May 04, 2021
Mushing Dogs in Alaska | Maxine the Fluffy Corgi | Dog Edition #16

Having an Insta-famous pooch will get you noticed in NYC; the attention might not always be welcome, especially before your morning coffee. In Alaska, it’ll certainly take all your attention to train for the Iditarod, the most grueling of sled-dog races.

Travel with us to New York City to explore bag dog culture and one insta-famous bag dog, Maxine the Fluffy Corgi. Then we zip up to Alaska to find out what it takes to be a musher training for the Iditarod.

Mushing Dogs in Alaska

The lower 48 may be full speed ahead into the warm, summer months, but Robert Forto’s pack of sled-dogs will keep training up in Alaska. It takes a full commitment to prepare for the Iditarod. The grueling 1000-mile race has always been a dream of Robert’ that may have to wait a few more years.

Maxine the Fluffy Corgi

If you want to bring your dog on the subway in New York City, she has to be in a carrier. That rule launched New York’s well-known Bag Dog culture. Bryan Reisberg has one of the most famous Bag Dogs – Maxine the Fluffy Corgi. She gets toted around the city in a backpack and all eyes are usually on her.

The Hydrant

Jim and Pam stop by the hydrant to sniff out the latest dog gossip, innuendo, jokes, and notes. This week, Prancer the neurotic, man hating, animal hating, children hating, chihuahua how’s been called a vessel for a traumatized Victorian child has been adopted! Also, the stray dogs prowling the Chernobyl disaster site befriend the guards assigned to protect the area.


0:00 Introduction

1:47 Mushing Dogs in Alaska

11:22 Maxine the Fluffy Corgi

18:55 Which of Our Dogs has More Star Power?!

19:29 The Hydrant

21:51 On the Next Episode

Robert Forto – Mushing Dogs in Alaska

Robert began mushing in 1994 and became interested in long distance racing shortly thereafter, and plans to compete in the Iditarod before he gets too old!

Robert says, “I have had many successes and disappointments in the past 19+ years but one element has remained consistent, I have always tried to do my best with what I have and have always enjoyed the special bond I have had with my dogs. It has been a privilege to share this wonderful life journey with my dogs, my team mates, my family and my friends.”

Robert is recognized by his peers and has won numerous awards for the training of dogs throughout his career including dog training excellence awards, best new business award, special needs training award, fear rehabilitation award, humane dog trainer award, society education award, and nominated for aggression and behavior therapy awards many times over.

Follow Robert Forto on Instagram @akdogworks

And Twitter: @robertforto @teamineka @dogworksradio


Maxine the Fluffy Corgi

Follow Maxine on Twitter @madmax_fluffyroad




Here’s What We Found at The Hydrant

Prancer the Haunter Victorian Child Dog get Adopted

The Guards Caring for Chernobyl's Stray Dogs


>> James Jacobson: [00:00:00] Hi, I'm James Jacobson. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:00:05] And I'm Pamela Lorence.

>> James Jacobson: [00:00:06] Welcome to Dog Edition. The first show designed for you to listen to, while you walk your dogs. Today, we are going to travel to two different places in the United States, Alaska and New York. Um, have you been to Alaska, Pam?

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:00:24] I have, yeah. Twice actually. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:00:27] Did you do any Iditarod-ish things? Any, any sled, dogging things? 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:00:32] Yeah, we did. We went to a mushing kennel, I guess it's called and we met all the dogs and we got to go on a, you know, on a trail ride and, uh, and they had puppies there. We got to hold the puppies. It was, it was just lovely. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:00:44] Because that is what we're talking about in our first segment. We are going to Alaska to talk to someone who has dedicated their lives to this lifestyle and to the future, hopefully of doing an Iditarod himself. That's Robert Forto. That's our first segment. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:01:02] And then in our second segment, we returned to New York, New York city and revisit the topic of bag dogs.

