Painter and Ugly: Friendship at the Jr. Iditarod


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Friendship is…

One of the special benefits of the Jr. Iditarod is that the young mushers bond with each other in a unique and lasting way.  In the woods at Yentna Station, after taking great care of their dogs for the night, they bonded over a campfire and shared trail stories.  It was remarkable to see, and I am sure these memories will last a lifetime for them.


Photo courtesy of

What is friendship like in the Jr. Iditarod for these young people?  Can your sled dog be your friend?  For help, I turned to former Jr. Iditarod champion, and 2016 rookie Iditarod musher Noah Pereira.  

Noah, born in Brookport, New York,  became the first non-Alaskan to win the Jr. Iditarod in 2013.  This week, I met up with him at the Jr. Iditarod start where he was offering support and help to the young mushers before his 1,000 mile adventure next week.

My class wanted to know more about this very special Iditarod event, so we sent Noah one of my favorite books about the Jr. Iditarod, called Painter and Ugly, by Robert J. Blake.  The book is from the perspective of two Jr. Iditarod lead dogs who are good friends and finish the 150 mile race together.  

I asked Noah about his friendship with his sled dogs and he said, “My dogs are my friends because I really truly trust them, and they truly trust me.  No matter what happens I know I can depend on them.  With that bond we can do some incredible things.”


Noah was so gracious and recorded himself reading the book aloud with his sled dog, Rainy!  How often does an Iditarod musher read a children’s story to classrooms around the world?  As a bonus, Allison Perry’s wonderful second grade class from my school in Austin, Texas, created sled team friendship books after listening to the story.  The book inspired them to think about friendship for themselves and what qualities they look for in a friend.

They pretended to be mushers in the Jr. Iditarod and colored their own sled dog scene. When they were finished, they added their faces to the musher and put their lovely writing in a special book about friendship.


Noah shared his inspirational experiences from his champion Jr. Iditarod year and what his friendship with his dogs meant to him:

  The Jr Iditarod is a 150 mile race meant to prepare young mushers for future dog sled races. Mushers from ages 14 to 17 can take up to 10 dogs and compete.  For many, Jr Iditarod is just way to have fun with dogs, but for myself it was so much more. 
         In 2012 I was a sophomore going to a high school in upstate New York.  I had dreamed about Jr. Iditarod since my first sled dog encounter during 5th grade.  When I heard of an opportunity to race it I could not pass it up. In December of 2012, my father and I left New York headed for Alaska and the Jr Iditarod.  That February I would be a rookie in the race.
         There was little hope for me to win the race, but I had some very talented dogs to get me to that point.  The first 75 miles was simple and we made it to the halfway point with ease.  During the mandatory 10 hour layover I fed my dogs, took care of their feet, and gave them all straw to sleep on.  After all that was finished I finally was able to eat something myself.  Morning came and it was time for me to take off.  I was the second musher to leave the checkpoint.  We eventually caught the first place musher about 40 miles from the finish.  We mushed together and neither one of us could take the lead for long.  About 10 miles from the finish I was able to take the lead.  I kicked and I pushed as hard as I could for the whole way to the finish constantly looking over my shoulder to see if he was catching up.  I made it to the finish line in first place.  If there’s one thing I learned throughout my experience it’s that where you come from doesn’t dictate what you can become.


Sleds Dogs in Winter PDF

Noah Pereira Kennel


Check out more wonderful images from this special lesson for Noah:

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Follow my journey this year as 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. We have partnered with Skype as a virtual field trip experience, and I will be sending recorded video messages daily along the trail to classrooms around the world.  Sign up for a free Skype account first, and then join the “Iditarod Classroom Club” to follow along.  Remember, you must have a Skype account first, or you only be in my club for 24 hours as a guest!  Click the link below:

Iditarod Classroom Club

Want to know more about other 2016 Iditarod mushers and their teams?  The name says it all.  The ULTIMATE INSIDER ultimate-school-300x300 gives a school access to everything!  All of the benefits of the INSIDER VIDEO combined with the ability to “Track the Pack” with the GPS INSIDER!  Access to all of the commercial-free video.  Spotlight up to 5 of your favorite mushers and receive email alerts when they enter and leave a checkpoint.


  • GPS Tracker
  • Commercial-Free access to all video content
  • Highlight 5 Mushers with email alerts

A Snapshot of Jeff Schultz



A “snapshot” of Jeff Schultz biographies in the Iditarod classroom

We have been spending some time in class this last week learning about some of the people behind the scenes of the Iditarod that help bring The Last Great Race® to people around the world.


