ST. LOUIS, Feb. 2, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- They told him he was crazy. Base a dog sled team in Missouri? A team comprised of rescue dogs, at that?
But Richie Camden ignored the naysayers and the doubters, slowly learning the intricacies of sled dog racing as he built a team of Siberian huskies who also shared his home and his life. Five years later, Camden and his Breakaway Siberians team is training for three races in Michigan this winter, including the 90-mile Midnight Run on Feb. 17, the longest race the team has attempted. The team's 2017 racing season is supported by its official pet food sponsor, Diamond Naturals®, providing the high-quality nutrition they need to perform.
"We're not going to win any of the races," Camden says. "We tend to come in towards the back. These dogs are pets first and athletes second. They are doing what they love – what they are meant to do."
It's not about winning, although this team seems to be a fan favorite at sled dog racing events. After all, Siberians are heavier – and slower – than the Alaskan huskies that dominate the sport of sled dog racing. And Camden has only been mushing for five years.
But the way he sees it, the dogs win in more important ways. "We're doing this to give the dogs a home, and to allow them to experience what they were meant to do," he says. "Running and pulling alongside each other on a snowy course or even during our training runs at home in Missouri brings them alive. You can just see their joy and abandon."
Not bad for dogs that once felt abandoned in a different way. All but two of Camden's sled dogs came from rescue organizations after previous owners gave them up because of behavior issues. These high-energy dogs caused problems because they needed to run. And run.
Camden learned that the hard way. Shortly after he brought home his first Siberian in 2008, a male named Koivu, Camden found the dog wreaking havoc when left at home. At the time, Camden and Koivu were running 10 miles a day – and even that wasn't enough for the dog.
A Chance Meeting … and a Sled Dog Team Is Born
Camden never planned to have a sled dog team (especially in St. Louis!) until a runaway Siberian husky found Camden (on rollerblades) and Koivu while they were out for a run. Koivu and the runaway pulled Camden back to his car. Camden was hooked.
That's when he realized that he could help other Siberians in need by adopting and training them to run and pull – activities that are part of the dogs' very nature. And one by one, they started coming his way.
Today, Camden manages the doggie daycare program at an animal hospital near St. Louis, where owner Shannon Flegle, DVM, is the team's veterinarian. He brings a few of the adopted Siberians – named after hockey players because hockey's his favorite sport – to work with him every day. They play and socialize with the daycare dogs and then go for long runs on Missouri's Katy Trail, topping 40 miles a day during the mid- to late winter training season.
After a day of playing or training runs, the dogs and Camden go home and begin a rigid feeding routine that is punctuated by excited howling and whining. These active dogs go through 40 pounds of food every week.
Camden's approach to nutrition is similar to many pet owners', although he has 14 canine mouths to feed. "We care a lot about the type of food we give our dogs but have learned that we don't need an expensive food."
After lots of research, Camden found his dogs' favorite food at a nearby farm and feed store. "We feed our dogs Diamond Naturals pet food, and have for years," Camden says. "I spent hours reading dog food labels and was impressed with the high-quality ingredients, the food's affordability, and I also felt a connection to the company's mission."
The dogs remain active and energetic at the end of the day, even after grueling training runs. After dinner, the dogs get back outside and then come in for their own version of "wrestlemania" before Camden and his wife Leah settle them down for bed.
The Siberians share their space with Bebe, a Pomeranian, and sometimes a foster dog.
"Every dog is special and deserves the chance to fulfill its purpose. It's hard to turn down a foster dog," Camden says.
The Camdens are responsible for the sled dogs' expenses and the cost associated with races. In 2017 they have teamed with Diamond Naturals, which shares their belief that every pet deserves the best.
"We're proud to sponsor a team with rescue dogs as their heart and soul," said John Kampeter, director of marketing for Diamond Pet Foods. "We applaud their spirit and the Camdens' compassion, values much like our own."
EDITOR'S NOTE: B-roll and soundbites available upon request.
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SOURCE Diamond Pet Foods