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Iditarod musher pays bloody price for rescuing dropped sled dog

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published March 19, 2015

Two days after Iditarod musher Ellen Halverson scratched in Galena, she found herself riding on the back of a snowmachine and searching for another musher's sled dog -- still hundreds of miles from her home in Wasilla.

She caught the dog but paid a bloody price.

"I know Ellen was disappointed in having to scratch, as anyone would be, but the silver lining was that she was here," said Jon Korta, Galena mayor and musher.

Halverson, 54, said she was at the Galena checkpoint Tuesday when someone told her a dropped sled dog belonging to Iditarod musher Kelly Maixner had gotten loose. The dog's neckline ripped while it waited at the airport with other dropped Iditarod sled dogs for a flight back to Anchorage, Korta said.

The dog, wearing a green coat, took off at a run. The town of about 450 residents went on alert.

"He moved pretty well for a dog that had been dropped," Halverson said.

Maixner, a 39-year-old musher from Big Lake, confirmed from Nome late Thursday that the escaped sled dog was his, after he looked at a photograph of the dog sent by a reporter. He had left the 3-year-old dog named Alexander in Galena, one checkpoint away from the halfway mark. The dog had been tired, he said.

In Galena, a message over the radio Tuesday alerted people to the escaped dog. Someone found Halverson at the checkpoint in the early afternoon and handed her a walkie-talkie, she said. She began walking toward the airport.

"It kind of hung around and then it boogied," Halverson said of the dog.

She followed the dog into a wooded area before Korta drove up behind her on his snowmachine. The two, both on Korta's snowmachine, followed the dog's footprints. They hoped to lead the dog into deeper snow, expecting that would increase their ability to catch it, Halverson said.

After locating the dog, Halverson got off the snowmachine and stood at one end of a path as Korta tried to lead the dog in her direction. The dog got close enough, and Halverson pounced.

"I just grabbed it and it grabbed me," she said.

The dog clamped its teeth onto her nose, cutting her right cheek and puncturing her nasal passages, she said. But Halverson didn't let go, Korta said.

He grabbed the dog and offered to take Halverson to the health clinic and return for the dog.

"We're five miles out of town and Ellen's bleeding like a stuck pig," he said.

Halverson refused. After calming the dog, she rode with it on her lap back to Galena.

"He snuggled right in," she said of the dog. "He was just scared. People had been chasing him for a couple of hours."

The dog went back to the airport and got on a flight that day, Korta said. Halverson went to the health clinic, where she received a tetanus shot, 10 stitches and antibiotics.

"I was happy to help and happy to catch the dog and not so happy that he bit me," Halverson said. "But it could have been worse."

Maixner, who finished the Iditarod early Thursday in 13th place, said his dog had never acted aggressively toward people. He speculated it could have been nervous because it's "a scaredy-cat," he said.

About Halverson, he said, "She's a good lady."

Halverson, a psychiatrist who has started the Iditarod six times and finished twice, returned to Wasilla on Wednesday night. She said her co-worker always hassles her about returning from the race with frostbite.

"I managed, this year, to escape frostbite," she said. "But here I come back with this nose thing."

Halverson recounted Tuesday's search over the phone to Alaska Dispatch News on Thursday while standing in her 11-year-old son Peter's school, awaiting his dismissal. She said she had not seen her son since she started the race.

"Oh, he's coming up to give me a big hug," she said.

As she pulled the phone away, she could be heard saying to her son: "See my nose? Yes, it's pretty impressive isn't it?"

Reporter Matt Tunseth contributed to this story.