You know, the dogs that get carried around all over the place in bags. There's one very famous one. We're going to meet that dog later. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:01:18] And then towards the end of the show, as always, please stop by The Hydrant, as we take a rundown on some of the doggy headlines that have captured our attention this week.

So if you love dogs as much as we do, pause what you're doing, leash up your pup and let's take a walk. We've got a lot to talk about on today's episode of Dog Edition.

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:01:40] Hey Pepper, want to go for a walk?

Think of Alaska and you might think sled dogs, Alaskan Huskies. Many people are familiar with the grueling thousand mile annual sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome, the Iditarod. In the late 18 hundreds around the turn of the century, rush to mine for coal and gold, sled dogs were used to deliver mail, firewood, food, and other needed supplies to icebound Alaskan areas in the winter months. Dog Sledding's popularity as a means of transportation and sport, waned a little with the rise of the snowmobile in the 1960s, but in rural areas and in the hearts of sled dog athletes and enthusiasts the Alaskan tradition is carried forward. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:02:28] Robert Forto always wanted to be a musher.

He has a dream of one day racing, a team of sled dogs in the Iditarod. His pursuit of that dream started when he had attended a program at National Canine to become a professional dog trainer. 

>> Robert Forto: [00:02:46] Uh, and then shortly thereafter, my grandfather passed away and left me a, uh, kind of a homestead cabin, farm type deal, hobby farm, I guess they call it in Northern Minnesota.

And, uh, I ended up, uh, getting my first group of sled dogs there. And we started doing races throughout Northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, et cetera. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:03:12] At the time time Robert was racing, what he called, a pretty good group of sled dogs. They were pure bred Siberians. He found success racing mid distance and sprint mushing, which Robert explains as.

>> Robert Forto: [00:03:25] That's so a sprint race is typically the number of dogs on your team is the number of miles. So if you have a six dog team, you're running six miles, eight dog team, eight miles, so on and so forth, but it's a rather quick race. You're usually done in you know, in a couple hours and you do it typically Friday, Saturday, or Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

So it's a weekend gig. And we went all over the, the, uh, North, North Midwest, Northern Midwest of the U S doing that. And, you know, that was fun, but it, it didn't really, uh, keep the fires going as they speak. So they speak. So I started doing mid distance races, which means bigger teams, longer miles. And that typically is 10, 12, 14 or 16 dog teams.

And you can run anywhere from 30 to 300 miles doing that. And that's where I really found my true passion. Was just being out in the wilderness with a team of dogs and I was really enjoying that and we did several races, uh, in that class. And then that's sort of what I'm doing now. I just really enjoy that distance.

But one of these days I'll get to that thousand mile Iditaod. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:04:33] Minnesota gets anywhere from 36 to 70 inches of snow annually. But Colorado gets more like 60 to 70 inches and the conditions seem more ideal for racing sled dogs. But Robert moved to Colorado for a totally different reason. That part of the story begins in 1999 in a Yahoo chat room where his future wife asked an interesting question.

Robert had the answer to. 

>> Robert Forto: [00:05:02] It was a Saturday afternoon as she was on the chat room. And she asked a question in a dog room or forum or whatever they were called back then. And she said, is anybody out there that can help me teach my dogs, how to pull my kids in a wagon. And of course I was a dog musher, so I jumped right in and, uh, you know, we started talk, talking in the chat room and before long we were talking on the phone and a little bit later, I had flown to Colorado and met her first for the first time.

And, uh, as they say, the rest is history. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:05:37] But part of Robert's history was his dream of the Iditarod. And its siren call was too loud for Robert to ignore. If he wanted to pursue it, he'd have to move his family to Alaska. 

>> Robert Forto: [00:05:49] We were living in Denver with a decent size training center. We had a little house in the neighborhood.

We only had one dog at the time and, and I remember thinking, wow, I need to, uh, get back into this mushing thing. So we found a house up here, uh, online and my daughter and I flew up, uh, for a weekend visit and in the very cabin we're living in now, it was a rundown mess. I mean, it was overgrown, people didn't take care of it.

