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SPOTLIGHT: Club formed for weight pulling for dogs

ABINGDON, Ill. — Connie Powell's passion is her dogs — and the dogs of others.

The Abingdon woman and her family are behind the formation of the Prairieland Pullers Club, which was created out of their desire to bring weight pulling to central Illinois.

The club is an all-breed, including mix-breed, club that encourages, promotes, supports and teaches the sport of weight pulling.

Sanctioned by the International Weight Pull Association, the club hosts monthly pulls from September through March at the old Abingdon Middle School gymnasium. The next pull is scheduled for Dec. 3-4, and it will be a charity event with all profits going to the Ark Humane Shelter, a no-kill shelter, in Lacon.

"This really is my passion," Powell said.

"I see these breeds (such as pit bulls) out there that if people don't work them, they're going to be destroyed."

Powell and her family, husband Luke and sons Nathan, 21, Eric, 16, and Andrew 11, have been weight pulling with their Alaskan malamute, Ratchet, for a little more than two years.

Ratchet, one of four dogs the Powell family owns Ó the others are Titan, Holly and Liberty — recently took top honors at the Alaskan Malamute Club of America 2011 National Specialty competition in Ypsilanti, Mich.

Contestants are given 60 seconds to drag a weighted cart on a carpet for 16 feet. The 2-year-old, 108-pound Ratchet set a record after going six rounds and winning the competition by pulling 3,320 pounds.

The club's motto is: It's not the size of the dog in the pull, it's the size of the pull in the dog.

And Powell said that couldn't be more true when it comes to Ratchet, or any of her dogs.

"He's a phenomenal dog. The best dog I've ever worked with. The best dog," she said.

"I love to work with my dogs. With weight pulling, if I worked my dog hard and my dog is willing to work, you will see results. It's just fun."

"He will always give me everything he has," Powell said.

"He has a trust with me. Weight pulling is all about the trust between the dog and handler. If he stops, itÍs not because heÍs quitting or tired it's that he has given me everything he has."

Powell began training other people's dogs about 1 1/2 years ago.

We just started running into people who were interested, she said.

All they want is an opportunity to work their dogs.

The club holds practice on Sunday afternoons from 2 to 5 p.m., but by appointment so those interested should contact Powell.

To train her dogs, which get the summer off since they are long haired and it's too hot, Powell works them with drag training and running. The dogs are harnessed to some type of sled or even an old tire to get familiar with what it's like to drag something behind them. In competition, they drag a cart loaded down with weights.

Once they are harnessed and told to go, the dog's instincts kick in. For Powell's malamutes, their heads dip low and they take long strides.

Powell runs two miles with her dogs each day and they get a lot of puppy time playing in the fields behind her house, just being dogs.

"Weight pulling isn't about making money, because you don't," she said.

"It's just about getting people to work their dogs. I'm just passionate about it."

Information from: The Register-Mail,