Dog Days of Summer

Our love of Iditarod starts and ends with the dogs. For my family, visiting a kennel on our recent vacation to Alaska was non-negotiable. We wanted to learn more about summer training, dog care, and the challenging road to running the Iditarod from veteran mushers. Oh, and I was extremely excited to pet some puppies! 

We spent a morning at Turning Heads Kennel in Seward, AK, homebase to Iditarod veterans Sarah Stokey and Travis Beals, and more than 55 dogs! Our time at Turning Heads Kennel included a visit to the dog lot to meet some of the older dogs: all friendly, some slobbery, and one new mama whose pups were nearby.

Then we met the puppies! Nine week old balls of fluff, exhausted from their morning and the unseasonable heat, lounged sleepily in their pen. A couple were curious enough to allow for snuggles and cuddles. They aren’t named yet – the kennel will wait until they’re about six months old – and will pick a theme to help keep track of who is a member of each litter. I’m thinking “single name singers”: Adele, Madonna, Cher, Shakira, Björk, Beyoncé, Lizzo, Bono, Elvis, Prince, Drake, Sting….you get the idea.  It’s just a suggestion!

Once we had had our fill we watched Travis, and his handlers, hook up the team to a cart.  The dogs were more excited about this run than we were, and that is saying something!

Then we were off!  Three thousand plus pounds of people and cart, pulled by 12 Iditarod veteran dogs, and it felt like we were flying. It seemed that we were taking that track really fast; I can only imagine the speed of 14 dogs, a 350lb sled, and snow covered ground. Magical.

Travis, Sarah, and their staff answered all our questions about Iditarod, and shared the gear they take out on the trail.  We learned so much about raising, racing, and caring for these dogs.  Visiting a kennel is a must-do for any Iditarod fan who finds themselves in Alaska during the summer!

Library Learnings: It was obvious that both Sarah Stokey and Travis Beals have a passion for dogsledding and a deep love for the dogs. However, it was also obvious that running a business, caring for dogs, and training for, preparing for, and running the Iditarod is not easy.  Following your dreams can be extremely hard work.  Students often see results without realizing the lifetime of dedication behind the scenes that go into achieving a dream – whether it’s making the baseball team, singing the solo, or mushing dogs. Share the book Dream Big by Joyce Wan with your class – but make sure to stop at each page and discuss each dreamer, what they did to become successful, and what challenges they may have faced along the way!