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No snow? No problem. Urban Mushing’s dog owners glide over dry land

Rufio is 9, Rinoa and Gizmo are 8, Cowboy is 6, Tails is 5 and Maya is 2 1/2.

Christian and Ashley Casillan have a team of huskies, but they live in Long Beach, not Alaska.

What’s a family of huskies to do in Southern California without snow and a sled?

A group of dog owners in the area asked themselves the same question and the answer is Urban Mushing.

“The dogs come here just to run and have fun because they like to do it,” said husky owner and Fountain Valley resident Rancy Reyes, who began the activity of running his dog in parks and on trails in Orange County in 2005 when he got his first husky, Niko. “He was the one that got me started on this because he was just a spaz.”

Reyes got the idea from people in the Northwest riding on scooters attached by lines to their dogs’ harnesses.The idea is similar to dog sledding on snow but the Urban Mushing group uses wheeled non-motorized vehicles like mountain bikes, scooters and carts.

“Hooked him up to it and he had a blast,” Reyes said of Niko, who has since died.

Reyes began posting on Craigslist about the activity, inviting others to join.

“It just got bigger and bigger,” he said, adding that the group size peaked around 2010 with about 50 dogs.

He organized races for a few years at Fairview Park in Costa Mesa, where the weekend morning meet-ups usually take place.

On a recent Saturday morning, about a dozen people and 20 dogs — mostly huskies but the group does not discriminate — arrived for a meet-up. According to Reyes, any medium to large, high-energy dog can participate and the group includes other breeds such as Samoyeds, German shepherds and a French bulldog.

Belinda Torrez, who moved to Oregon recently, was in town for the weekend and visited the park with her 1 1/2-year-old Samoyed, Nyssa, to help release some of the young dog’s energy.

“She’s a maniac,” said Torrez.

Urban Mushing helps dogs expend energy via running.

“When you have a dog who loves to pull and lives to run and you let them, it’s just beautiful,” Torrez said.

While each person or couple arrives with their own set of dogs, a community approach is taken to the runs. Some dogs, like Reyes’ 12 1/2-year-old Lyka, are getting older and may need to be walked. Because Lyka is partially blind, Torrez walked her, while one of the others took Nyssa on the run.

Jenny Kan and her boyfriend, Viet Tran, of Van Nuys are some of the newest members of the group.

They recently adopted a 70-pound, 10-month-old, black-and-white husky named Max. Tran, on a mountain bike, was pulled along by the large puppy.

“I feel like it’s worth it for him to be able to do this,” Kan said of Max’s mushing. “It’s fun to be able to get the energy out this way rather than running on pavement.”

Christian Casillan, who in addition to his six dogs also brought along his 3-month-old baby in a stroller, said he got his first husky in 2009. Because he now has many dogs, he has a cart to pull around eight larger dogs at once.

“It’s a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun,” he said about the mushing activities. “It’s different and it’s a way to get outdoors.”

Monica Emmerson of Long Beach has been running her dogs with the group for about a year now. She has three huskies and one that she fosters.

It was her 3-year-old Sprocket who inspired her to try Urban Mushing because of behavioral issues such as high energy and anxiety.

“He needed an outlet — this is a great outlet for him,” Emmerson said, noting Sprocket became the leader of the pack during runs. “Huge changes. Huge improvement.”

For more information, visit urbanmushing.com.

Jessica Peralta is a contributor to Times Community News.


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