Volunteer dog handling is a popular choice for Iditarod volunteers, especially those who may only get to experience the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage. But it is one of the tougher positions for sure. If you’ve never been near a dog team just about to start a race, you are missing one of the most exciting things in the world. The dogs are jazzed and start to yap and yowl. They lunge forward in their harnesses and jump up into the air. A dog handler assists the musher in getting the team to the start line. This simple sounding task is actually quite an athletic event because it involves running through snow, stopping, and keeping a race dog from going too quickly from the musher’s staging spot to the start line.
The four-footed sportsters that run this race are well-loved and valuable family members of the mushers. They are also surprisingly strong, and especially powerful at the start line of a race. To be a handler, one has to attend the class, practice, and get a dog handler’s card prior to the race.
The Anchorage Start coordinator, Karl, the Anchorage Start Dog Handler Lead and Re-start Dog Handler Lead and Iditarod veteran musher, Wayne Curtis met with a group of folks at Iditarod headquarters early Saturday morning to lead a class and give the training. Each person gave important advice on how to be appropriately dressed and the “dos” and “don’ts” of being a handler so that all dogs and people are safe.
After the classroom portion of the training, attendees got to work with Wayne Curtis and his beautiful Siberian dogs to practice. He described how the dogs should be lined up then took the volunteers around part of the loop at headquarters, practicing stopping and starting again.
Like other areas of the race, these volunteers come from all walks of life. One couple has just moved to the area with their 10 sled dogs; their special connection is that they have dogs from Leonhard Seppala’s bloodlines. Another group of young people are with a program called Adventure Service, a gap year program for teens. Thank you to all of our volunteers, without whom this race could not be run!
The volunteers returned from their practice smiling, winded, and obviously having a good time. We hope to see them all at the start and restart, plus the others that will be trained the week before the race.