Archive for the 'Ineka' Category

Meet the Dogs: Snap


Can run anywhere in the team!

8 year old


Alaskan Husky

Snap is one of the best dogs in the dog yard! He is super friendly and always wants to please. He is always bouncing around and wants attention. A great dog!

Learn from a Dog


This article was originally published on my blog in September of 2009.

The following story is widely circulated on the Internet. I have no idea who wrote it and I hope the author does not mind if I take the liberty to use it here in this post.

A Dog’s Purpose, from a 4-year-old…Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for four-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion.

We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life, like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?”

The four-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.

(Robert Forto) I received this story from a colleague the other day and thought I had to share it. While I will always give credit where credit is due, I do not know who wrote this article so I am posting it anonymously. If you do know who wrote it please have them contact me directly at

I struggle with this the context of the story every day. My old dog and my best friend is a 12 year old Siberian Husky named Ineka. It is supposed to mean “rescued friend” in a Northern Canadian language. Anyhow, Ineka has been through thick and thin with not only me, but my family, since we adopted him from a Washington shelter in 2000. They told us he was four at the time but I checked the wear patterns on his teeth and he was closer to two.

I have talked about Ineka a lot over the years in my articles, in my blog posts, and in my canine trainers classes at Denver Dog Works. I even dedicated my doctorate dissertation to him- Chasing the Dream: The History of Human-Canine Communication in the Sport of Dog Sledding (Forto 2005).

I will be sad when his time comes to pass over the rainbow bridge. Who am I kidding, it will devastate me for a long while. But I will pull through and his legacy and what he taught me will live on. As the young boy says in the story, dogs already know how to live the good life, like loving everybody all the time so they don’t have to stay long.

Ineka, well all dogs for that matter, share a special place in most people’s hearts don’t they? They are just the right fix when something is wrong, just the right size to hug when you are feeling blue, listen just long enough when you have a secret, have just enough energy to finish that hike, just enough strength to pull you through the day, just enough courage to keep you motivated, just enough tail wags to make you smile, just enough wisdom to teach the new pup the rules, and just enough love to keep you sane in the worst of time.

So I encourage all of you to get out and do something with your dog today, everyday for the matter. Dogs were put on this earth to teach us something about ourselves. Is that a way to learn or what?

Update: As many of you know our dear friend, Ineka, passed over the Rainbow Bridge on July 13, 2010. I re-read this story from my blog and thought I should re-post it. I don’t know how most of you feel about the passing of a beloved pet, but it is one of the hardest things I have ever went through. It just seems different when a pet passes compared to a person. I do’nt know why. Maybe its because pets show us such unconditional love. Maybe its because we are allowed to make the decision when it is time for them to go. Maybe it is because they can not tell us its time or they hurt or they simply can not continue.

I have had many pets over the years. They were all special. But none quite like Ineka. He was my inspiration for everything I do with dogs and in the worst of times he was my strength. Some say, he was just a dog. Hardly, my friends, hardly–Ineka was my Dreamchaser.


Dr. Robert Forto is the training director of Denver Dog Works and the host of a weekly radio program, The Dog Doctor Radio Show. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at

The Future of Iditarod Dreams: Team Ineka-Part 3

The Future of Iditarod Dreams- Team Ineka Part 3

“Congratulations!! You own a home in Alaska! The Deed was just recorded”

Text from Dave S. realtor and friend  on July 20, 2010

So now the journey begins. Only just one week after the passing of our dear friend, our dog Ineka, and the inspiration for Team Ineka and the future of our Iditarod dreams, Michele and I are now officially the proud owners of a home (or is it just a musher’s cabin?) in the great state of Alaska.

I have thought about this day almost every day since I was about 19 years old, almost 20 years to the day. That was when I drove from Oregon to the Georgia mountains to look at a couple Siberian Huskies. It was a 72 hour drive in my 1975 Datsun 280z and I thought I owned the world. When I arrived in Georgia, I didn’t know the first thing about sled dogs or the sport of dog sledding but I did knew about Siberians, having owned one since 1987, his name was Axl (yes, after Guns and Roses lead singer Axl Rose, who was my favorite band at the time).

