No-Snow Dog-Sledders Keep Cool About Sport

Associated Press

The way Frank Casteleneto explains it, "Mush!" is something dog-sledders say only in the movies.

But then, real dog-sledders generally prefer snow to the marshy lands where Casteleneto works out with his team of three Siberian huskies.

Casteleneto is one of a handful of dog-sledders who live in the San Francisco Bay Area and compete on the winter racing circuit in such California towns as Truckee and Markleeville, where snow is a bit more common than here on the peninsula south of San Francisco.

In all, the 40-year-old civil engineer for San Mateo County said, there are about 50 dog-sled teams in Northern California, with most of them in the Sierra Nevada region.

Less Serious About It

California's sledders enjoy their sport as much as their counterparts in Alaska and Canada, where dog-sledding is prevalent, but they don't take it quite as seriously.

For instance, one team on the Northern California circuit is made up of Irish setters and is known as "The Big Red Machine." Other teams include golden retrievers, Afghan hounds and assorted mutts.

"It's a hobby for most of us. Nobody really gets carried away," Casteleneto said.

He and his wife, Susan, 39, use the more traditional huskies and got involved in dog-sledding more by fate than by design. The couple had a huskie named Frosty who never liked casual walks like most other dogs.

Natural Leader

One day about six years ago, they hooked Frosty to a training cart a friend used to exercise his dogs.

"It was amazing," Susan Casteleneto said. "From the very first moment, he knew exactly what to do. He was a natural-born sled leader."

Since such a dog is hard to come by, the Casteleneto's decided to take advantage of Frosty's talents and acquired two more huskies--Panda and Runja--and trained the three dogs to work as a team.

They work the team three days a week with a three-wheeled training sled and use a 25-pound wooden sled when they compete in the four or five races they enter each winter.

$5,000 Prize

The race in Truckee, scheduled for this weekend, is considered the top dog-sledding race in California and offers a $5,000 prize.

The Castelenetos will race in Truckee, but they don't expect to win.

"We're not super-competitive," Susan Casteleneto said. "We're just in it for the fun. The dogs really love it. That's what they were born to do."

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