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Ten-minute chat
  1. Bethan Fitzgerald

Abstract

Elgin vet Bethan Fitzgerald is currently in Quebec where she is competing in the 2015 World Dryland Sled Dog championships (which take place from October 29 to November 1). It is the first time that British dogs have competed in this event in Canada.

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Tell us a bit about this sport.

Traditional sled dog sports consist of large teams of dogs (mainly the Nordic breeds such as husky/samoyed and malamute) harnessed up to a sled so that they can travel many miles over snow. UK sled dog racing is different. It is mainly on dry land, so we use a wheeled cart (a rig), or even a bike or scooter. The racing also consists of fast (up to 30 mph) short runs, usually three to four miles long. This kind of racing has encouraged the development of a new breed of sled dog, the Scandinavian hound.

How/why did you get involved?

My husband's first dog was a malamute and we met a couple who raced huskies at puppy classes. They introduced us to the sport. I raced my pointer and the dogs did really well. It's addictive.

What breed of dogs do you race?

Scandinavian sled dogs, bred mainly from Norwegian pointers (aka vorsthers) and Alaskan huskies with a hint of greyhound.

What makes them special?

They are gentle giants who put 100 per cent effort into every run. They're also perfect pets – they are great with other dogs, great in the house and they want to please.

How many dogs do you have?

Twelve. We still have our first dogs, the malamute, now 12 years old, and my first dogs – German wirehaired pointers (11 and nine years old). In addition, I have nine Scandinavian hounds and, just at the moment, nine, four-week-old puppies, which all have homes to go to.

FIG 1

Bethan won a gold medal in the scooter event at the European Canicross Championships that were held in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, in October Photograph: Paulina Soltysiak

Vet, sportswoman, mother – how do you fit it all in?

We don't sit down! My husband and I both work full time and I still do on-call and weekends. We have an amazing nanny (she has 30 huskies herself) who looks after the kids and the house dogs. We don't have family near by as we moved from North Wales three years ago to get better trails and weather, but we are grateful as they do come up a lot to help. The kids love the dogs and the sport, which is a huge bonus. We have just bought a caravan to fit us all in when we're at events as our van is a bit small. Having young babies never stopped us camping and competing. We wrap them up and they enjoy the fresh air. It's amazing how they can sleep through dogs barking but, if someone coughs, they wake up.

What about the logistics of getting the dogs to Canada?

Easy! Drive to Paris (picking up other team members and their dogs on the way) in our van, stick the dogs in giant crates and get on a plane direct to Montreal. Canada recognises the European pet passport so the usual rabies vaccination, microchip and passport is all that is needed. We are hiring a lorry to transport them once we are in Canada and an RV for us.

You also started Canirun; what is it?

Canicross is a sport where you harness the dog and attach it to a special belt worn low on the hips – then you just run, cross country.

Canirun is a club that I started with a friend and we meet weekly and run together. It's fun and makes exercising a lot easier. Another friend is the ultimate coach for the sport. She started a business in Glasgow called Canifit. She teaches the sport at all levels and holds amazing races, attracting hundreds of competitors. In the next two weeks, Scotland is hosting the European Canicross Championships. I will be competing on the scooter and my husband on the bike.

What was your proudest moment?

Standing on the top of the podium after winning my first national championship, with my three-month-old baby strapped to me.

. . . and your most embarrassing?

We fall off a lot, but in one race I was on my bike and it had snowed overnight so I had no grip. It didn't stop me pedalling my heart out but just 50 metres from the finish line I managed to tumble, getting tangled in the bike. I could hear my friends shouting to encourage me and the dog was keen to go, so I jumped back on and pedalled hard – I crossed the finish line still in first place but, to everyone's amusement, my handlebars were facing backwards and I hadn't even noticed.

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