When I arrived at the breeder’s home, strung out from the road (wait… isn’t that a lyric from  a Bob Seger/Metallica cover song?) I was just expecting to take a look a a couple dogs. As a matter of fact I had no real intentions of purchasing them. I was heading to Florida to bask in the sun, not be a teenager held down by a couple sled dogs.

I  drove up and looked the pack of dogs over and one caught my eye. He was a red and white male with what I would call yellow eyes and then I saw his brother, a typical black and white Siberian Husky with a brown eye and a blue eye. I had money in my pocket but still not ready to buy until the lady said, “Do you want to go for a ride?”

“Sure,” I said and she and her son began hooking up a team of Siberians to a cart. After the dogs where hooked up and banging at the harnesses the lady could barely contain the feisty dogs that I thought were possessed! She jumped in the seat and told me to jump on the back and her son let go of the quick release. Away we went down a steep curve and almost toppling over (funny that same thing happened just about a month ago when I was visiting April Wood of Jaraw Siberians in California when we took her dogs out for a run).

After a couple miles the dogs settled into their gait and were pulling in sync and the lady asked if I would like to give it a try. I said of course and to my dismay (and soon to be pleasure) she jumped off the cart and we took off again. I had listened to her commands and as soon as I started barking out orders to the team they quickly responded. I have no idea how long I spent driving those dogs through the mountains of Georgia but something changed in me that day. Something primal, something connecting. Some call it the Musher’s Bug. It is true once it is in your veins it is hard to shake.

I picked up the breeder a short distance from her dog yard and she guided the team into the kennel with expert grace and we all chipped in on un-harnessing the team, watering them and just spending time with them in the yard.

I left that day with two pups, that I would soon call Rutgrr (the red one) and Ryche. Their full AKC names would soon be Rutgrr the Grreat (like the old Tony the Tiger cereal commercials) and King Ryche (named after another big rock band of the time, Queensryche). I soon bought a bicycle designed for the elderly and began training my pups. Very soon two dogs became four and four became eight. If you are a musher you know just how quickly they multiply, something like they taught us in high school biology class…

In the mid 1990’s I moved to Minnesota and began mushing with a team of thirty five Siberians with hopes of one day running the Iditarod. I ran on the snowmobile trails in the middle of the night so I wouldn’t get run over by the snow machines” running up to 45 miles most nights. During the day I was dabbling in the stock market as a day trader. The Internet was becoming really hot and just about anyone could make money in the market. What a perfect life, right?

Then I met Michele who lived in Denver and I had to “grow up” fast. I ended up moving to Colorado and put my sled dog dreams on hold for what I like to call, “life getting in the way”.

Fast forward to 2010. Michele and I are now married for almost a decade, we have a successful business and the kids are getting older. I got a chance to go to Alaska for a conference and the ceremonial start of the Iditarod and that changed our lives forever. Soon, we were talking to realtors and making plans to head to Alaska to look at a property that used to be an Iditarod kennel. We signed the purchase agreement sight unseen with the provision that we would approve after we looked at the place.

On July 4th weekend, my daughter and I (she had never been on a plane) flew to Alaska and looked at the place. I needed Nicole there because she was the lone hold-out in committing to move up North. She approved of the place and the cool high  school she will be attending and we sent word by text message to mom that we were buying the place.

Within sixteen days, the purchase was finalized and I was making plans of heading up at the end of the month to start work on the place (it needs remodeling really bad!) while Michele and the kids stay in Denver for a year to make sure that our business will have a successful transition when all all move to Alaska part-time (six months in Alaska and six months in Denver) in 2011.

During the next year I will be attempting something I am not good at all, construction, and begin to build our dog team. My goal is to qualify in 2012 for the 2013 Iditarod and run the race under the Team Ineka banner, named after our dear friend. I don’t know if I will have my own team by then or will lease a team from a friend of mine, but either way I am on track for something I have thought about since I was 19 years old. Some may call this my mid-life crisis. I don’t think so. and I don’t care if I ever have a corvette. I am chasing my dream and I will see where the trail leads. Hopefully to Nome…

Never Forget Your Dreams!

