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Canine athletes: Meet 10 of the Iditarod dogs racing to Nome

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published March 11, 2017

GALENA — Ask Iditarod mushers about their sled dog teams, and they'll tell you each canine is a little bit different. Some friendly, some ornery and some a little bit bossy.

Hundreds of sled dogs are racing through Interior Alaska right now, on their way to the Norton Sound coast, as part of their 1,000-mile journey to Nome.

Meet 10 of the pups racing this year's Iditarod:

1. Crosby

Crosby, a 4-year-old canine athlete on Kristin Bacon’s team that used to run with Jeff King. (Tegan Hanlon / Alaska Dispatch News)

Crosby was injured in the 2016 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race when a drunken snowmachiner sideswiped four-time race champion Jeff King's team outside of the village of Nulato. Crosby can still run, but he suffered lasting changes to his gait and speed, said King, of Denali Park.

While Crosby didn't make the cut for King's team this year, he found a spot on the team of King's girlfriend, Kristin Bacon, who has a kennel in Big Lake. King described Crosby as a "treasure" and Bacon described her new athlete as "fantastic" — and also a bit of a loner who keeps to himself.

But Bacon said she has found him a friend on the team, a female sled dog named Molly. She said she puts the two in lead together and they "kind of flirt" — touching noses as they race along the trail.

2. Niksik

Niksik, a 3-year-old racer on Ketil Reitan’s team. (Tegan Hanlon / Alaska Dispatch News)

Niksik is running his first Iditarod this year, said Ketil Reitan, of Kaktovik.

"In Inupiaq, Niksik means hook," Reitan said. "And his tail is shaped like a hook."

Niksik is a "young lead dog," Reitan said, and very friendly.

After the race to Nome, Niksik will run the Kobuk 440 with Reitan's son, Martin.

3. Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters, a 4-year-old team member for musher Karin Hendrickson takes a quick trip to dreamland on the Iditarod Trail. (Tegan Hanlon / Alaska Dispatch News)

Muddy Waters comes from a litter named after blues legends. She ran her only Iditarod as a yearling in 2014 and was a "standout leader," said Karin Hendrickson, of Willow.

She didn't want to give the position up — apparently.

Hendrickson tried to put Muddy Waters in the "wheel" position this year, directly in front of her sled because the female is in heat.

But Muddy Waters didn't like that much.

"She's been back in wheel screaming and barking, and cutting a fuss and yanking hooks out, and acting like a complete idiot. It's so annoying. Finally I said, 'Fine, we'll put you in a lead.' I switched everybody around so I had females up front," Hendrickson said.

"And she's just a real leader. Boy, she gets us going. When I say, 'Ready go,' we go."

4. Chevelle

Chevelle, a 3-year-old is the energy booster for competitor Cody Strathe’s team. (Tegan Hanlon / Alaska Dispatch News)

Chevelle is a "cheerleader," said Cody Strathe, of Fairbanks.

"She's just this little female that doesn't look like anything special and she seems pretty mellow when you go meet her," Strathe said. "But on the team she's the cheerleader. She barks at everything and anything."

If Chevelle spies a piece of driftwood on the trail, she will start barking and the whole team barks back, Strathe said.

"It reminds me of a basketball game when a cheerleader yells something and everyone yells back," he said. "When we pass a dog team, my team's all charging and barking and everyone's like, 'Wow, your dog team looks crazy.' And it's all her, she gets everyone all excited and fired up. It's really cute."

5. Zig

‘Princess Warrior’ Zig is a 4-year-old speed demon on Jeff King’s team. (Tegan Hanlon / Alaska Dispatch News)

Blue-eyed Zig will turn 5 this summer, and "she's really speedy," said Jeff King, of Denali Park.

"I call her my 'Princess Warrior'," he said. "She sleeps in my bed and leads my team."

6. Bernie

Bernie, a 3-year-old who eats like a teenager, races it all off on Nathan Schroeder’s team. (Tegan Hanlon / Alaska Dispatch News)

Bernie is an "eating machine," said Nathan Schroeder, of Minnesota.

The dog will eat anything and everything — and fast. Schroeder said he has watched Bernie eat three plates of food "and it doesn't take him long to scarf that up."

"He'll eat anything — your fingers, anything," Schroeder said.

7. Palmer

Palmer is a ‘quirky’ 5-year-old dog on Pete Kaiser’s team who likes to win. (Tegan Hanlon / Alaska Dispatch News)

Palmer has finished the last three Iditarod races with Pete Kaiser, of Bethel, and has also led the musher to victory in three consecutive Kusko 300 races.

"He's fast, athletic. He's a little quirky but once you figure him out you can tend to his needs. A lot of dogs are like that, they're all a little bit different," Kaiser said.

Kaiser said that by "quirky," he means Palmer is a bit moody at times.

"He's a one those types of dogs, or people, who needs things going his way and then he's really happy," Kaiser said. If not, "he can get a little grumpy."

8. Stormin-Normin

Stormin-Normin is the 2-year-old workhorse on musher Justin High’s team. (Tegan Hanlon / Alaska Dispatch News)

Stormin-Normin looks exactly like his dad, Yangtzee, said Justin High, of Willow, so he's also called "Junior." Yangtzee was High's first sled dog.

High described Yangtzee's offspring as a "big honest dog and a workhorse."

"He keeps everyone in line," High said. But he takes a different approach from his dad. "Yangtzee when he saw somebody that he thought wasn't doing the right thing, he would come and pick a fight with them."

If Stormin-Normin sees someone messing around or goofing off, he "just looks at them and he's like, 'Hey, that's enough,'" High said.

This is Stormin-Normin's second Iditarod. He eats everything he's given and is always the first one to get up, High said.

9. Thunder

Thunder, a 9-year-old dog on Ramey Smyth’s sled dog team is looking forward to retirement after this year’s Iditarod. (Tegan Hanlon / Alaska Dispatch News)

Nine-year-old Thunder is "the cranky old leader of the crew," said Ramey Smyth, of Willow. "But this is his retirement year. I'm happy to see he can still hang with it and do the job."

Thunder has run in seven or eight Iditarod races, including in 2011 when Smyth placed second.

"He's always been a hard, hard, hard, hard worker," he said.

Smyth said Thunder is one of the most naturally gifted dogs on his team, but he just has a bit of an attitude.

"You have to see him to know. He is cranky," Smyth said. "He loves people. Dogs seem to be something that he shouldn't have to be bothered with. That's kind of his take on it. He wants to bite them. He doesn't want to hurt them, necessarily, he just wants them to stay away."

In his retirement, Thunder will likely spend his days wandering around loose in the yard or hooking up to a sled with puppy teams, or running with Smyth's children.

10. Redman

Redman, a 7-year-old dog on Rick Casillo’s team, gives his teammates no slack. (Tegan Hanlon / Alaska Dispatch News)

Redman is the boss — or at least thinks he is, said Rick Casillo, of Willow.

"He's full of attitude and he doesn't like anyone messing around. If he sees a dog or feels a dog pulling back to go to the bathroom while we're running, he'll turn around and bark and bark," Casillo said. "If his neighbor is slacking off, he'll give him a little bite on the ear."

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