The Iditarod Winter Educator’s Conference is underway. After a day filled with breakfast, presentations, lunch, and Skype visits, the teachers enjoyed an excursion to Jon and Jona Van Zyle’s Dog Kennel and Art Gallery. The first time I visited their kennel I fell in love with the dogs and the Van Zyles. They are so gracious and welcome guests into their home as if they were family. Once you get to know them, you feel as if you are now family. I witnessed this firsthand today.
When we first arrived at the kennel, we were greeted by both Jon and Jona. They introduced themselves to the teachers and spoke a little about their dogs. Both Jon and Jona have had dogs since as long as they both can remember. The currently have eight Siberian sled dogs in their fenced in doggy heaven. Jon completed the Iditarod in 1976 and 1979. Since 1977, Jon has been creating the official Iditarod poster. All through the house you can see the love the two of these wonderful people have for dogs and the Iditarod.
As we walked into “doggy heaven,” one of the dogs quickly jumped on the exercise wheel as if to show off his skills. All eight dogs were then unleashed and allowed to run free. The teachers enthusiastically took pictures of the beautiful dogs. A couple of the younger pups dashed around the lot as fast as lightning. Sky, especially, never stopped long enough for a quick picture. There is an excellent spot for guests to sit up with the dogs and have their pictures taken. The dogs have been through this many times and it was as if they knew they were to pose for pictures. Throughout the lot you could see a pile of leftover bones, tennis balls, and a pile of toys that could keep the dogs busy for days. When it was time for us to go in and the dogs to leash back up, Jon and Jona just said, “go to your room,” and the dogs hopped up on their house. Jon then walked around to each dog and fed them a snack.
We continued our tour of the kennel by checking out Jon’s “old school” dog sled. “They don’t make them like this anymore”, Jon told us. He and Jona still use the old sleds when they go on their fun runs and camping trips. He opened the bag up and showed us some of the things he keeps in his bag and on his sled; snowshoes, cooker, snow hook, ax, and sleeping pads for the dogs.
The teachers were then invited inside their home to enjoy some snacks and check out some exquisite artwork. Many teachers purchased books, prints, posters, and received personal autographs from Jon. It was towards the end of the evening when I witnessed just how gracious and loving the Van Zyles are. As Martha Dobson, 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, was wandering around, she saw a stone coaster that had painted on top a Siberian Husky. Martha immediately thought of her dog Morgan who unexpectedly passed away last year. She had mentioned to Jona that the painting would look exactly like Morgan with blue eyes. Jona replied to Martha, “tell Jon to paint them blue.” Thinking maybe she wasn’t serious or maybe she would have to pick the coaster back up some other time, Martha was in for a surprise. Jon not only fixed the eyes right then and there, but he studied a picture of Morgan and fixed all the attributes to match that of Morgan. All the while, Martha could not believe her eyes. I don’t think words can describe her thanks she had for the thought and love Jon showed to her. She will treasure that coaster and think of Morgan and the Van Zyles for many years.
That is the loving type of people Jon and Jona are. They invite you into their home and treat you like family. Every time I see them I always receive a warm hug. These are great ambassadors to the sport of sled dog racing and the Iditarod.