Friday, February 8, 2019

February 8 - Drama on the YQ Trail.

I'm beginning to believe that it simply isn't possible to have a complete long-distance sled dog race without some degree of drama, and this year's Yukon Quest is no exception.

I reported this morning that Olivia (Neff) Webster had scratched from the race in Dawson. Hugh Neff 'shared' the Yukon Quest official report in a public FaceBook post, along with the following comment:

"This is TOTAL BS. Olivia Shank Neff was forced to drop 8 time YQ finisher Mojito due to a minor frostbit flank. A recurring issue that he's had for years. (Golden Harness winner.)
She was then forced to scratch after returning to doglot to drop Emily,leader in heat.
The dogs are fine. Mojito and c0. Will be mushing back to Tok in 2 hours. We'll be running 2 small teams. My wife and our dogs didn't deserve this. The vets have been harassing us all yearand need to be investigated! LeRoy Shank's Dream has been destroyed by greed, power hungry people and overall corruption."
Earlier, Hugh had shared a post from Tammi Dunlap Skaleski (who I am not acquainted with), who had written, "Just got off the phone with Olivia Shank Neff and Hugh Neff. Here is the scoop from them as to what happen.. Emily ,lead dog is in heat. Several dogs fights happened . As race officials stood by and watched and did nothing as olivia fought for over 2 hours to break up fights due to Emily being in heat, a guy on snowmobile stopped ASKED if she needed help. They forced her to scratch saying she had too much outside assistance. Which she had none. They also forced her to drop her main lead dog Mojito even though he is fine passing all vet checks. This is pure bullshit and the Quest officials should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. Olivia and dogs were rested doing great except for Emily in heat. She doesnt deserve this nor do these amazing dogs that worked hard to get here and were doing great. Please show your support and love for them. They will be continuing to run dogs back to tok on their own. We are so so proud of you both and support you all the way. Be proud of pushing through everything they have thrown at you. Hold heads high . We love you"

This afternoon veteran musher Sebastian Schnuelle, who is very highly respected by most who know him as a great dog man and long distance musher, also commented on the situation. Some may recognize Seb as the Original Armchair Musher.

"There is drama at the tail end of the Quest about Olivia Webster ( Neff ) scratching. Last year the race officials and Vets were critizesed for not pulling a dog out of Hugh's team in Eagle, who later died. This year they are pulling a questionable dog out of Olivias team in Dawson and yet again they are blamed. This time for pulling " a key lead dog ". This shows the difficulty of the decisions the officials and vets are facing.

Giving a musher the choice of being withdrawn or allowing them to scratch is very common practice. Ultimately the outcome is the same. The mushers race is ending, for the wellbeing of the dogs and Musher. I was given the same choice by Joe May in my 1999 Yukon Quest attempt. I was in complete disagreement at the time, just to realize years later, with more experience, how much of a favor Joe May had actually done me. Being a race official is an incredible difficult position, more so in the day and age of social media. Decisions are done as a group and nobody is out to ruin somebodies dream. The dream can turn into a nightmare, or it can stay alive and well, for later years. Mine did, as exactly 10 years after being told to go home, my race had a much different outcome."

So, as expected, there is drama on the Yukon Quest trail. The only real question worth asking is "Why does the drama so frequently involve the Laughing Eyes Kennel?

Update - February 9th.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has published a story about the brouhaha. You can read it under the headline "Shank-Neff scratches, says Quest forced her out". Personally, I think the most pertinent part of the article reads, "“Hugh came up and started yelling at everybody, and I was like, ‘Oh my god.’


  1. He continues to dig the hole deeper. Kinda hoping he makes good on his threat to sell off his dogs.

  2. I doubt Hugh will sell or rehome the Dogs. Olivia posted that she will be appealing the “scratch”. Hugh’s decision to mush to Tok was a publicity tour. He may have been enjoying himself but, in my opinion this was intended to be documented for the YQ Official’s and Board of Director’s (along with his fan base) to view. This Drama will be developing a life of it’s own.