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January 27, 2012 10:00 PM

Hitching-Up Hobbes

Brookings, SD

People in downtown Brookings often do a double-take at the curious site of a canine caravan making its way down the sidewalk.

A local family has adopted this alternate form of transportation by hitching a ride with a dog named Hobbes, a pooch with a lot of pull around town.

Alaska may have its Iditarod dog sled teams, but the 4-legged way to get around Brookings in the dead of winter is on board a tail waggin' wagon. Hobbes, a 3-year-old lab-German shepherd mix, is the Provancial family pet who likes to work like a dog.

"He's hardwired for it. When we tried to just turn him into a family pet he was not happy, he destroyed the house. We have him two hours of exercise a day and he went nuts. He's one of those dogs, he has to work," owner Dawna Provancial said.

So as part of his exercise routine, Hobbes happily pulls members of the Provancial family, including one of their other pets, Balto, to the store or any other place where their errands may take them. The 80-pound Hobbes can pull nearly four times his own weight.

"We've brought home my daughter's writing desk which is solid wood, we have brought home a dresser with him," Provancial said.

The Provancials adopted Hobbes from the Brookings Area Humane Society. A big dog that might have been too hyper for previous owners is a beloved addition to the Provancial household where he's found his true calling.

"I brought him home and I was like oh, he's so beautiful. I saw the energy, he was boundless, I was like, oh great, we can channel that," Provancial said.

The Provancials keep Hobbes on the sidewalk as much as possible. Even though they ride low to the ground, the Provancials say they aren't likely to wind up in anybody's blind spot.

"We are very religious about watching those traffic lights. And to me, it's a little easier to see because it's unusual, but we don't travel after dark," Provancial said.

Drivers have taken notice of this unusual wagon train.

"They slow down, they stop, they point, they look. I've had a couple of people go, oh, you're so mean to that dog! No, trust me, he likes it, he needs to do this. He needs to drag something around and then he'll be perfectly fine," Provancial said.

Steering Hobbes on the right course took some trial and error. The Provancials tried to hitch up Hobbes from the side, but that was just too confining for him. So they put the hitch over his back and that gives him plenty of room to operate.

"And that goes up over his back and attaches to his shoulders and then we clip it to the d-ring here. And then he can pull more normally, he can move to the side or kicks up or has to turn real sharp to avoid something he can actually do it," Provancial said.

Maximizing Hobbes' mobility is important to Dawna Provancial. While she has a license, Provancial doesn't like to drive because she's sometimes prone to panic attacks behind the wheel.

"I do not drive, so this way, I don't have to depend on public transportation, I don not have to call a friend and go hey, I gotta go to the grocery store. If the weather's decent, I just hook up the dog and go," Provancial said.

Provancial says there have been times when Hobbes has even disobeyed her orders to get moving, because he spotted a vehicle approaching that she did not notice right away. Once the Pronvancials reach their destination, Hobbes waits patiently outside while Balto does some window shopping. The family loads up the wagon and then it's back home again, with Hobbes shouldering the responsibility of beast of burden and guide dog, who's in it for the long haul.

During the winter, the family fits Hobbes with booties to protect his paws from any ice-melt that might be on the sidewalk. The family is training another of their pets, a purebred lab named "Calvin" to handle the same wagon-pulling duties as Hobbes.
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