Next segment: Way Up North to Alaska


Dr. Robert Forto is the Dog Sledding Examiner, a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the popular radio program, Mush! You Huskies.

Racing with Poodles

Racing With Poodles

Lead Dog RevengeThe Iditarod and the sport of dog sledding is replete with individuals trying new things to make their dog team stand out among the others. 4-time Iditarod Champion Jeff King is known for his innovative technology that he tests and uses on the trail. Their is one individual who attempted the Iditarod with a team of poodles and there was such an outcry that the rules have since been changed to only include specific types of dogs.

In 1988 John Sutter of Chugiak, Alaska ran a group of Standard Poodles on his Iditarod team.  Three of these dogs made it the 1,100-miles to Nome for a thirty-eighth finish out of fifty-two starters.  Although the fifty-below weather did not bother them, the Poodles did have trouble with snowballing in their hair and several were dropped due to foot problems.  In training Sutter discovered that while Poodles do not have the inherent desire to pull that huskies have, their intelligence and willingness overcome the drawback.


Dr. Robert Forto is the Dog Sledding Examiner, a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the popular radio program, Mush! You Huskies.

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush

The Alaskan gold rush offered bigger stakes to many mushers.  Men either went after the precious metal directly or they hauled supplies to miners, their camps and the settlements springing up across the region.  Gold was first discovered in 1880 in Sitka, but was soon eclipsed by the Klondike Rush, which was on the scale of the California gold rush a half a century earlier.  In California, mule and oxen transported supplies overland.  In Alaska and the Yukon the method required riverboats in the summer and dog sleds in the winter.  There were no roads or railroads in this land.  The horses that were brought were extremely difficult to feed, and bogged down in the soft, deep snow.  It was therefore left to the dog driver to tame this wild land.

Hauling freight became a booming business, a man could find work easily, but finding good dogs to haul the freight was a more difficult endeavor.  The mushers were called “freighters” or “dog punchers” and they carried everything one could imagine.  Gold if you were lucky, you if you were not.  The “dog puncher” hauled his cargo on up to three of what were referred to as “Yukon” sleds, hitching one after another with heavy chain.

“The Yukon sled measured seven feet long and 16 inches wide, was braced and shod with iron and weighed as much as 80 pounds.  For a good trail, a driver would load his three sleds with 600 pounds on the front sled, 400 on the middle one, and 200 on the rear.  The team: six or seven large dogs, strong and hardy.”

These first mushers, the explorers, the hunters, and the “dog punchers” were the early professionals of the arctic region.  They set high standards for all of their combined endeavors.  These brave pioneers proved their worth time and time again in the opening up and settling of the arctic regions.  These early professionals and their dogs were now ready for their next step in the journey from Siberia to sport racing: “assimilation into the developing modern society.”


Dr. Robert Forto is the Dog Sledding Examiner, a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the Mush! You Huskies Radio Show

Mush! You Huskies Radio: The Lombards

Roland and Louise Lombard

On the Mush You Huskies Radio Show we continue to showcase the people that made the sport of mushing what it is today. It is called Dog Sledding Legends and we will be covering these amazing contributors to the sport all summer long.

Listen to Mush! You Huskies: The Lombards

If you are a musher and would like an excellent reference to your library check out Nancy Cowan’s The Training and Racing Journals of Roland and Louise Lombard. Self-Published 2004.

The following history is taken from Mrs. Cowan’s book and Roland “Doc” Lombard’s training journals to show a history of one of the greatest musher’s of all time. I hope that Mrs. Cowan and the late Doc Lombard to not mind my liberty.

