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Meet Ken & Lori Chezik of Betcha-Katcha Kennels
2003 Limited North American Champions

Page 1

[Go to Page 2]

Interview conducted by Adam Malicke.

chezik_loose_drop.jpg (22610 bytes)

Name: Ken Chezik
Kennel Name: Betcha Katcha Kennel
Birthplace: I was born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in a small town named Ewen.
Home Town: We now maintain our main home and kennel in Fife Lake, Michigan. Fife Lake is near Traverse City, Michigan. We also have a small cabin in Raco, in Michigan's UP. We use this small cabin to get on snow earlier and for the ability to train without interference with snowmachines in the winter or hunters during deer season.
Occupation: Irrigation Service Manager.


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.

s/Adam Malicke

Editor's Note:  A special "thank you" to Adam for spending time with Ken & Lori to develop this in-depth interview!
/Judy Bergemann


[click on any photo below to see a larger version]

Introduction

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.

Background

What is your primary sled dog activity or area of interest?
I have raced in the 6, 8, 10 dog, and open class speed races. We concentrate on the 8 and 10 dog class right now, but usually field a 6-dog team as well.

How long have you been involved with sled dogs?
I have been racing close to 25 years. My love of dogs and competition is what keeps me going. I enjoy watching the dogs develop from pups, to see their personalities emerge, to hook them in the team and see them develop from pups to yearlings to racing adults.

What sparked your initial interest in the sport?
I've always been around animals and as a child I read books about sled dogs from writers such as Jack London. I became interested in driving dogs because of the challenge of taking individuals and making them a team for competition.

Who have been your mentors?
My greatest mentors have been Barb and Dale Munford. They have taught and helped me learn a great deal. There have been many other people who have helped with information along the way as well. Terry Killam, Art and Judy Allen, and Doug McRae to name a few.

Kennel Management

What size kennel do you operate?
We keep a small kennel. We can only afford to maintain around 35-40 adults. This would include the race dogs, old dogs, brood bitches, and dogs we use only in training. We try to breed 2-3 litters per year. Some years the females cooperate and some years they don't. Sometimes the timing is off and we don't get the litters bred that we wanted. We try to breed no later than June 1st. so the pups are old enough to harness train the following spring.

What type of tether/bowl system do you use?
We house our dogs in individual wood houses with a stake and swivel system. We use 1-gallon watering cans which we keep filled with fresh water until they begin to freeze in late fall. We then water twice a day plus what they get after a training run.

What are the most important considerations in housing sled dogs?
Wood houses so they are warm and dry.

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.
We feed adults once per day. Puppies and nursing mothers are fed twice a day. We use a high quality dry feed mixed with ground beef trimmings. Our ratio is 50% dry feed and 50% meat, year around. We mix water with this, as well as various nutritional additives. We supplement with Brewer's yeast year around and start using various vitamins in August for the upcoming training/racing season

Breeding

What breed(s) do you work with?
Alaskan Husky, English pointer, and German Shorthaired Pointer, in a combination of these three through crossbreeding. Within these parameters, we are working with several bloodlines right now. After spending the first two years racing in Alaska and not doing well, we decided we would have to make some changes within the kennel or get out of dogs. We felt our Alaskan line was well established; we knew the strengths and weaknesses of this line. We also felt it suited our personalities. Our goal was to improve on it rather that make a complete change. Barb Munford, Lori's aunt, always said to keep looking in other directions or you would become kennel blind.

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?
Shorter backs and larger size. The Alaskans we use bring refinement to the hounds. The hounds we use bring mental toughness/drive and natural muscle to the Alaskans.

What physical characteristics do you look for in your dogs?
We like a dog that is not extreme in any way. They should have a good shoulder, long back, and good slant to their croup and be fairly light-boned. We don't have a preference for gender.

What's a good shoulder?
It needs to have an angle when looked at from a side profile. This angle is seen from the elbow/shoulder connection. Kevin has a good shoulder.

Chezik's Kevin
Kevin

What mental or emotional attributes do you require in your dogs?
We, like most people, like a dog that is easy and outgoing. The most important trait is they should have courage. We work with a shy dog if it has courage to overcome it's fears.

Can you describe the dog you have in your mind when you breed your ideal dog?
Lori: My ideal dog would be black, fine-boned with a good shoulder, carrying lots of natural muscle. He/She would have the mentality to run over a brick wall and able to run 20mph for 30 miles. Unfortunately, I don't believe the perfect dog exists. So as a breeder, trainer, and driver, you need to make the best dogs you can out of the best dogs you can find.

Why Black?
I thought you might get a laugh from that. I just like black dogs. You said my ideal dog, I just like black dogs. I could reason it's for warmth in cold weather as black absorbs heat, but it's just because I like black dogs. I don't use it as a criteria for breeding, just that if two dogs equal in every way were presented to me, one was black and one was white, I would choose the black one because he's black.

Do you think that ideal dog changes with progression?
I believe there is a continuous evolution of dogs to match the evolution of drivers, trails, and conditions. This is not only apparent in speed racing, but can be seen in distance racing as well.

Puppies

Do you use any pre-training evaluation of puppies?
Ken: Due to the hours I have to work, most of the evaluation of puppies is left up to Lori.

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?
Lori: When breaking pups we do them one at a time in a small team at about 8 months.

When you say one at a time, can you elaborate?
Sure. If I'm on a cart in the spring, I'll run 4 adults and 1 pup in a 5-dog team. This allows me the freedom to run the pup single if it's a bit wild, or next to an adult if that works better. We believe they learn bad just as well as good. This allows a great deal of control to train the good.

Ready to go!During the beginning phase of training pups, what is the most important thing you look for in pups?
We don't keep any pups that don't show a desire to run ahead somewhere along their first run. Any other problem we will work with. Pups will usually get 2-3 runs by themselves, then will be paired with another pup doing equally as well. Once they are running consistently, we look at their gaits. This is when we make another choice in keeping a pup or not.

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 first run?
Not very often. But they are crossbreds so once in a while you will get a pup that lacks desire. This is another reason we believe so much in breeding dogs and hound lines that are proven. You cut down on the odds of a dog without desire.

 


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