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Sled dog 'mushers' bring Alaskan experience to Eldersburg


ELDERSBURG -- Alaska is one of the 50 states, but Thursday's visitors to Eldersburg Elementary School might as well have been from another planet.

In 70-degree temperatures, Ron Tinsley and Vivian Pederson -- owners of the Tivi sled dog kennel in Fairbanks, Alaska -- tried to take the students to a land where the temperature rarely gets above 50 and the sun never sets from mid-May to August.

"We wanted to rent a 747 and take all of you up there, but when we counted our pennies, we just didn't have enough," Tinsley teased the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders as they watched icebergs and streams rushing through snow during the video portion of the hour-and-a-half presentation.

The couple, visiting friends and family in the "lower 48," came to Carroll in response to a letter from Paul Egolf, a 10-year-old in Anne Dulany's fifth-grade class.

Dulany's students had just finished reading "Wood Song" by Gary Paulson, a book about his adventures moving from Michigan to Alaska and raising sled dogs, and they wanted to experience a bit of the state for themselves.

"This is like a dream come true for these kids," Dulany said. "They love these dogs, and now they finally get to see them."

After writing to sled dog kennels and the Iditarod committee -- the group that organizes Alaska's famous 10-day sled race -- Paul and the school received an answer from the Tivi kennel.

Tinsley and Pederson introduced the children to Nikko, Zimbab and Zapado, three of the 18 dogs they raise and race.

Round and around the playground, the three showed the students how they run their best races at home.

"Do you know that dogs have a refrigerator, just like you do?" Tinsley asked the students as he coaxed Zimbab to open his mouth and show them his tongue. "That's one of only four places where he doesn't have fur, and he can't unzip his fur coat the way you do. We're more concerned about the dog getting overheated than cold."

Tinsley told the children he is not as involved in dog racing as many of the other "mushers" at home in Alaska.

An ear, throat and nose specialist who trained at Johns Hopkins and the Public Health Services clinic in Baltimore, Tinsley races in only two sprints a year.

"Who in their right mind would be out on a sled for that long?" he said when asked if he raced in the Iditarod. "It's a tough race, and I don't have enough time to train."

Students heard how Zapado, with a little extra help, went from a dog who didn't want to work to one of their best "athletes."

"Just like some kids, he needed a little special attention," Pederson said. "So, I took him out alone. Now, he hates to be left home and is one of our hardest workers."

In addition to bringing a bit of his home state -- which is 58 times larger than Maryland -- Tinsley said he wants to encourage children to stay in school, eat right, exercise and remain healthy.

"I'm trying to show them that when you stay in school, you eventually grow up and can do the things you enjoy," he said. "It may not be dog sled racing, but it's what makes you happy."

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