FAIRBANKS - While camaraderie is common among mushers competing in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, Dawson City musher Rick Atkinson showed he was a true friend during the 1987 race.
That was the year he used mouth-to-muzzle resuscitation to revive a dog that was strangling in Alaska musher Jeff King's team.
The two mushers were on the trail to Dawson City and King was breaking trail on snowshoes in front of his team when one of his dogs, Tommy, became entangled in the tow line, the cabled rope that connects the dogs to the sled. King didn't notice the dog dragging because he was about 200 feet in front of his team pounding down six-foot snow drifts for the seven teams behind him.
Atkinson, who was traveling behind King, saw what was happening and ran up to help. King turned around as Atkinson was untangling the dog and ran back to his team.
"By the time I arrived, the dog had a discolored tongue and he wasn't breathing," King said.
Before King could act, Atkinson opened the dog's mouth, pushed his head inside as far as it would go, then started to blow. King could see the dog's sides move in and out.
"The dog was still limp, but we couldn't give up," King said. "He blew a second time and all of a sudden the dog's eyes opened up and he started breathing on his own."
King, who lives in Denali Park, then breathed a sigh of relief; he had paid a hefty price for Tommy a few months earlier to then-Iditarod champ Susan Butcher.
Atkinson said it was instinct that spurred him into action.
"I did what came naturally to help," he said.
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