Running With The Pack
Just when you think you’ve seen it all – lapped up every last drop of cool, creative and quirky our city can dish out – Costa Mesa rounds the corner of the unexpected with new surprises and delights.
Today’s feature is one you have to see to believe – but if you spend Saturdays at Fairview Park, perhaps you already have. We’re talking about that cheerful-but-curious collection of canines harnessed to scooters, pulling people; more officially known as the grassroots recreational group, Urban Mushing.
Urban Mushing is a band of merry dog-sledders that meets weekly to give their high-energy breeds a chance to run, pull, focus and socialize – all with happy, healthy results. They’re an eclectic collection of pet owners who don’t let a little thing like our lack of snow stop them from bringing fulfillment to the lives of dogs bred to pull.
We ran alongside Founder, Organizer and Husky Owner – Rancy Reyes – to get more mushing paw-ticulars.
Let’s Roll: The Dogs Are So Excited to Get Pulling, They Can Barely Contain Themselves During Early-Morning Prep
photographer: brandy young
“I started the group back in 2005,” said Reyes. “I had just adopted Niko and he was six months old. As a husky, he really needed exercise so I started bringing him down to Fairview Park to run him on my own. But after a couple of weeks doing that, I get the thought in my head that, ‘Hey, this would be even better if I could get a bunch of guys out here – other people and dogs to come run along with us.’
“So I posted an ad on Craigslist, asking, ‘Does anyone want to try this with me? Because I have some extra equipment…’ Then we also set up a Yahoo group called ‘Southern California Working Snow Dogs‘ and that’s really how we started to get more and more people.”
Reyes is now Proud Papa to four huskies: Niko, Obi, Lika and Snert. The last one, Snert, trained to run the Iditarod but was cut from the team before he ever made it to the race. Reyes adopted him from a kennel in Canada.
“His former musher was looking for a good home,” said Reyes. “One where Snert could still do some recreational running on a regular basis. He’s a great, hardworking dog. His line is always out and he knows his commands. He’s a natural leader.”
Lika – Reyes’ “redhead from Virginia” – has a sad story common for so many huskies. By the time she was only nine months old, she had already been in and out of four homes. As Reyes tells it, prospective dog owners are initially drawn in by the uncommon beauty of the breed – but quickly sour on the needs of these high-energy dogs.
“Huskies are so misunderstood,” said Reyes. “These dogs have been bred, over generations, to work, to pull, to run. They want to do what they were born to do. So when you adopt a husky but don’t run them – don’t give them opportunities to work, to pull – well, of course they’re going to trash your house. If they are cooped up all day, every day, they go crazy! And taking these dogs for your standard walk-around-the-block is nowhere near enough.”
Reyes shared that the group sometimes gets flack from well-meaning-but-misinformed passersby who think mushing dogs equals animal cruelty. But run with this pack for any length of time and there’s absolutely no denying: these dogs are happy and having a blast.
Leader Of The Pack: Rancy Reyes Organizes Urban Mushing
photographer: brandy young
“My dogs love getting out with this group, seeing their friends and running together,” said Reyes. “The biggest benefit, obviously, is the exercise. But not just in the physical aspect. I mean, sure, you can take them to a park and play ‘fetch’ until they’re worn out – but when you do something like this, you are also exercising their minds.
“Mushing requires the dogs to have a lot of self-control and mental focus. It’s a symbiotic relationship between dog and human – and if either one of us gets distracted, we could both get very hurt. The dogs need to know their commands, remain alert and listen for their musher. They can’t go sniffing around or playing with the other dogs or chasing a squirrel.
“Plus, there’s the rush they get from running in a pack. It’s amazing to watch them learn from each other. That’s why we harness them in different combinations throughout the morning. They run better over time because they are actually learning from each other. You can see their skills grow and change, week after week.”
Reyes isn’t the only one howling the praises of mornings spent mushing. The other members of the group, both dogs and humans alike, seem grateful for the camaraderie and plentiful, post-run benefits.
“I’m Susan, and this is my dog Blakely,” said Susan Regan, a member of Urban Mushing. “She’s only a year old and has tons of energy. We’ve been running with the group for about six weeks, now – so we’re pretty new. But from day one, Blakely has absolutely loved it. I truly feel like, as her owner, it’s the best thing I have ever done for her. She is so happy. Her behavior at home is better; everything is better.
“She used to be so destructive at home – lots of digging and other kinds of damage – but now I know she was just really bored. Since coming to run with this group, her behavior has changed completely. She’s like a different dog. When she sees me get my shoes on to come out here, she goes crazy with excitement.
“I know now this breed is a working dog; they want to do ‘work’ that fulfills them. When they’re mushing, their minds and bodies are busy and they’re totally happy. Plus when we get home, she sleeps the rest of the day so Mom gets a break.”
No Happier Way For Dog-Owners To Spend A Saturday Than Mushing With These Beautiful Animals
photographer: brandy young
We asked Reyes about the protocol for joining Urban Mushing – and his attitude about new members is as warm and welcoming as every other facet of his group.
“Anyone is welcome to come and try this out with their own dogs,” said Reyes. “Despite what people think, it doesn’t have to be a husky. I mean, we have Tigger over there and she’s a terrier mix – but when she runs she takes off like a bullet. She’s only 30 pounds and really fast. So if you’ve got a high-energy runner, of any breed, you are welcome to come try us out.
“A lot of these dogs are rescues and were on the verge of being returned because of all that energy. But if you can come out and run your high-energy dog to the point where they are happy and content and not destroying the house – well, I hope it’s one way I can help keep you and your dog together. I want to keep your dog in a good home with you and not have them boomerang in and out of the shelter, time and again.”
Interested dog owners can email Reyes through the Urban Mushing website. Once contacted, he will set up a day and time to meet you at a park, introduce himself and go over the basics of mushing with you. He can even help with harnesses and give you a trial run on one of his dogsledding scooters.
“I don’t so much train people, I just give them the basics,” said Reyes. “But that’s really all most people and pets need: basics. Then, so much of what they learn will be on the fly as they run with the group. Because really, the best way for dogs to learn mushing is to watch other dogs. I think that’s probably true of the humans, too. Learning-by-doing is probably how all animals learn best.”
We think grassroots, community-based groups like Urban Mushing are just one of the many reasons Costa Mesa is such a fun, eclectic place to live.
“Costa Mesa is like the wild west and I love it that way,” agreed Reyes. “Other cities are so structured, so rigid; not Costa Mesa. This city has so much independence and character. We love running at Fairview Park; it’s like our home base. It’s beautiful here, nice and shady in the mornings which makes our runs a lot more pleasant. We hope to continue using it for a long time to come.
“And if you’re a dog owner, maybe come check out our group. Spend your Saturdays running with your dogs in beautiful Fairview Park. It really doesn’t get any better than that.” ♥
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