ANCHORAGE - John Schandelmeier is hoping a team of discarded dogs helps him win his third Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
The Paxson musher was among the 21 competitors who left Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, on Sunday for the 1,026-mile race to Fairbanks. Kelley Griffin of Wasilla was the first out of the starting gate at 1 p.m. Yukon time, followed by the rest of the field in two-minute intervals.
Quest veteran Hugh Neff, who now lives in Skagway, was the second musher to start the race. As of 11:30 p.m. Alaska time Sunday, no mushers were reported into the first checkpoint at Braeburn Lodge along the North Klondike Highway. It is 109 miles from Whitehorse to Braeburn, and the first mushers were expected there early this morning.
For race updates, look on the Web at http://www.yukonquest.com.
Schandelmeier won the race in 1992 and 1996, and finished seventh last year. One of the dogs on his 2005 team, Snoopy, was purchased for $100 from the North Star Borough Animal Shelter in Fairbanks.
Snoopy was an unwanted husky with a malnourished frame. But the 52-year-old Schandelmeier still saw glints of strength and spunk in Snoopy last April when he signed his adoption papers for the Second Chance League, a program in Fairbanks that finds homes for ostracized dogs throughout Alaska.
Snoopy had been dumped by another musher and Schandelmeier wanted to give the dog a chance. It's hard, he said, to track the age and bloodline of a dog such as Snoopy.
"We called him a non-dog," Schandelmeier told the Anchorage Daily News. "He wouldn't hook up to a harness and he didn't want to run."
Nearly 10 months later, Schandelmeier has sculpted Snoopy and other rescued dogs into one of the most unique racing teams he's had in years. He calls them the Alaska Shelter Race Team.
For more on the Yukon Quest, visit the race Web site at http://www.yukonquest.com.
For more about musher John Schandelmeier's dogs, visit http://www.akshelterteam.com.
Schandelmeier said he isn't using rescued dogs for a publicity stunt. He thinks he can win.
Schandelmeier is competing in his 15th Quest. Only Frank Turner of Whitehorse, who has raced every year since the Quest began in 1984, has entered more.
From 1991 to 2004 Schandelmeier has entered more than 50 races. He's never placed lower that seventh in a race of 100 miles or more that he's finished.
Schandelmeier's seventh-place finish in last year's Quest was his worst showing since 1990. The 2004 team included six rescued dogs. This year, 10 of his 14 dogs were rescued from the Fairbanks shelter.
Altogether, 18 of Schandelmeier's 38-dog kennel were rescued from either neglect, poor nutrition, physically abusive owners or mushers who just didn't want them anymore.
"Most mushers are dedicated people," he said. "But some come to Alaska and realize it's a lot of work. So very few of these dogs come from dedicated dog mushers."
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