Emile St. Godard’s flop-eared racing hounds may have looked like odd sled dogs to Siberian fans in New England, but as he raced them in the 1929 race in Laconia, an even odder-looking team was making a first mark in sled racing for its youthful owner, Roland “Doc” Lombard of Maine. Lombard, later to win time and time again in the biggest races with long teams of Siberian-Alaskan Husky crosses, was right on St. Godard’s heels with a motley five-dog crew. On lead was often a cocker spaniel-collie farm dog, behind the leader, a German Shepherd cross and a mixed husky, and filling out the team, two Siberians borrowed from Seppala. Lombard’s third place finish was fast enough to win him first-place handicap money, $1,000, which went along way in those Depression days towards his schooling for a career as a veterinarian.

Once his veterinary practice was set up near Boston, Massachusetts, Lombard returned eagerly to his sled dogs. His early teams were made up of purebred Siberians, which were the fruits of a half dozen New England kennels that had been breeding from Seppala stock for almost three decades.

In the late forties and well into the fifties, Doc and his wife, Louise, ran their Igloo Pak Kennel dogs in dozens of New England Races. By the mid-fifties Lombard, along with Charles Belford and Keith Bryar, were known as New England’s “big three,” and they represented the best the sport had to offer outside of Alaska. When the New England races could not hold up to their blazing teams, the three racers traveled to bigger events in New York, Canada and finally Alaska. Lombard was the first to take sled dog racing back to the state where it started, driving in his first Alaskan race in 1958 at the age of forty-six. He was also to be the most successful outsider in Alaskan championship races, giving every sled dog driver in the state a tough run for his money for many, many years. Although he remained an outsider in Alaska, his gentle manner, considerate words and fine racing record won him the respect of the farthest-north Americans.

Lombard won his first Alaskan race on his second attempt. This he did at Fairbanks, in the North American Championship, the first outsider to challenge successfully in the fifty years of Alaskan sled dog racing. From 1958 to 1975 Doc Lombard won six North American Championships, placing second in six others. Down in Anchorage at the Fur Rendezvous World Championships it took him until 1963 to win his first one, and he won the North American that year, and so added the coveted title of Dual Champion to his laurels. In the next twelve years Lombard kept returning to Alaska and kept proving his talents, winning eight more World Championships. In 1964 and 1967 he re-earned the Dual Championship an extraordinary second and third times.

Lombard’s lead dog in most of these victories was a 48-pound black and white Alaskan Husky named Nellie. Trained in Huslia, the little Alaskan town famed for its sled dogs and their drivers, Nellie attracted Lombard’s attention in 1962 while she was running on champion George Attla’s team. Lombard’s professional admiration for the dog resulted in the first sale of a sled dog for the then unheard-of price of $1,000.

According to Attla, “She just never made a mistake on commands. It was like driving a car; you made every turn you wanted to make.” Nellie had all of the good traits, she worked enthusiastically, and she had ‘heart’. She helped Lombard to his unprecedented fourteen Alaskan championships. The year that both “Doc” and his dog were elected into the Dog Mushers’ Hall of Fame, Lombard commented to the Boston Globe: “Nellie is very special. She not only has speed, courage and stamina—because these championship races are long distance—but Nellie is highly intelligent.”

Nellie represented the finest in canine evolution that had been occurring in Alaska since Seppala left with his Siberians. A purebred Siberian strain had been developed in Huslia, but so had a non-registered breed called the Alaskan Husky. The toughest of the survivors from the gold rush days, the fastest of the winners in the early races, were interbred with Siberians, with Malamutes, with Eskimos dogs and with wolves. When the New Englanders brought the best of their Seppala Siberians back to Alaska to race, it was the best of these husky-type dogs that beat them.

Roland Lombard’s contributions to sled dog racing extended far beyond his racing record or his abilities with dogs. During his career he aided more than one aspiring musher with dogs and advice, spending hours talking, explaining and teaching. The more serious new drivers who visited him were slowly included in the fall training activities; and several of New England’s better drivers learned the basics from “Doc.”

Another major contribution was his early belief in the idea of an international organization for the sport. Lombard served as the first president of the International Sled Dog Racing Association from 1966 to 1970, he and a small group of intensely dedicated people gave unselfishly of their time and money to make this infant idea into a reality.

