs from being stressed by the heat. The dog yard is located in an area that is shaded by a number of trees which helps to keep the dogs cooled and comfortable during the summer.
We also keep the dogs close together so each is able to interact with his/her neighbor. This allows them to socialize and lets us know if there are any behavioral problems. We move the dogs around through the yard as well on a regular basis for the same reason, so they can socialize with one another.
Our males and females are kept in separate pens. There is a 6 ft. chain link fence that surrounds the kennel, and divides the male and female yards. Because we have a fenced in yard, we are able to let the dogs loose to run, stretch, and learn to get along with one another.
Give us an overview of your feeding program.
What breed(s) do you work with?
So we began acquiring solid, proven GSP and EP crosses that we could combine with our best Alaskans. With the help of our kennel partners, Koroush and Dee Partow, we were able to acquire dogs descending from Red Viking, Labben, and Grim. We also obtained and used dogs from the kennels of Jan Svennson, Ole Petter Engli, and Birgitte Naess. We felt it was important to go to lines that were already established and doing well.
There was no sense, in our opinion, in recreating what the Europeans and Scandinavians had already developed and sorted through. By doing this we skip the selection process, to some extent, that has to be done with initial outcrosses. While we have bred a few initial 1/2 hound crosses, it is limited. The hounds do bring some negative traits that need to be selected out of the breeding program. To some extent, the Europeans have already done this as they have been breeding these crosses for 5 generation breeding programs.
What are some of these negative traits?
What physical characteristics do you look for in your dogs?
What's a good shoulder?
What mental or emotional attributes do you require in your dogs?
Can you describe the dog you have in your mind when you breed your ideal dog?
Do you think that ideal dog changes with progression?
Do you use any pre-training evaluation of puppies?
Lori: Evaluation of puppies are made based on conformation. If a dog is going to be too big or too small, too heavy-boned, too wide-chested or too short-backed, we don't keep them. We start looking at about 4 months of age and will make the first cut then. Once in a while they will change, but we can't keep them all so we have to start somewhere.
What method do you use for starting pups? At what age do you
begin harness training pups?
When you say one at a time, can you elaborate?
During the beginning phase of
training pups, what is the most important thing you look for in pups?
We don't put any pups in lead. They have about 400 miles on them before ever going up in lead. We feel they need to learn about being a sled dog first. We usually don't make another selection until we extend the distance and get on snow. Then we are trying to determine who we are going to put on the truck to take to the races.
How often do you encounter a pup that doesn't show the desire to run along the
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