Introducing sled dog profiles

By the time the Iditarod restart gets under way on Sunday, March 2, some 96 mushers should be on the trail, which means there will be more than 1,500 dogs loping and trotting northwest from Willow, on the same trail and within three hours of each other. (It’s enough to make you feel sorry for the checkers at the first checkpoint, Yentna, who have to cope with all these dog teams pretty much at once, roughly four hours into the race.)

There isn’t a musher on the Iditarod trail that weekend who doesn’t think at least one of his or her dogs is something special, or who doesn’t have some kind of friendship with one of those canines in harness, charging up the trail.

Throughout this year’s Iditarod, I hope to post a few quick profiles of some of those dogs, selected from a mixed bunch of dog teams, from front runners to the back of the pack.

Seeing images of these dogs may burst bubbles for a few fans, those who imagine that all sled dogs look as magnificent as Karen Ramstead’s AKC-registered Siberian huskies. I hate to break it to those fans, but most racing huskies don’t look like Hollywood stereotypes. Most look like the skinny, flop-eared mongrels (by kennel club standards) that they are; or what lovers of these dogs have coined, “Alaskan huskies.” Do not misunderstand, Alaskan huskies are not pet dogs commandeered off the street. The breed has been developed over the last 100 years by racing mushers from all over the northern hemisphere, although the heart of the work was centered in Alaska. Much like a Chesapeake retriever will cheerfully dive into a lake for hours on end, these huskies love to run.

The first profile is one of Ed Stielstra’s dogs, named “Starman.” (Click here to see it.) Look for these profiles to run periodically during the 2008 Iditarod.