In a comment on yesterday's post, my friend Dave Lukosik pointed out that Iditarod rookie Wattie McDonald, who is currently out of safety with a full team of 16 dogs, is not running his own team of Siberians. Wattie, who hails from Scotland, is running a team of Alaskan huskies leased from mushing veteran Tim Osmar. There is a very nice article about Mr. McDonald on the Iditarod Official Website. The article notes that McDonald completed both of his Iditarod qualifier races with full teams. That speaks very highly of his dedication to good dog care while on the trail.
Iditarod is Winding Down
Wattie is at the front of a group that includes the last 10 mushers remaining in the race. A lot of these "back of the pack" teams are puppy teams belonging to serious long distance competitors, who are being driven by musher's handlers. In mushing terminology, a "handler" is a person who helps the musher care for and train the dogs in the kennel. The role is similar to a 'hired hand' on a farm or ranch, except the pay is less and expectations are generally higher.
'Puppy teams' consist mostly of yearlings and two year old dogs who are in training for their future racing careers. The role of the puppy musher is to get as many dogs as safely possible while making it as much fun as possible for their young charges. Personally, I think the puppy musher has a more challenging job than the 'boss' who is seriously racing for prize money. The puppy musher must be acutely attuned not only to each dog's physical performance, but also to their emotional state and must be willing to drop a dog BEFORE the young one gets burned out with the game.
There are couple of good examples of puppy teams running back in the pack in this year's Iditarod. The SP Kennel has Aliy Zirkle running the race team, and Aliy's husband, Allen Moore, mushing the puppy team. Their relationship is fascinating to me - Allen is the "A-team" racer in middle distance races, at which he is brilliant. When the miles stretch out beyond 500 they switch roles, with Aliy running the primary race team and Allen taking charge of training the younguns.
Dave DeCaro, who is currently in 52nd place, is a long time handler of third place finisher Jeff King.
Speaking of Handlers...
Plans are on track for the construction of a handler's cabin on my property, and I've already started putting 'feelers' out for people interested in the job. A couple of very good candidates have already expressed an interest in the gig. This will be a straight forward trade of labor in exchange for rent. The handler will be expected to provide up to 50 hours of work each month in exchange for rent on a new 12X16 square foot cabin with sleeping loft. Heat, electricity and wireless DSL internet will be provided, along with shower and laundry privileges in the main house. Of course pets are welcome
If you would like to add your name to the list of candidates, just click on my profile and send me an Email. I'll send a copy of the job description and details in a return Email.