In the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin’s parking lot Saturday, big, fluffy dogs in crates whined and cried impatiently.
People milled about, too, waiting for the show to start, but the Alaskan malamutes, Siberian huskies and Samoyeds on standby were the truly excited ones.
They were ready to pull.
The humane society hosted its eighth annual pooch pull. The event lets bear-like, working-breed dogs compete by pulling a heavy cart that increased in weight each round.
The event raises money for the humane society. It was free to watch the competition, but the society sold chili and hot beverages to help people beat the cold. A 50/50 raffle helped raise funds, too.
Some pullers were more experienced than others, and the bigger dogs had the clear advantage.
One skinny dog didn’t seem to know her task. Instead of pulling, she ignored her beckoning handler and sniffed at the ground. More than once she managed to squeeze through a side barrier, forcing her to restart.
Other dogs seemed born for the job. One thick Samoyed, Gilligan, hopped and darted left and right to tug the 1,000-pound cart behind him.
His owner, Debby Jahnke of Green Bay, has owned pulling dogs and been competing since she was a young girl.
“My first dog I got literally pulled me on my face all around, so I had to take him to obedience school, and he flunked the first time around,” she said.
At 16 years old, Jahnke got a more obedient dog who started pulling. She’s been doing it for decades now.
Jahnke tends to start training her dogs to pull when they’re young—between 12 and 18 months old. If they start at 2 years or older, they realize pulling is work and tend to resist it, Jahnke said.
“I start ’em younger, and they’re more enthusiastic about doing it then,” she said.
Gilligan has pulled 2,100 pounds before. His mother, Heidi, has pulled 2,500, Jahnke said.
Other competitors don’t take pulling so seriously. Jennifer Duarte of Milton is more of a “weekend warrior” who occasionally takes her dogs, Bear and Maggie, to pulls, she said.
Before the competition, Maggie, the bigger of the two, hopped onto strangers’ chests and lay on the ground for belly rubs while Bear whined from inside his crate. Duarte freed Bear and put Maggie in her crate, which set her to crying. The dogs seemed satisfied once both were free.
“It is just a hobby for us. We got our two dogs as pets,” Duarte said.
Regardless of how serious the competitors were , they, their dogs and spectators all seemed to enjoy the competition. People laughed at dogs who got distracted and congratulated hard workers such as Gilligan.
“It’s a way to get the dogs outside, get me outside, get everybody some exercise, and it gives them a purpose,” Jahnke said. “I think they do better when they have a purpose, and they like it.”