Jeff Schultz on the Iditarod Trail – photo courtesy Bob Jones

When my students see the amazing photographs of the mushers and their dog teams along the trail, they ask me who captures these incredible images for all of us to enjoy.  I shared with my students this week that Jeff Schultz, celebrating 35 years as the official Iditarod photographer this year, is the reason we can share in the Iditarod experience in such a special way.

Jeff’s photographs can not only be seen on the Iditarod site, they grace the covers of magazines, calendars, and books all over the world.

To teach my students about the life of Jeff Schultz and his work, I created a simple “biography snapshot” booklet complete with a camera cover and six pages with guiding statements or questions to write and illustrate.  We used Iditarod website articles about Jeff to learn fascinating details about his life.  This lesson was created to be completed with illustrations by our kindergarten buddy class.

Lesson Plan – A Snapshot of Jeff Schultz

Primary Grades – Gypsy’s Jeff Schultz Iditarod Research

Upper Grades – Jeff Schultz Iditarod Research

(View our Q&A at the end of this post or open and print the PDF below for your class research:

Jeff Schultz Q&A with the 2016 Iditarod Class – PDF

We used our biography research from the Iditarod site to write about Jeff Schultz, and then we visited our kindergarten buddy class and shared our information with them. We asked our buddies to illustrate the pages with us.  The results are a wonderful collaboration research project that can easily be adapted for primary or upper grades.

Biography Snapshot Camera Cover

Biography Snapshot Page #2

Biography Snapshot Page #3

Biography Snapshot Page #4

Biography Snapshot Page #5

Biography Snapshot Page #6

Biography Snapshot Page #7

Jeff Schultz


Jeff Schultz and Iditarod Memories

I am excited about my special time as Teacher on the Trail™ in March, and I am especially looking forward to seeing Jeff in action while I am there.  I was curious about some of the experiences from the trail from the teachers who have come before me, so I reached out to a few familiar faces to reflect upon a special, personal memory with Jeff Schultz with all of us.

Andrea “Finney” Aufder Heyde, 1999 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™


“Finney” 1999 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ (2nd from left) at the Jr. Iditarod – photo by Jeff Schultz

Andrea Finney Aufder Heyde, or “Finney” for short, was the very first Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ almost 18 years ago. Her courage and independent spirit started this special program, and I will be forever grateful.  She shared a special memory with me from that very first year with a picture of her taken by Jeff Schultz from the Jr. Iditarod.

“Some of the volunteers at Yentna Station! My first sighting of the Northern Lights was here when I was up with the young mushers!!”

Terrie Hanke, 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

“In 2006, as the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, I was assigned to fly with Jeff and his pilot, Danny Davidson. At any moment in time, Jeff might point at something and Danny would bank sharply to get Jeff in position for a shot. Danny’s plane was specially equipped with a flip up window for Jeff. So after banking sharply and getting into position, Jeff would flip that window up and click, click, click.  Sitting directly behind Jeff, I got the brunt of the frigid air at roughly 100 miles an hour. I learned very quickly that the only way to stay warm was to fly in full gear. Let’s face it, if Jeff was shooting something, so was I. The only difference was that I had a little Canon point and shoot while he was using a Canon with a mega zoom lens capable of showing whiskers on dogs at 800 feet.”

Photos (above) taken by Terrie Hanke. Read about Terrie’s article about Jeff Schultz on the Iditarod site.

Read Terrie’s full article about her time on the trail with Jeff Schultz here:

Jeff Schultz article

Martha Dobson, 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

“Two great memories of my 2011 year–getting to fly with Jeff for a day while he took photos for the race. Because I flew with him, I got to a number of checkpoints I wouldn’t have seen otherwise: Shageluk, Grayling, the primitive checkpoint of Eagle Island, and Kaltag. I also took one of my favorite photos during the race there in Shageluk, a four year old girl exchanging nose kisses with one of Paul’s dogs.  Another fun memory is getting to work with the Pee Team in Takotna. They invited me to help collect urine specimens, and Jeff took photos of that.

Linda Fenton, 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™


Linda Fenton, 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™  and Jeff Schultz – photo by Terrie Hanke

“I saw Jeff a lot on the trail.  He was tireless and focused on his work.  It was fun watching him find just the right spot for his shot.  The picture (above) was taken in Nome.  I was posting and Terrie was taking my picture.  He just sat down and joined me for the shot.”

Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

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Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ – photo by Jeff Schultz

“I was most struck by how much of a true team he and his people are.  It’s just another piece of the “team” mentality that gets this whole race down the trail: the volunteer team, the mushers and their dog teams, the judging team, the Insider Crew team, Jeff and his people.  There are lessons to be learned about teamwork in all facets of the race.

That and that I knew if I watched where he stood to take pictures, waited until he walked away and then stood in the same spot I could get some pretty good shots myself! 

At the Volunteer Potluck Supper after the race, he presented a slide show of close to 200 photos from the race.  They were amazing. But what was even more amazing was the story that he was able to tell about every single one.  It’s amazing how what seems to be such a simple picture can become so much more when you have the story behind it.

Jeff Schultz Q & A with the 2016 Iditarod Class:

IMG_0662Q: How many years have you been taking pictures for the Iditarod?  

A: I photographed my first Iditarod in 1981 and I’ve been the Iditarod’s official photographer since 1982

Q: In the Iditarod, do you go to every checkpoint?

A: I’ve been to every checkpoint. Each year I try to go to each one. Sometimes I miss one or three.

Q: Have you ever taken a picture under water?

A: no


Q: How did you get inspired to take photos of the Iditarod?

A: I met the “Father of the Iditarod” Joe Redington Sr. in 1979 and he got me interested in it.

Q: Why do you like to photograph the northern lights?

A: It’s a unique phenomenon that does not happen everywhere.  So it’s fun and a challenge to make photos of them. 


Q: Who inspired you to be a photographer?

A: I found that I had a God-given talent of composing photos and I was good at it.  My brother-in-law Reggie Miller encouraged me to follow my passion when I was 14.

IMG_0655Q: How many pets do you have?  Are dogs your favorite?

A: No pets, but dogs are my favorite 


Q: How many books about the Iditarod have you taken pictures for?

A: My photos have been published in 8 or so books on the Iditarod.

Q: What colors have you seen in the northern lights?

A: Red, purple, green and yellow


Q: When did you start taking professional pictures?

A: I was 14 when I got paid for my first assignment… taking photos at a 25th year wedding anniversary, but I became a full-time professional in 1982.

Q: Have you ever been in an airplane while filming the northern lights?

A: No, but that’d be cool.

IMG_0656Q: Have you ever gotten frostbite on the trail?  

A: No, by the grace of God.

Q: When you were a kid, did you follow the Iditarod?

A: No.  I had no idea what the Iditarod was until I met Joe Redington Sr. in 1979.


Q: Do you take pictures outside of Alaska?  Where? 

A: Not really.  Only when I’m on vacation and it’s just for fun then. 


Q: Have you ever been a musher in the Iditarod?  

A: no

IMG_0653Q: Do you live in Alaska?  How long have you lived there?

A: Yes, I live in Anchorage.  I’ve lived here since I was 18.  I moved up 3 months after graduating from High school.


Q: Who flies you around during the Iditarod?

A: Great volunteer pilots fly me. I typically have one dedicated pilot fly me.  Over my 35 years, I’ve had 3 main pilots… Dr. Von Mitton DDS, Sam Maxwell and most recently Danny Davidson.  Sometimes I get rides from other volunteer Iditarod air force pilots


Q: Do you open the door or window to take a picture during the race?  

A: 95% of the time I open the window to take photos. 

IMG_0643Q: How long do you seen the northern lights during the night?  And what is the longest time you have seen them in one night?  

A: I have seen them last only a few minutes sometimes, and I’ve seen them last for 6 or more hours. 

Q: Have you ever taken a photo of a shooting star?

A: Yes.  Sometimes, when making long exposures of the night sky, a shooting star will fly through the frame.  It’s only by luck that happens. 

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Join me and three exceptional Eanes Elementary School teachers at the 2016 Winter Conference for Educators

The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for teachers around the country to come together and learn best teaching practices surrounding the theme of the Iditarod.  Check out the Iditarod site for more information about this unique professional development opportunity.

I will be joined this year by a few talented teachers from my school, Eanes Elementary, here in Austin, Texas.  We will be sharing STEM and STEAM hands-on lessons based upon the Iditarod theme with conference attendees.  We hope to see you there!