So I remember telling my daughter, it was a Saturday afternoon, mom was back at, uh, in Denver, at our training center in the middle of group classes and busiest day of the week. And I said, okay, Nicole, my daughter's name, I said, I want you to text your mom. I don't want to know your answer, but I want to text your mom and tell her what you think.

And she texted her mom: Mom, we're moving to Alaska. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:06:44] With the decision firmly made by their ten-year-old Nicole, Robert left a check for the down payment right on the kitchen counter of what is now their Alaskan home. It's also their training center and they're mushing kennel. Over time, he and his wife built a sled dog team, which Robert takes out on training runs and races.

This is not a sport for hobbyists. 

>> Robert Forto: [00:07:08] It's not a hobby, it's a lifestyle. It's something that we think about 24 hours a day. We have 37 dogs about, uh, 500 feet or so from here. And they take all of our time, all of our money, all of our energy, all of that. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:07:24] Robert has two Siberian Huskies that are family dogs and they sleep in the house.

His team of Alaskan Huskies are different in almost every way. 

>> Robert Forto: [00:07:33] These guys are born and bred to be athletes. They are, you know, they're dogs in a sense, but they are truly athletes. You know, they, they have different metabolism, they have different drive. They have different, uh, uh, metabolic rates. Oh, everything is different.

Uh, all they want to do is get hooked up to that sled and run and they will run literally until they fall over. That's their job. They love it.

They're running, they're jumping, they're barking. They're, they're, they're just cool. It's just, it's it's like, it's like being in a rock concert.

>> James Jacobson: [00:08:15] You might wonder what's it like to be neighbors with the Forto family? 

>> Robert Forto: [00:08:19] Well, first off we have, you know, four or five dog mushing teams right here in our neighborhoods. So we probably have 150 dogs in a 20 person neighborhood. So we have at least five to one dogs. First off in the neighborhood itself.

>> James Jacobson: [00:08:36] Living and racing with this team has taught Robert a lot about dog behavior and what makes a good lead dog on a sled team.

It's not necessarily the dog that's perceived to be the alpha or the most dominant dog. Robert says that the most successful lead dogs are the ones that communicate the best. 

>> Robert Forto: [00:08:57] They are the ones listening to us. And then of course, all of the other dogs are typically listening to them. And as I tell people all the time, the lead dogs are sort of like the quarterback of the team.

They're the ones that are giving the directions. They're the Tom Bradys. But then you have all of the other players as you go back. And the dogs right before the sled are called the wheel dogs. And those are typically the brutes. Those are the offensive lineman of the crew. They're the, the Husky, you know, the burly a hundred pound dogs that are, you know, that won't take any scruff they're they're, they're the, they're the down in the trenches type dogs.

And then everybody in between has their own position. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:09:38] The musher, in this case Robert, would be the coach in this analogy. Instead of shouting up the middle, slant, or blitz, Robert may shout

>> Robert Forto: [00:09:47] Gee and haw for left and right. Uh, we use whoa to stop. Take a break to sort of relax after you stop. And then we'll say, let's go as soon as you say, let's go.

So if you're stopped for any amount of time, whether you're switching out of booty or, you know, undoing a tangle or whatever you're doing, you'll tell the dogs to stop and whoa, and then you'll set the hook and you'll get off the sled and do whatever you're going to do. But as soon as you say. Ready? They just,

every one of them kind of just popped to attention as, and they're just popped up, ready to go. And then you'll say, okay, let's go. And they immediately take off down the trail. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:10:28] That trail may someday be Iditarod route. And now that's a full-time, full tilt commitment. And Robert isn't quite ready to go all in on it.

At least not just yet.

>> Robert Forto: [00:10:39] It'll get there. Uh, I think the oldest person to ever start an Iditarod was 72. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:10:46] At age 50, it's a dream that Robert still has plenty of time for. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:10:51] Oh, plenty of time, at least a couple of decades by my math. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:10:55] Yep. If he wants to do it. And hopefully when he does do the Iditarod, he'll come back on Dog Edition and tell us all about that. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:11:02] That'd be great.

