Joseph and Colleen Robertia share on their blog, Rogues Gallery Kennel Blog, their adventure in living the dog mushers’ life. For our blog, we picked up some of their back story (condensed version below). Here are two people from two different parts of the country who meet somewhere in between and then relocate to Alaska and live an ultimate Alaska adventure.
Colleen grew up in North Attleboro, MA, while Joseph grew up in West Palm Beach, FL, but the two met through a common interest: a love of animals. They met while working for the Wildlife Conservation Society in 2000 and in pursuing their careers, moved around a bit thereafter. In 2002 they decided it was time to forge a new path. First they embarked on the 2,168 mile Appalachian Trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine and found out what they really value in life: freedom and adventure.
They decided to move to a place that could offer both, while also allowing them to live their simple and pragmatic lifestyle filled with animals. The pair made it up north at the end of 2002. Cole quickly found work as a case manager for severely emotional disturbed youth, while Joseph began writing the Outdoor section for a local newspaper and returned to college, obtaining his BA in Anthropology from the University of Alaska in 2008.
Little did they know, the area they moved to — Kasilof — was a mushing mecca. Within three square miles of their home lived half a dozen professional mushers, and many more recreational dog drivers. Dog teams would blow by their home nightly and they were instantly intrigued. In 2003, Colleen started handling for a neighbor, Dean Osmar, the 1984 Iditarod Champion. From Dean, she gleaned three years of knowledge related to caring for, training and racing sled dogs.
In 2004, they acquired their first sled dog when a runt out of an Osmar litter came home as a birthday gift for Joseph. They immediately realized that it would be unfair to have only one sled dog – unnatural for their nature and needs. However, they were in love with dogs long before they fell in love with mushing, so when they decided to become involved in the sport they knew being compassionate was far more important than being competitive.
Within two months, they rescued three more sled dogs from the Kenai Animal Shelter, one from the Alaska Extended Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski, and got one more from an unplanned litter of a neighbor. At the same time, Colleen began tutoring Joseph in dog driving skills. They were still merely courting the fever of the sport, and did not recognize the symptoms of their addiction. Less than two years later, and they were up to 25 dogs in the yard, and in the fall of 2006 they decided to put to practice everything they had learned over the past few years. Colleen gave notice and began racing her own dogs, and since most of these were runts, rejects, retirees or rescues, they decided on the name Rogues Gallery Kennel.
Since then they have continued to occasionally adopt dogs from animal shelters, take in unwanted dogs from other mushers, and they have bred a few litters of their own. Their kennel has swelled to 40 dogs, but they strive to offer them the best care they can year round, despite both working full time jobs. They train the dogs equally, but Cole does the vast majority of racing, and she has developed into a skilled competitor, winning several mid-distances races around the state, and competing in 1,000 mile ultra-marathons such as the Yukon Quest — the toughest sled dog race in the world — and of course, the Iditarod.