Roland Lombard was a master at reading and communicating with his dogs. His race results represent this. Lombard’s evaluations of his dogs were very precise. As the date of the next racing event drew closer he had an astonishing perception of his team’s readiness. Lombard was adept at finding any and all faults or variation in his dogs’ behavior. Many mushers thought “Doc” was a perfectionist, and as such, overly critical of his dogs. Others maintained that Lombard knew his dogs so well that the type and intensity of the correction he administered to his dogs were perfectly suited to the incident, and even more importantly, to the individual dog.

If something wrong happened to a dog during a run, Lombard recorded the incident. These types of notes were recorded with the intention of curbing negative events and conflicts with that particular dog. Roland Lombard was an in-field researcher of his dogs. He kept training and racing journals that spanned decades.

Each and every dog on the Lombard team always had a clear understanding of what was expected of it. Lombard allowed all of his dogs to remain in a positive frame of mind when running in a team. Year after year he came to the racing circuit to learn, about his dogs and himself. He worked hard and the teams got better. He won his share and he lost some, but he always conducted himself with exemplary sportsmanship.

“Doc” was often asked to speak about sled dog racing. In the book, The Training and Racing Journals of Roland and Louise Lombard, it shows that for over thirty years he did not leave anything out, and did not leave anything unplanned. “Doc” listed some statements he called “one-liners” that he intended to make in order to encourage questions and discussions. Roland Lombard’s “one-liners” follow:

1. Break your dogs on opposite sides. When training, shift all dogs after a mile or so.

2. Start training dogs young, but don’t race them in long or fast races.

3. Try to accomplish as many corrections that you have to make, AWAY from the team (i.e. aggressive and NO.)

4. If you want your dogs to listen to you, keep your mouth shut unless you have something to command them to do.

In one speech, “Doc” used the words, “the numbers game” as a one-liner when speaking about the fact that a lower-48 [states] musher who was working with his kennel, then goes to Alaska to race, was taking a team made up from his limited resources. This musher had to go against teams made up from the pooled resources of native villages. Lombard’s point was that when he began racing in Alaska, the native Alaskans were assembling teams from the best of a pool of five hundred or more “best in the village” dogs, the best of thousands. The opportunity to assemble a superior team coming from a breeder choosing from fifty dogs of his own home-grown gene pool was nil to this prospect. “Doc” was using this one liner to illustrate to people why he had bought individual dogs in Alaska, and then to also explain why Alaskan Huskies were proving themselves superior on the race trail of the day, to any registered purebred team, of any breed.

“Doc” was an excellent communicator and trainer when it came to his dogs. He was considered a master trainer of his dogs, especially his leaders. As a trainer Roland knew, and he knew that the dogs knew, that if it was being just plain stubborn or disobedient, Doc dispensed criticism in a manner and at the moment that the dog would understand it best. In a few instances he whipped a dog, sometimes he urged a dog, at other times he “spoke to” a dog (a verbal reprimand) or else “jollied” the dog with happy words. Each correction was perfectly suited to the canine, to the moment and to the offense. Few trainers are able to achieve the level of performance and empathy that Lombard expected from, and gave to his dogs. In his journal an entry explains how he does it:

Attitude—prefer to train second year dogs because it has proven speed and lack of bad habits.

First teach “come.”

Second teach “line out.” If you have ever tried to get a team harnessed and get back to your sled while the young leader wants to come back to the sled with you, or to visit with the dogs in the team (you know the value of this lesson). After going up and straightening him out eight times, because of the delay, the other dogs are chewing their necklines etc. You might be tempted to get rough with him. DON’T. Put him back in the team and promise yourself that you will start training properly by teaching him to line out.

1. All leaders should be taught to go single. If you start out with double leaders, one will know “gee” and the other will know “haw”. Your young leaders want to have the confidence to push or to pull the other. If one makes a mistake, the other goes along.