>> James Jacobson: [00:11:03] So those Huskies are a big dogs and we're gonna take a break. And in our next segment we're going to talk about dogs in bags. And I wonder if you can fit a husky in one of those bags.

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:11:14] I'd like to see a Husky in a bag. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:11:16] We'll be right back. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:11:17] You are listening to Dog Edition.

Welcome back to dog edition.

>> James Jacobson: [00:11:22] No dogs allowed unless quote they're enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers.

Unquote. That was the 2016 message to New Yorkers from the Metro Transit Authority. And since then subway riders have gotten used to seeing dogs tucked away in all kinds of bags from Louis Vuitton dog carriers and LL bean canvas totes to reusable bags from Fairway Market. And for big dogs, some savvy New Yorkers, even cut leg holes into those iconic blue Ikea bags, because that kind of counts as being in a bag.

There are entire social media accounts dedicated to New York's bag dogs. This story begins on a New York city subway platform with a bag dog that has been called the unofficial mascot of the New York subway. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:12:20] New York is a city that generally speaking, lets it celebrity residents go about their days enjoying relative anonymity. This may not be a courtesy that extends to its celebrity canine population, though. Standing on a subway platform, waiting for the downtown one train, Maxine the fluffy corgi, sits comfortably in her backpack worn by her owner, Bryab Reisberg. She is attracting a lot of attention.

Just chilling in the backpack. Maxine has millions of followers across social media. She's even been nominated for a Webby award this year. That's like the Oscars of the internet. You'd think New Yorkers were used to seeing cute dogs being toted around the city, since the 2016 dog bag rule, but when they see Maxine in her backpack, they point, they smile, they snap pictures and laugh. Bryan Reisberg. 

>> Bryan Reisberg: [00:13:17] Most of the time, it's fun. And, uh, but you know, A lot of times when you're in a crowded subway, it's either before work, when you haven't had coffee or it's after work and you're exhausted. And the last thing you want to do, uh, is engage in a conversation with a total stranger. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:13:33] When Bryan and Maxine are out and about commuting to work, running errands, the boundaries of privacy and personal space become a little blurry.

>> Bryan Reisberg: [00:13:42] I can always tell, like when somebody kind of tries to pretend like they're not taking a picture. I used to get kind of annoyed by it, which was irrational because I've, I don't know, I have a corgi on my backpack. I should expect it. Um, so I'm not bothered by it at all. It's, uh, it's just funny. Where it would start to, I think bother me was when I could feel people that are just like, if I'm walking and they're touching her or they just like, surprise me behind me and they're touching her that that's a little.

Hmm. That's a little, much.

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:14:16] Understandable. Bryan never set out to make Maxine a celebrity. She was just eight weeks old when he brought her home. Bryan had just finished work on a feature film he directed and was re-entering the world of advertising as a freelance director. Toting Maxine to work was the only way to make sure they spent time together.

>> Bryan Reisberg: [00:14:37] And I actually brought Maxine with me to the next job interview and the job interview after that. Um, and kind of just said like it's either me and the dog or, or it's nothing. Um, one, I, I didn't want to have a dog that I only saw a few hours at night. Um, and by that time that I was bringing her to work, she had already gotten maybe 20 ish thousand followers.

So at that time it was a lot. And so it was just this thing I wanted to keep doing. Like, I, I enjoyed it. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:15:10] As Maxine's popularity grew online an opportunity was presenting itself. Bryan could use his background as a filmmaker and turn the camera on something he loved deeply, Maxine. It would be his escape from the grind that advertising had become. 

>> Bryan Reisberg: [00:15:27] I stopped working on all that other stuff.

And I, I just kind of focused on this. I, you know, I wasn't doing this cause it was going to make any money or do it, you know, we were just making stuff cause it was just what was going on at the time that inspired me. Um, so she was just like my muse for awhile. That all works out otherwise, what am I going to get a dog and then keep doing this other stuff that I'm not that excited about.

