19 January 2012

Zoya DeNure is racing to make a difference in the sport of mushing

Zoya DeNure is racing to make a difference in the sport of mushing. She is concentrating on improved dog care on the trail as well as in the dog yards and encourages using positive race training that works for every sled dog, young or old.

While at the AKC Eukanuba National ChampionshipI had an opportunity to meet Zoya, her husband, John, and their daughter, and I really enjoyed the time spent with them. In my past life, I worked and/or consulted for pet food manufacturers and some sponsored sled dog racers – or mushers in their vernacular. One thing that really struck me about DeNure and her kennel partner, best friend and spouse, John Schandelmeier, was their comfort being around huge crowds of people. That is a highly prized skill for people running dogs and living in the wilds of Alaska.

Traveling to Orlando from Minneapolis, I felt right at home with the Madison, Wisconsin native from the moment I met her. Ms. DeNure told me that she “fell in love with sled dogs while watching a sledding demonstration at my local feed mill in Stoughton, Wisconsin.” From there, she knew she had to head north to Alaska – which she did taking a position as a handler in a professional sled dog kennel.

DeNure, like many of us, has a past life too. Before becoming a musher, she was an international fashion runway model & record label representative traveling and living all around the world. Not the typical path that most mushers take.
Before meeting with Ms. DeNure, I asked on Facebookand Twitterwhat people would like to know about a high-fashion model turned musher. The top questions follow.

KARD: How are mushing and modeling similar?
Zoya: Both arenas are mentally challenging in ways that force you to step out of your comfort zone and into another world where you are under a lot of pressure holding a great deal of responsibility.

KARD: Are there fitness regimens that you use in both mushing and modeling?
Zoya:  I love to run and hike and have always done a little of both. Caring for 50 sled dogs full time, training for mid-distance races and now having a three year old daughter, I'm staying in the best shape of my life!”

KARD: Which is more grueling?
Zoya: Mushing. It's physically more grueling, the dogs needs always come first, no matter how tired, hungry or cold you are. The dogs needs always come first, the golden rule!

KARD: Has being a woman affected how people view you in mushing? Did your modeling career make people think you were more or less qualified to run dogs?
Zoya: I get a lot of publicity within the sport because of my background which allows me to be a spokesperson for the sled dogs and humane training and treatment of these animals. Other mushers can be resentful of this. I used to be a model, what do I know -- that's the attitude I get from some and it's frustrating, but I know I can't change it overnight.

Crazy Dog Kennelshas about 50 sled dogs and about 25 of these dogs are rescued and running on their teams. This is unusual and makes DeNure stand out from other mushers.

KARD: What helped you determine that rescue dogs would be a good part of your team?
Zoya: Dogs are dogs. They don’t know if they are a rescued dog or not. I saw a great need in this state for rescue and rehab work back in 2004 and at the same time wanted to form a little sled dog team but couldn't afford the asking price of a typical "sled dog" from most kennels. A team dog can sell for $300.00 - $2,000.00. If that dog doesn't care for his new owner/musher or the way he's being handled, he may not run as well as expected because of that asking price and then ends up in the pound a year later. We see this kind of thing often. Very good dogs end up in tough situations, what they need is more time, positive training and love.

KARD: What challenges does that bring to team development?
Zoya:  We train the rescues the same as we would our own. We may design a slightly different training regimen for that dog until we can properly evaluate him or her in the team. Some of the rescued dogs have been neglected or mistreated and the biggest challenge is gaining their trust -- it comes with time and patience.

KARD: How do mushing and your tourism business tie-in with each other?
Zoya: Lots of mushing interest in general, and over the years we discovered that if we could offer custom dogsled trips, we could supplement our income with something we already do and enjoy. (Crazy Dog Mushing Kennel and Alaskan Adventures)
This is one of my favorite questions to ask people in an interview.

KARD: If you could leave a note on the kitchen table for future generations what would it say? Zoya: Follow your heart, have patience and enjoy the journey.

To learn more about Zoya DeNure, visit her on the web at dogsleddenali.com

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