2. We do not hook leaders in until last—usually.

3. Teach “NO!”

4. A good leader is a rare and wonderful thing. When you get one, take care never to do anything that might put a bad thought in her head.

5. Everyone should read the Mel Fishback article on leader stress in Northern Dog News.

  1. I don’t believe that you can successfully make a rigid training program at the beginning of the season. It is almost a day-to-day program. I do, however, think that it is probably wise to set some goals.

Roland Lombard was a rare entity, a master of masters at what he did, and who was also mentally and telepathically in tune with his team. He loved and understood his dogs. They loved and understood Lombard. Lombard’s labor made a science of sled dog racing, but it was his talented hands that made sled dog racing an art.

Citation: The Training and Racing Journals of Roland and Lousie Lombard edited by Nancy Cowan, 2004.


Dr. Robert Forto is the Dog Sledding Examiner, a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the Mush! You Huskies Radio Show



It is with a sad heart that I have to report that our dear friend, Ineka passed on yesterday, July 13, 2010. I want to personally thank all of our friends, family and fans that sent such kind words and support during this difficult time in our lives. It is funny how dogs affect our lives like they do. Ineka touched so many lives in is ten years with us and I want to share his story as a tribute to him and all those he made smile.

Watch the Remembering Ineka (iMovie) Please let it download all the way before playing it.

It was a cold and snowy morning in Denver in March of 2000 when Michele and I arrived at the cargo area at Denver International Airport. We were picking up a dog that we had rescued from a foster family in Washington State. We were expecting a white Siberian but we were mistaken, it was a striking black and white male with ice blue eyes and missing one of his long canine teeth.

In 2000 email was not the preferred communication medium yet and Facebook was not even heard of, so when we contacted the foster family in Washington it was almost by accident. While we shared many email messages and phone calls and when Ineka arrived we had no idea that this dog would change our lives forever.

We had already named Ineka before his arrival. His name, pronounced (IN-eck-A) means rescued friend in a Northern Native American dialect and he truly lived up to it as soon as he arrived. Michele and I loaded our new dog, who was supposedly four at the time (but we soon found out through a dental exam he was closer to two) and drove up the mountains to our Bailey, Colorado home. We were in the process of starting training for an Iditarod attempt in 2003 but I had not moved here full time yet from Minnesota and our dogs were just beginning their racing careers. I guess you can say that we were a work in progress.

We had a rough and tumble batch of Siberians in Colorado, most of them rescues and B-team members from other mushers. We had started training on the cart on the dirt roads in our neighborhood and when we arrived with Ineka we were thankful for the fresh snow on the ground.

I have owned a lot of Siberians over the years, starting with my first one, Axl in 1987 and then Rutgrr and Ryche that I purchased from a kennel in Georgia and becoming hooked on the sport of dog sledding when the breeder said, “Do you want to go for a ride?”

We hooked up a team of Siberians and off we went through the Smokey Mountains. But for some reason Ineka was different. He captured my heart from that first day and we quickly decided that he would be the house dog. This holds a special place for a sled dog because many never get to feel the comforts of laying in front of the fireplace or an occasional scrap from the family leftovers.

The next morning, we took the dogs out of the kennel, put them in harness and hooked them up for a run in the fresh snow. We brought Ineka out and put on a black harness and he went wild. I am a firm believer that Siberians were born to pull and Ineka was no different. We hooked him up into team position right in front of the wheel dogs and away we went down the road. Ineka was a natural. He pulled like he had been doing it for years. When I barked out the commands: Gee and Haw and Hike and Whoa his ears turned back like he knew what I was talking about. Could this dog have been a sled dog in is previous life? Could he be a lead dog too?

Within days Ineka was settled into his new home and quickly became what we called him for the rest of his days–Sergeant Ineka. He was the Sergeant of the kennel constantly breaking up scuffles and keeping the dogs in line when they chose to goof off. Ineka seemed to possess that rare trait of a true alpa dog and for what ever reason every dog that approached him showed him the utmost respect. Its hard to describe in words but if you have seen it you know what I mean.