So, you know, like I wouldn't do what I'm doing without, uh, having a background in filmmaking or photography or any of those other things. So it's all kind of been used in a way to, to do this.

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:16:02] Bryan films Maxine's subway rides and other adventures. Usually the shots are over his shoulder, the subway ride lulling her to sleep. Often in the background he captures people's reactions. Their joy at seeing Max is infectious. So what is it about this dog? 

>> Bryan Reisberg: [00:16:19] I, I think it's her face. That's what I think it is. Uh, she's very expressive eyes. You know, she's got this face that looks like it's smiling. And there's something, at least when I look at her and she's calm, she doesn't feel like a dog.

It feels like there's thought there. And just the fact that she's so fluffy. Um, and I don't know, she seems to fill out that bag really well. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:16:43] And for anyone listening familiar with the Internet's obsession with how adorable corgi butts are, rest assured Maxine's account has several posterior posts. 

>> Bryan Reisberg: [00:16:53] She's got a, she's got a good tush. As Maxine. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:16:56] celebrity status continues to grow, Bryan and his wife are hyper aware of the responsibility that comes along with having tremendous reach. And they don't take that lightly. 

>> Bryan Reisberg: [00:17:07] When my wife and I started the account it's because it made us happy and it was just like a fun thing to do. But as it grew, our feeling is that you, you have to take more responsibility for, for what you're doing because you're reaching a wide audience and people are listening to you.

Now we have people tell me their kids are watching it. It's an account for a corgi, you know, I'm not gonna go really out of my way to make any of the jokes that graphic just for, uh, for, for something funny. Um, obviously I think we have a lot of adult humor on there, but it's in a way that's maybe, you know, it's more, it's more Shrek like adult humor.

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:17:41] So if you find yourself wandering around New York or the internet and you happen to come across Maxine in her backpack, remember she's first and foremost, a typical family dog. 

>> Bryan Reisberg: [00:17:52] She's very needy, which, uh, is understandable cause we spend every waking minute together, which I guess if she were answering this question, she would say that I'm needy.

So, uh, you know, it kind of goes both ways. Um, you know, she sleeps a lot. She'll whine when she wants you to play with her. Uh, she's very sassy. Um, very protective. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:18:13] A dog who doesn't seem to mind being an internet sensation. 

>> Bryan Reisberg: [00:18:16] Anytime I get the backpack and I put it on the ground, she'll walk right into it.

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:18:19] But before you sneak up behind Bryan to pet her, maybe ask first. 

>> Bryan Reisberg: [00:18:24] Some people are really sweet. It's always a lot of kids, or, you know, if it's somebody who's older, but some, sometimes when you, we get folks who are in their twenties or thirties that, you know, to ask didn't even, didn't even cross their mind.

Uh, sometimes that gets, it gets pretty grading. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:18:43] And if you just can't resist, don't worry. 

>> Bryan Reisberg: [00:18:47] What am I going to do a turn around and say like, don't, don't touch f*ing dog. You know, it's like, everybody's laughing and smiling and I couldn't, I couldn't possibly take that away from people. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:18:55] So what, which of your two dogs do you think has the potential for more star power?

>> James Jacobson: [00:19:02] I think, Hmm, I'm going to have to go with Kanga. She's awfully telegenic and she knows how to steal, she is good at photo bombing and she's got these dark intoxicating eyes. I'm talking about my Maltese. And so, yeah, I would say Kanga is the star power dog because she's pretty. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:19:20] Ah, that's how Pepper is.

He's very pretty. He takes a good picture. But Fudgie I think would be more of an internet star.

>> James Jacobson: [00:19:29] I love it. Well, let's take a visit to The Hydrant and talk about headlines that have been capturing our attention this week. What have you seen, Pam? 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:19:37] Oh, I love this. So I'm sure you've heard of this dog Prancer.

