Cats Glide to Easy Win in Atta Boy

BEND, OR ( - Dog mushers expressed dismay yesterday when a sled pulled by Siberian cats won the Atta Boy 300 Sled Dog Race in central Oregon.

Rachel Tucker of Baker City, Ore., was allowed to enter the race with her 200-cat team as a publicity stunt. Apparently no one except Tucker expected her to win.

"I told the puppy lovers to watch out, that these cats were for real, but they thought I was joking," said Tucker, also known as "Fur Muffin."

Tucker and her Silver Classic Tabby Kravchenko Siberians took the lead during the first stage of the race, a 47-mile loop around Mount Bachelor, and increased it during each subsequent stage. They completed the entire 300-mile course in just over 22 hours, about an hour ahead of the nearest dogs.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Mike Kensington of Bear Creek, Yukon Territory. "My poor Huskies almost died of embarrassment."

Tucker credited the success of her cats to "vigorous training in the Wallowas," mountains in eastern Oregon, and to the "agility, speed, and large size" of the Kravchenkos. These animals, bred as "watch cats" in Russian monasteries centuries ago, have "enormous potential in sled racing," she said.

To develop that potential, Tucker plans to establish a Sled Cat Degree Program on a cat ranch near Baker City. Qualified cats will work toward one of three degrees: Sled Cat, Sled Cat Excellent, or Sled Cat Outstanding.

She hopes to enter her team later this year in the Iditarod, the 1,150-mile race from Anchorage to Nome.

Meanwhile Kensington and other traditional mushers wonder about the future of their sport.

"I suppose next year we'll have to race against mice," he lamented, shaking his head.

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