The days passed with me working in the office and training in the night hours with Michele and the kids following me in the van while I was traveling at break-neck speeds on a three wheeled cart on a sheet of ice. What stories I could tell. After our runs I would always go to the fridge that we had in our basement where I kept my cheese stash and Ineka and I would share a hunk. I quickly learned that cheese, pizza and spaghetti were his favorites and we made it a point of our daily ritual all the way up until the day he passed.

Over the next few months, spanning through the summer and into the fall and early snow of winter, Ineka was placed in all the positions in the teams, both the A-Team and our B-Team of ragamuffins and he seemed to excel at all of them. He soon began running in lead and training puppies to learn the ropes in harness. That winter we started running our first races as a team and didn’t do well. I had always been a mid-distance musher and ran, mostly recreationally in Minnesota up to 45 miles at a stretch. I had no idea how to train or run a sprint race and we were sorely beaten by every team. But it sure was fun!

We introduced our three kids: Kyle, who was eight at the time, Tyler (5) and Nicole (3). While Kyle and Tyler were away at school Nicole would help out in the kennel and Ineka was always there to protect her from the other dogs should they come to close. Nicole was introduced into the dog training world and quickly became quite the little handler. All three of the kids ran races that first year with Nicole competing in a 100-yard dash with her “lead dog” Tamaya.

Over the years we got out of mushing for what I like to call “life getting in the way” and Michele taking a job in Denver as a paralegal. I was completing my doctorate research and was soon defending my work for my dissertation: Chasing the Dream: A Study of Human-Canine Communication in the Sport of Dog Sledding. I moved full time to Denver in October 2006 and joined Michele and the kids and soon opened Denver Dog Works.

Upon opening Denver Dog Works Ineka would come to work with me every day and he would continue his task of keeping all the dogs in line during playtime in the dog yard and we used him constantly in our growl classes and any time we needed a dog to demonstrate with or be a decoy for. He earned his keep and was paid handsomely in cheese and affection. About this time Michele grew tired of the mundane work of a paralegal of a big time law firm and soon quit to work with me full time at Denver Dog Works. She began to utilize Ineka as a “therapy dog” when we found that he had tremendous patience with a gaggle of kids during our sled dog presentations at local elementary schools.

In July 2009 we moved into our new location on Parker Road and Ineka was starting to show signs that he was not feeling well. After numerous trips to the veterinarian we concluded that he was most likely suffering from an illness closely related to Alzheimer’s, commonly called canine dementia. Ineka didn’t go to work with us much any more, but my tasks had changed a bit and I spent more time at my home office promoting Denver Dog Works and our new business Twine Group Media, a publishing company for my new book, Run With Poodles.  I spent my mornings with Ineka by my side until the symptoms of his illness started to worsen. The most visible were the almost constant pacing and inability to settle down.

In the fall of 2009 my vigor for running the Iditarod re-surfaced having invited veteran Iditarod musher, Hugh Neff to speak at my daughters middle school. After the school talk Hugh and I had breakfast at a local restaurant and talked dogs. I told him of my intentions and we agreed to stay in touch.

In March of 2010, I was in Anchorage for a conference put on by Chris Fuller of Iditarod Leadership and I met Hugh for the ceremonial start. I am eternally grateful for Hugh allowing me the chance to handle for his team and to see him off on this latest attempt at the Last Great Race. I met a realtor while up in Alaska and exchanged information.

Over the spring my motivation was to do what ever I could to start the process of training for the Iditarod again. I had decided to name my team after my good buddy and run from this point forward under the Team Ineka banner. Michele and I had decided long ago that if Ineka could not be at the finish line when I crossed under the burled arch in Nome that we would spread his ashes along the Iditarod trail.

The next few months took me to Minnesota, California and Alaska (twice) looking for a property that would allow us to build our dream and have the ability to run sled dogs again. Living in the suburbs of Denver with a yard that you could literally spit across and an HOA restriction of just three dogs and absolutely no barking, it was time to move. On a whim I contacted my realtor friend in Alaska and he found me a place. It is an Iditarod veterans home that is within miles of the official start of the Iditarod in Willow, Alaska. My daughter and I flew up over the Fourth of July weekend and started the process of buying the place.