Have you heard of Prancer, the 13 pound Chihuahua mutt that was described as a Chucky doll in a dog's body or I live, I love this a vessel for a traumatized Victorian child that now haunts our home.

>> James Jacobson: [00:19:55] I can talk about, talk about a beautiful dogs, not. Is that, so people are saying horrible things about this Chihuahua.

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:20:01] The foster mom is saying these things. It was an, an adoption ad for this dog. She, she says she's been living in the grips, the demonic Chihuahua hellscape he has created in her home. She put this adoption ad up. Hundreds of thousands of people responded and wa wanting to adopt Prancer and, uh, yeah. 

Save her from this mean person. That's brilliant marketing.

>> James Jacobson: [00:20:26] So has Prancer been adopted? 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:20:28] Yes. This neurotic man-hating, animal hating, children, hating dog that looks like a grelin has been adopted by a woman in New Haven, Connecticut. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:20:39] Very nice. So I saw a story from the BBC about these dogs in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Remember when the reactor went. And there's this whole, it's a thousand square mile exclusion zone where you're not supposed to go.

And there are packs of dogs that are there who have just been, uh, you know, been raised wild and the soldiers who are protecting and making sure that the area stays away from people stay out of the area, are building a beautiful rapport and a beautiful relationship with these wild dogs. It's really cool.

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:21:17] That is cool. And are, do you, are these dogs descendants then of dogs that may have sort of escaped the disaster? 

>> James Jacobson: [00:21:25] Well, yeah, because when, when Chernobyl happened, uh, they did shoot a lot of the animals that were in the area, but these are the descendants of dogs that didn't get shot and, uh, and were hiding or whatever.

And so now these guards are basically watching over these dogs. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:21:41] Oh, wow. That's a cool story. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:21:43] And it makes, you know, it makes the whole idea of working in the exclusion zone a little bit nicer for the, for the soldiers. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:21:49] It takes  the edge off, yeah. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:21:51] Well, there we go. We got, we got a little New York. We got Russia in today.

And some Alaska. Uh, we are definitely an internationally focused show and we want to get more voices from around the world. And you'll be hearing that come to Dog Edition in the coming weeks, but that's all we have time for today. I want to thank you for bringing Dog Edition along with you on your walk. We will be back with another episode.

Chances are that you and your dog will be taking a walk between now and then and we have something else for you to listen to. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:22:25] If you're interested in hearing more from some of our guests, please check out DPN sister show The Long Leash for Jim's extended conversations. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:22:33] You can hear an interview with Robert Forto, our first guest, on The Long Leash.

Just check it out. There are links to that in the show notes, or you can go to the URL Long Leash and find it there. Also be sure to follow Dog Edition in your favorite podcast app so that you can take us along on your next walk. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:22:54] On the next episode, we find out what life is like keeping a pack of celebrity dogs in shape from the Dog Jogger himself, Barry Karacostas. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:23:04] And Pam gets schooled in how her habit of petting every stranger's dog might not always be a welcome behavior. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:23:13] Oops, you'll hear those stories and more. Dog Podcast network is for dog lovers by dog lovers. And that means we want to hear from you. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:23:21] Visit Dog There's a button on the bottom right of every page where you can easily leave us a voicemail message. And share your stories with us. 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:23:31] And check the show notes for links and information about the guests on this episode. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:23:35] We continue to be looking for correspondents as we grow this podcast and Dog Podcast Network. So if you are a content producer or a journalist or a podcaster, or an audio storyteller who loves dogs, be sure to check out our 101 Dog Stories Contest. There's over $15,000 in prize money. The link to that is on our main website at Dog Podcast 

>> Pamela Lorence: [00:24:01] And join our pack. Be sure to follow Dog Edition in your favorite podcast app. And tell a friend about the show. I'm Pamela Lorence and I'll see you at the dog park. 

>> James Jacobson: [00:24:10] And I'm James Jacobson. I want to thank you for listening today. On behalf of all of us here at Dog Podcast Network, we wish you and your dog, a warm, Aloha.