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The joys of life with (lots of) dogs PDF Print E-mail
Written by MITCH MAERSCH   
Wednesday, 17 January 2018 17:03

Sterling Schanen sat in silence and looked intense.
The 7-year-old Saukville resident had just completed his first sled dog race with two of his family’s dogs in the Upper Peninsula.
Schanen’s mother Lynn kept asking how he liked traveling more than 20 mph all by himself. Sterling finally spoke.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I want to do it again.”
Behind Curlin’ and Juno, Schanen won finishing about a minute ahead of the two other junior competitors in the Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race on Jan. 6.
“Our big goal for him was to get the experience,” Lynn said.
Not falling off or letting go was equally as important.
“As much as they like him, they wouldn’t have stopped,” Lynn said of the two 9-year-old dogs.
Knowing man’s best friend, Sterling said, is the most vital skill of a sled dog racer.
“You sort of have to be friends with your dogs or else they’re not going to listen to your commands and go wherever they want,” he said.
The Schanens have been friends with dogs their entire lives.
Ted Schanen grew up in Saukville training beagles, and Lynn was raised with horses and dogs in Pecatonica, Ill.
The two met while studying education at Lakeland College in Sheboygan. Ted got an internship in Colorado and attended a sled dog race. He came home with a dog.
Not long after Ted and Lynn began dating, Ted went on a trip to visit a friend.
“As a brand new girlfriend, I baby sat the dog for two months,” Lynn said.
After graduation, Ted got a teaching job in Cedaredge, Colo. There he got into skijoring — dogs pulled him on skis.
The couple began to acquire canines.
“Once you have four, what’s 10?” Lynn said.
By the time the two married in 2006, they had 11.
Their schedule was regimented. They’d get up early with the dogs, go to school, then wrestling or football practice, run the dogs again and come home.
“He was always saying he wished teachers would have winters off so he could do the dogs,” Lynn said of her husband.
Ted grew up reading Jack London books and said he always had a “romantic idea of running sled dogs.”
The couple later moved to Chathum, Mich., in the Upper Peninsula, and got connected with Lloyd Gilbertson, who runs a sled dog food company called Caribou Creek. Gilbertson hired jockeys for racing, and Ted and Lynn ended up driving 54 of his dogs from the UP to Alaska on a truck.
“It was quite the circus when we stopped at Walmart and let them go to the bathroom,” Lynn said.
When the couple left, six of the dogs were in heat. By the time they arrived, the number had risen to 26.
They lived on a glacier in Alaska with no running water and ran dogs every day.
They moved to Saukville to spend time with Ted’s mother, who died of cancer in 2009. Then, they went back to Colorado.
This time, they only had three dogs and purposefully bought a house in the city so they couldn’t get any more.
The couple wanted to grow the family in a different way. Sterling was born in 2010, and his brother Fritz, named after a dog that pulled people in skis, arrived in 2012.
The boys quickly became familiar with dogs, as the family soon adopted Cinder and Sandy. To get the two puppies, the Schanens drove five hours with a 2-year-old and 2-month-old in the car.
“When did I think this was a good idea?” Lynn joked.
After moving back to Saukville a few years ago, they remained interested in racing. They traveled to Minesota pick up Curlin’ from a musher. He was to be Ted’s dog.
That didn’t happen.
“As soon as we saw Curlin’ and Sterling together, we knew it was over,” Lynn said. “This was going to be Sterling’s dog.”
Sterling had begun to show interest in sled dog racing and got a junior sled last November. He has been known to nap in it.
“I just randomly got in there and a couple minutes later I was sleeping,” he said.
That first race Sterling won was held in bitter cold — 4 degrees. He was so bundled up he said he was too warm. His two best friends didn’t mind.
“The dogs loved it,” Lynn said.
Sterling knows the commands: “Ready hike” means go; “gee” is right; and “haw” is left. “Whoa” means stop.
Sterling said he likes “being outside with the dogs and having them pull you. “With normal house dogs, you walk them instead of them walking you.”
The family has eight dogs, six for sled racing. They rotate bringing two inside at a time while the rest live in their kennels. When it’s cold, Lynn said they all come in.
Drift and Typhoon arrived in 2016, joining Juno, who was born on a glacier in Alaska. The Schanens also have a terrier mix named Luna they’re fostering for their nephew, along with a beagle named Pancho. Rabbits, chickens and fish also inhabit the property.
Lynn said she likes the responsibility caring for animals teaches her children.
“As soon as they could pick up a shovel, they were helping,” she said.
It was during shoveling while dog sled racing years ago that Lynn had a moment of reflection on her life. She gazed across the mountains in Wyoming. “I clean up dog poop for a living,” she thought, “but look at my office.”
Today, Ted teaches high school in West Milwaukee and Lynn teaches 4K in West Bend. The family plans to continue sled dog racing this year, hoping to find a race in which Ted, Lynn and Sterling could all separately compete.
Ted usually runs the dogs daily on a couple of acres his neighbors’ land. The family sometimes goes to Harrington Beach State Park and Forest Beach Migratory Preserve.
“It’s just a little bit of a chance to get away,” he said.

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