Ever an equality advocate, Kikkan Randall is spearheading an effort to allow Fido and friends to accompany their World Cup pet owners on the circuit.
“I was just blown away by the level of support myself and other new parents had on the circuit this year, thanks to FIS’s new childcare initiative,” Randall, an International Ski Federation (FIS) athlete representative, U.S. Ski Team member and mother of a nearly 1-year-old child, told FasterSkier in an exclusive interview on Saturday morning.
“A lot of my teammates have fur babies at home, including myself, and I know how hard it is to leave them for months on end,” she continued. “They should have the same rights as humans.”
A few months ago, Randall sent a survey to her World Cup cohorts to see if there was interest in a pet daycare program. Resoundingly, the answer was yes, she said.
“I couldn’t believe how many of us had dogs, cats, ferrets, you name it,” she said. “I’m not sure how much FIS can accommodate, but anything is better than nothing.”
She approached FIS with the idea and was surprised that the federation took it seriously.
“I had to be very careful with my wording and our requests,” Randall said with a laugh. “I mean, we’re not asking for a zoo, but we would like trained specialists taking care of our pets on a daily basis, giving them walks and lots of belly rubs while we’re out doing our jobs.”
According to Randall and FIS Cross-Country Special Operations Officer Amanda Fritz, pet-care services could be implemented for the 2017/2018 season.
“We still have a lot of details to work out, but we plan to discuss this proposal at the FIS Congress meetings this summer,” Fritz said on the phone.
Asked what animals are being considered and whom this service would be extended to, Fritz explained that cats and dogs are solely on the table at this time.
“We don’t have the space and staff to care for animals other than felines and canines, and even then, they need to be well-behaved, housebroken, and play well with others,” she said. “I think we’re going to have to put the cats and dogs in separate buildings anyways, and definitely away from the kids. As fun and cute as it would be to let them all play together, it’s simply not realistic. Perhaps we can have play dates and field trips.”
The service will be available to athletes in the Red Group (World Cup top 30), which also have food and lodging paid for by FIS. If an athlete is on the edge or teetering on that Red Group status, they can bring their fluffy friend and pay for pet-sitting for a nominal fee, Fritz said.
“We haven’t determined the cost yet,” she added.
And what about the travel required to get the pets from one venue to the next, especially the long journey from North America to Europe (and vice versa), or from anywhere to PyeongChang, South Korea?
“That responsibility falls on the athlete,” Fritz said.
Randall explained that there are, of course, workarounds.
“If your dog or cat isn’t huge and destructive, apply to have them as a therapy pet and put them in the seat with you,” she said of flying with pets. “I’d never put my cat in cargo.”
Randall and her husband Jeff Ellis plan to bring their cat, Kikkananimal’s Animal (who currently has dyed-pink fur), to Europe with them and baby Breck next year.
“I can’t wait to have the whole family together next year,” she said. “It was so hard leaving our first baby at home. Now he’ll be part of the team, too.”
FIS is reportedly on the lookout for world-class pet handlers. Qualifications include previous pet babysitting experience, no allergies, a rabies shot, and a death-grip on leashes.
“Our biggest concern is having another poodle get loose on the trails, like we saw in Quebec,” Fritz said of the episode on the last day of World Cup Finals. “You need to have a strong handle on dog walking. Beyond that, we need to know that these animals are being taken care of with the utmost diligence. These are World Cup athletes’ animals, not just some mutts off the street.”
FasterSkier will post more updates as they become available.