By LINDSEY KING
Less than a year ago, Dunkel the Australian cattle dog was awaiting adoption at the Washington County Humane Society, and now the pup has found a new best friend in Sherri Cole and a new hobby in cycling.
“The first time we took him, he was about two months old,” Cole said of Dunkel. “He did really well.”
Learning to run alongside Cole on her rides was a slow process at first, and Cole is always watching to make sure her four-legged friend isn’t risking injury.
“We would go five feet and stop, five feet and stop,” Cole said. “We would do it about twice a week and no more than a mile. We have to really watch his legs and make sure he doesn’t start shaking and get tired because if you ride them too hard it can damage their joints as they get older.”
So far, Dunkel has completed rides as long as 10 miles with Cole, with plans to take on longer rides as he grows older and stronger.
Cole herself originally became interested in cycling because of an injury.
“Three years ago I blew out my knee running, so I had to find some other outlet,” Cole said. “My doctor put me on a bike and that started with the Tweetsie Trail, and then we got to know some of the local bike shops. Norris Bicycles was sort of my first home, and Dwayne Letterman encouraged me to try mountain biking.”
From there, Cole’s hobby continued to grow as she joined a ladies’ mountain biking group, taught students at Science Hill High School as an assistant cycling club coach and became a board member of the Tri-Cities branch of the Southern Off-Road Biking Association.
“They maintain all the local trails,” Cole said of SORBA. “We take care of all the Tri-Cities, Bays Mountain, and some of ETSU. We’re building Winged Deer right now and helping build Tannery Knobs. We’re getting ready to launch a kids’ program, so we’ll be doing a lot of kids stuff in the future.”
Cole also participates in the Rescue Racing club withher son. The Georgia-based cycling team is focused on raising money to help animal rescue organizations. The group sells cycling gear and hosts events where cyclists can enjoy their hobby while helping animals.
With Dunkel’s adoption, Cole gained a furry side kick for her cycling.
“We push each other, and he keeps me company,” Cole said. “He kind of keeps me safe. He lets me know when things are happening. He’ll stop and look if people start coming close to let me know if there is possible danger.”
To keep Dunkel safe, Cole attached a bell to his harness and trained him to respond to a vibration collar.
“The bell is so I can hear him,” Cole said. “He can’t be off-leash on all trails, but when he is off-leash, he has a bell so I can hear him behind me or if he gets in front of me.”
“His little vibration collar helps if he starts getting off-track,” said Cole. “I can vibrate his neck and he’ll stop and look. He’s trained to use that as a come-back method, so that I’m not yelling for him.”
At only about 10 months old, Dunkel has already learned to behave appropriately when out on the trails.
“He never runs off and leaves me,” Cole said. “If I take him downtown, he likes to smell people and that kind of thing, but if we’re on the trail, he’ll stop and look at you and then just go on. His job is to stay with me, and he knows that.”
From a rescue pup to a cycling companion, Dunkel is living the life both on and off the trail.
“He’s been such a great addition to our family,” Cole said.