Photo of the Day – Tales From the IAF

Veteran IAF pilot Joe Pendergrass holds a cap with the official IAF logo he designed

The Iditarod race has many great stories to tell by the many men and women who help plan it, and travel the trail to help make it successful.  Joe Pendergrass is one of the many people who make The Last Great Race on Earth® what it is.  Joe is a member of a very special family; he is a veteran pilot volunteer for the Iditarod Air Force (IAF).  Within the inner workings of the race are the 28-30 volunteer pilots that are essential to its success.

Joe and a volunteer at Finger Lake 2007

They are a quiet group of folks who prefer to work inconspicuously in the background delivering the food bags in pre-race set, flying dogs safely back to Anchorage during the race and delivering veterinarians and essential volunteers to the different checkpoints along with anything else that can fit into their 4-seater airplanes with specially adapted skis.

Joe is a reserved, quiet man, unassuming and remarkable.  He talked to me a little about how it always amazes him that stranger will sit in his airplane with complete trust in him.  He felt that was a huge responsibility.  He wears his IAF cap with a lot of pride, and I asked him about the husky logo.  To my surprise he told me that he had designed it himself!  I asked him if the logo was available on other memorabilia.  He told me the fascinating story behind the patch and why it’s reserved just for the family of pilots who risk a lot and give up a lot to support the Iditarod behind the scenes.  Each IAF volunteer pilot is given the logo to use and a decal for the plane and even a special commemorative pilot handbook with a picture of their personal airplane on the cover.  It’s a special tradition.

IAF Logo – husky by Jon VanZyle photo from Iditarod .com

Here’s Joe’s accounting of the history of the design of the patch for the IAF.  “The patch, which is now the official logo for the Iditarod Air Force was originally the brain child of IAF pilot John Norris  It began as a design for a lapel pin in 2001.  John and I were co-Chief Pilots at the time for the IAF.  He explained to me what he had in mind and I designed the first draft, with the circle along with the words inscribed around it and the wings protruding from each side, it was obvious that I needed help in drawing the husky.  I took it to artist, John Van Zyle, who agreed to draw what we wanted on the condition that it would be four our own use and that we didn’t “sell” any of the pins.  He drew the husky with the goggle and scarf which were common for pilots to wear in the early days of flying in an open cockpit airplane.  I then gave it to my nine your old grand daughter, Jessica Parker, who filled in the appropriate colors.  We then sent it to a pin make and New York.  After a couple of proofs were sent back and forth, we got our pins and gave on to each pilot.  They were an instant hit.  A former IAF pilot, the late Bert Novak, took the design to a sign shop and had some “peel and stick” decals made.  They were also an immediate hit and they too were distributed to each of the pilots for identifying the planes that are part of the Iditarod Air Force.  At some point later, chief Pilot Bert Hanson had the design transferred to a cloth patch to be place on the hats and jackets of the members of the IAF.  It was at that time it became the new official logo for the Iditarod Air Force.” 

51DWHsqdvEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Want to know more?  Check out the wonderful book, Adventures of the Iditarod Air Force; True Stories about the Pilots Who Fly the Alaska’s Famous Sled Dog Race by Ted Mattson.  Its 29 chapters are full of the sometimes famously funny and sometimes daring acts of courage by the IAF pilots from its first year to the early 1990s.

I asked Joe about giving the Iditarod Air Force more attention for all the hard work they put into The Last Great Race® to recognize their dedication.  He simply shrugged it off saying, “Nope it’s about the mushers and the dogs.”  The Iditarod Air Force is a close-knit family that prefers to work behind-the-scenes and they like it that way.

Kevin Harper Wins Junior Iditarod

We did it!

We did it!

Kevin Harper at the start

Kevin Harper at the start

Kevin Harper got a little sleep last night after doing his chores and feeding his dogs. He woke up at approximately 1:00 a.m. to begin his preparations to depart Alpine Creek Lodge at 4:18 a.m. Jimmy Lanier was doing the same preparations for his departure at 4:10 a.m. Eight minutes will separate the two Junior mushers looking for a Junior Iditarod win. The rest of the teams are completing their chores in preparation to make their journey back towards Cantwell. The last musher to leave the lodge was Jordan Seager at 7:16 a.m.

John and I loaded up the sled hooked to the back of his snowmachine and began our 65 mile journey back to the finish. Another gorgeous trip back to Cantwell with views I cannot begin to describe. We passed the mushers one by one. I knew we must be getting close to the leaders because we were only about 5-10 miles away. We passed Andrew Nolan, so I assumed Jimmy and Kevin would be just ahead. The next thing I know, I see the finish line. At some point in the run Kevin made up those eight minutes and passed Jimmy. Kevin crossed the finish line at 9:46 a.m as the 2015 Junior Iditarod Champion. With Kevin not even out of the finishing chute, Jimmy came in at 9:48 a.m. Two minutes separated the Kevin and Jimmy in the race to the finish.

