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Mushing is about the dog

Matt Rossi has his sled dogs with him 365 days a year, 24 hours a day—they pull a 550 pound four-wheeler through Chequamegon National Forest as part of their offseason training.

“Our dogs are better trained now than they ever have been,? said Rossi in a speech given with his wife, Paula, at UMD on Monday.

“It’s not just a seasonal sport.?

The Rossis live in Herbster, WI. They have 35 dogs and have been raising and racing them for eight years.

“The four-wheeler is hard muscle building stuff,? said Rossi.

The dogs need to pull a sled filled with 150 pounds of mandatory equipment during a race.

“It’s all about the dogs—we need to keep them healthy,? said Rossi.

Rossi feeds his dogs high quality dry food during training, and raw meat in races. Nutrition is important.

“They get a lot more out of raw meat that they do from cooked meat,? said Rossi. “They need to eat at every checkpoint.?

During a race like the 1,150-mile Iditarod in Alaska, a dog can burn up to 10,000 calories a day—they can eat up to three pounds of raw meat and other high protein foods to replace this loss.

Rossi trains each of his dogs to be leaders—they all need to learn to make decisions.

“It’s just you and the dogs,? said Rossi. “There has to be a huge love and trust, or else it doesn’t work.?

Rossi competes in about five races a year but missed the John Beargrease because of a cold. Many of the races have been canceled this year because of the lack of snow in a warm January.

The Rossi’s son, Andrew Letziring, finished ninth in the 2006 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon and was given the good sportsmanship award. His time was 37 hours, 4 minutes—4 minutes, 30 seconds behind the leader.

Rossi says sled dog racing is “90 percent maintenance and 10 percent fun, but that 10 percent is quality fun, and that’s what keeps you going.?

“At night you’re under a sky full of stars and all you have is a single light—there’s nothing like it in the world.?