On Monday July 12, we officially signed the paperwork to own the home in Alaska. Later that day, some time while we were all at work, we think that Ineka suffered a stroke. When we returned home he could lift his head but he seemed to be paralyzed. One of his eyes was dilated and would not retract. I spent the night with him on the floor of our bedroom and cried while holding him in my arms. By the next morning Ineka had gotten progressively worse and we decided to take him to our vet, Dr. Holly Cogswell of Aurora Animal hospital.

We had decided long ago that we wanted to make Ineka’s last days as comfortable as possible and not to intervene with treatments that would most likely just make him more sick. By this time his dementia had gotten worse and we think he had cancer on his thyroid. We spoke many times to Dr. Cogsell and we had her on our radio show to talk about Canine Dementia. We felt that the only person in the world that could guide us in our time of need was Dr. Cogswell. Ineka passed over the rainbow bridge at our veterinarian, and also now our dear friend, Dr. Cogswell’s office. Michele, Tyler, and Nicole took Ineka inside and stayed with him during his passover.  Tyler was steady and strong for his mom and little sister, but eventually broke down.  Ineka had been their best friend for 11 years of their short lives.

That afternoon I was a wreck and I could hardly contain my emotions. It is funny how much our dogs hold on to our heartstrings so tight. I drove to Camp Hale near Leadville, Colorado, almost 140 miles from our Denver home. The site of our first sled dog race in Colorado and officially the start of the Team Ineka legacy. I performed a Native American ceremony for my dear friend helping him cross safely into the spirit world. I was amazed how vigorously I sang the songs and how much passion I had in my voice. I hadn’t sung those songs in years and it was like I read the lyrics yesterday.

I held my composure until I made it back to I-70 near Copper Mountain Ski Resort and I completely lost it crying my eyes out all the way to Georgetown, some 50 miles away. I regained my thoughts and quickly realized that Ineka knew it was time to go. It was bizarre–we had just signed the papers on the house in Alaska the same day he let go and it was like he was saying– “its okay my friend, I have done my job, now go do yours.”

I quickly emailed my good friend, Sid Korpi in Minnesota that had recently wrote a book on pet loss: Good Grief: Finding Peace after Pet Loss. She and I corresponded many times over email that day and she had emphasized that pets have an uncanny ability to know when it is time to go. Ineka did.

In August I will be heading to Alaska to start my racing kennel with hopes of running the Iditarod in 2013 under the Team Ineka banner. It is just something I have to do. I have thought about it since that first day with a dog team in those Georgia mountains. I know a lot of mushers have that dream and many pursue it. Many call it the Musher’s Bug. Once it gets in your veins its hard to contain. My plan (at least for now) is to stay in Alaska six months a year and the other months in Denver. We plan to keep Denver Dog Works in operation and spend our summers here at least until Nicole, now 13 and wanting to be a veterinarian, (do you think those early years in the kennel had anything to do with it?) goes to college. It will take me at least a year to get the house in order up there. It is truly a musher’s cabin with a working outhouse (that we can use in an emergency, if we need to) and high speed Internet. All the luxuries of home right? But I have tremendous drive and motivation but no carpentry skills. Luckily there is DIY Network on DirectTV. Michele and the kids will stay back while this chapter of our lives continues to be written. But one thing is for sure, Ineka’s spirit is in our hearts.

Being so close to the Iditarod trail will allow me to fulfill my promise to spread my rescued friend’s ashes in the spot that we have talked so much about over the years and then Ineka’s spirit will make the stars shine just a little brighter to guide all of us on our way to never forgetting your dreams.

On this day Ineka, my dear friend, wear your silver harness with pride and we will see you on the trail.


Dr. Robert Forto is the Dog Sledding Examiner, a musher training for his first Iditarod racing under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the Mush! You Huskies radio show


July 2020

Follow Us on Twitter