Approximately a half an hour later Andrew Nolan rolled in with Iditarod veteran Wade Marrs looking as proud as ever. Wade has been training and helping out Andrew this season as well as another Junior musher, Marianna Mallory. Marianna came in sixth place. The Red Lantern winner, the musher that crosses the finish line last, was Joan Klejka from Bethel. Joan crossed the finish at 4:27 p.m.

The awards banquet was held this evening at the school in Cantwell. A few of the awards given out at the banquet were the Sportsmanship award, the Humanitarian award, and the Blue Harness award. The Sportsmanship award was given to Andrew Nolan. What an honor for this young man. The Humanitarian award is given out by the veterinarians by the musher that displays the best care for their dogs. Marianna Mallory was awarded this honor. Marianna and Andrew’s trainer put it best, “to our kennel, that’s just as rewarding as winning.” That is such a true statement. It shows young athletes that sometimes there is more than winning. The Blue Harness award is voted on by the mushers themselves to the best lead dog. This award was given to Jimmy Lanier and his dog Alpha. Another award was handed out tonight. At the rookie meeting Thursday night, Danny Seavey challenged the young mushers to have consistent run times on the way out and the way back. Marianna took home this award as well. For this award she won a $50 Cabela’s gift card.

I truly enjoyed being able to witness these young kids complete their journey of finishing the Junior Iditarod. They all displayed such respect and care for one another. It is more than a competition, it is a life long journey complete with many life lessons. These Junior mushers showed courage, responsibility, endurance, willpower, determination, and so much more over the course of their race and training.

The Junior Champion – “Will it be a boy or a girl?”

2015 Junior Iditarod Mushers

2015 Junior Iditarod Mushers

“Will it be a boy or a girl this year?” This is the question Barb Redington asked the junior mushers last night at the Junior Iditarod Mandatory Meeting. There are eleven juniors racing this year, six girls and five boys. Ten out of the eleven young mushers sat in the front row at Iditarod Headquarters listening to Barb introduce the many volunteers of the race and thank the gracious sponsors.

After thanking the countless sponsors and volunteers it was time for the youngsters to draw the start order, their bib number. The juniors will draw in the order they signed up for the race. Bib number one is traditionally granted to the honorary musher. Longtime Junior Iditarod veterinarian, Dr. Jayne Hempstead, is the 2015 Junior Iditarod honorary musher. Below is the order the mushers will embark on the trail. Read their biographies at the Junior Iditarod website.

Bib #1: Honorary Musher Dr. Jayne Hempstead

Bib #2: Dakota Schlosser (Rookie) Sophomore in H.S

Bib #3: Kevin Harper (Veteran) Junior in H.S.

Bib #4: Jordan Seager (Rookie) 8th gradeDSC_2031

Bib #5: Andrew Nolan (Veteran) Sophomore in H.S.

Bib #6: Katie Deits (Rookie) Sophomore in H.S.

Bib #7: Nicole Forto (Veteran) Senior in H.S.

Bib #8: Marianna Mallory (Rookie) Junior in H.S.

Bib #9: Rose Capistrant (Rookie) Freshman in H.S.

Bib #10: Joan Klejka (Rookie) Sophomore in H.S.

Bib #11: Jannelle Trowbridge (Veteran) Senior in H.S.

Bib #12: Jimmy Lanier (Veteran) Junior in H.S.

The trail will begin three miles from Cantwell.  The young mushers will start in 2-minute increments. They will mush 65 miles until they reach the Alpine Creek Lodge. Here they will take their mandatory 10-hour layover. When they arrive the mushers will lay straw down for their dogs, take their booties off, feed their dogs, and any other necessary chores. The junior mushers have a tradition of sitting around a campfire getting to know each other during the 10-hour layover. Mushers will make up the 2-minute time differential when they depart the lodge and head back. Jimmy, bib #12, will be able to leave exactly 10 hours after he arrives. Jannelle, bib #11, will leave 10 hours and 2 minutes after she arrives at the lodge, and so on.

