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Sled dogs visit DA kids

February 29, 2012 - Normally, dogs aren't allowed in school, but when they come all the way from Alaska, exceptions can be made.

On Monday, Daniel Axford Elementary had a couple of furry visitors when Alaskan huskies Ketza and King Tut dropped by with their master, Joe Pawelek.

Pawelek, who's originally from Rochester Hills, visited the school to share his expertise and experiences from the exciting world of raising and racing sled dogs.

Having lived at a camp populated by approximately 240 sled dogs in Juneau, Alaska, Pawelek knows practically everything there is to know about the four-legged competitors and their mushers – the hearty folks who race them.

"Alaskan husky is kind of the perfect mix of speed, stamina, strength and endurance," said Pawelek, who's participated in his share of sled dog races as a musher.

The students were amazed to learn just how much a sled dog needs to eat when they're competing.

"I'm 225 pounds, 27 years old and I'm supposed to eat around 2,500 to 3,000 calories a day," Pawelek said. "Tut and Ketza, when they're working in the winter, they eat between 12,000 and 14,000 calories a day each."

Pawelek showed the kids all the things sled dogs must wear, from their harnesses and cute little jackets to the booties that protect their paws from the snow and ice.

But none of those things will do any good if the musher isn't conscientious and knowledgable about keeping his dogs rested, well-fed, warm and safe.

"When it's that cold outside, it can be really, really dangerous – anything can go wrong, so you have to be ready," Pawelek said.

Pawelek also showed the students the type of clothing mushers must wear including big furry hats and gloves, large coats with lots of pockets and heavy boots.

"We have to wear lots of warm stuff, too, because we don't have a thick coat (like a dog) and we're not working half as hard as these huskies are," he said.

Following his presentation, all the kids received the opportunity to pet Ketza and King Tut, which was definitely the highlight of the morning for these well-behaved and friendly pooches.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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