2015 Junior Iditarod Trail Map - Cantwell to Alpine Creek Lodge and back. (photo from Jeff King Facebook page)

2015 Junior Iditarod Trail Map – Cantwell to Alpine Creek Lodge and back.                               (photo from Jeff King Facebook page)

The champion of the Junior Iditarod will be the lead musher in the Iditarod Ceremonial Start on Saturday, March 7, in Anchorage. The winner will also be flown to Nome to attend the Iditarod Finisher’s Banquet.

The Journey of a Volunteer

“We are to help one another along life’s journey.”  - William J. Bennett

“We are to help one another along life’s journey.” – William J. Bennett

The definition of volunteer is a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.  There are thousands of people who volunteer each year for the Iditarod.  Without these many volunteers, there is absolutely no way this race could happen.  The journey of a volunteer does not just take place during the few weeks of the race.  An Iditarod volunteer can be a year long journey.

GailI spoke with Gail Somerville about her role as an Iditarod volunteer.  Gail has been volunteering for the Iditarod since 1978!  Gail’s journey as an Iditarod volunteer is not just during March; she does many things throughout the year.

Gail retired from teaching at the end of last school year.  She had been a teacher for 46 years!  Gail has always volunteered her time with many different organizations and events.  Now that she is retired, she is looking forward to volunteer even more of her time.

Even though most people only see “Iditarod” in March, it is a year long event.  One job Gail helps with is selling raffle tickets at the Alaska State Fair in August.  The raffle tickets are another way the Iditarod raises money to put this event on.  Another job Gail helps with in the summer is providing transportation for the teachers during the summer camp for educators.DSC_0799

Gail’s primary volunteer job is to write homework questions for elementary students.  She then emails these questions to all the elementary school teachers in Anchorage.  With this project she also gets middle school students scheduled to volunteer at headquarters in the phone room each school day to help answer the questions from the elementary students that they phone in.  Just writing about this task makes me tired.  That is a lot of time and effort Gail puts into that project.  Shout out to Gail for helping the Iditarod and incorporating it into education.

Let’s get our students to understand the importance of volunteering and helping others.  If it were not for volunteers like Gail, this race could not happen.
What can you do in your classroom?

Discuss what a volunteer is.
Discuss the importance of helping others.
Discuss the different volunteer jobs there are for the Iditarod.
Is there something your class can do to help the Iditarod?

Charles’ Last Run

"It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end."

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.”


What do mushers do with their sled dog when he/she retires? Just as they had the best life before their journey through the Iditarod, they have the best life still, but more relaxing. Our best bud here at Vern’s, Charles, retired as a sled dog on March 1, 2014.

CharlesCharles is a 10-year old Alaskan Husky. Charles was not born at the Dream a Dream Dog Farm. Vern acquired him from Jeff King. Charles has quite the sled dog resume. Charles has finished many sled dog races in the state of Alaska. What is most impressive is he has finished five Iditarod races.

Unbeknownst to Charles, this season would be his last. Charles took his last pre-race truck ride down to 4th street in Anchorage. He jumped up and down anxiously in his harness, in lead, under the starting line in Anchorage for the last time. He heard the announcer call, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1….GO,” for the last time. He charged out of the starting chute one final time. This one last run for Charles was the Ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod. He led Cindy Abbott, her “Iditarider”, and his best friend Vern, down 4th street around Cordova and out to the Campbell Airstrip. He was unharnessed and unhooked one last time. He took one final post-race truck ride to the kennel.

When Charles was taken out of the truck after they arrived at the kennel he was not hooked up. Instead Vern said, “You are free!” Free to roam the kennel. Free to sit on any kennel he wants. Free to sleep anywhere he wants. Free to be “King of the Kennel.” Charles just stood there. He didn’t know what to do. His journey through the Iditarod had come to an end. Nobody asked him. I think if Vern had given Charles a choice, he would continue to work as a sled dog for the rest of his life. That is how much he loves it, and how much all sled dogs love their job.

CharlesWatching Charles around the yard now that he is retired is awesome. He comes right up to us wanting love and attention. He sticks his paw out as to say, “Pet me. Love me.” So, what do we do? We pet him. We love him. He struts around that yard as if he owns the place. He sits up top of Aspen’s house like it is his. It is, of course, exactly where his house used to sit. Charles still thinks he is a working sled dog. He will forever be an extraordinary lead dog.

Charles is now a pet. Most sled dogs become musher pets when they retire. Some dogs will sell their retired dogs to select homes that will take extra good care of their special friends. All sled dogs will miss their job tremendously. But, just as humans enjoy their retirement, sled dogs will enjoy the relaxing and love and attention they receive with retirement.