Photos document canine athletes on the trail

Posted: Sunday, March 14, 2004

The most famous athletes in Alaska may be the hard-working canines of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The fastest of these doggies race across more than 1,000 miles of difficult terrain in just over a week in March.

Photographer Jeff Schultz has written a wonderful introduction to these puppies in "Dogs of the Iditarod." Readers from pre-schoolers to seniors will relish the portraits of pups in training, dogs howling and playing, dogs with their long pink tongues hanging out, and dogs running in syncopated rhythm. There are dogs resting in sled bags, dogs on the trail in a sea of white, dogs crossing slick ice, dogs in their dog boxes (traveling houses), dogs at the starting line, dogs eagerly leaping into the air in harness, dogs being petted by kids and dogs being checked over by veterinarians. There are dogs waiting out a windstorm, and dogs eating lunch.

Schultz has been the official photographer for the Iditarod Race since 1982. In this role he travels the trail each year, looking for images that capture the spirit and the experience of the race. He has more than 25,000 Iditarod images on file.

For this particular project, he quizzed people like Martin Buser, Susan Butcher, Harold and Julie Capps, Judy and Devan Currier, Libby Riddles, Rick Swenson, Roxy Wright and others, and took photos at some of their homes, dog lots and kennels.

Schultz re-tells champion musher Susan Butcher's classic story about being rescued by her dogs when she fell through the ice during a training run in 1986 at minus 10 degrees. Most of the book is occupied by photos, but the text features excellent information about stamina training, pedigrees, booties, puppy walks, super dogs, "good constitutions," "good heads" and "good coats." A dog with a good head has "a happy attitude, a desire to travel, willingness to pull, and a love of running and running some more." Super dogs not only have good heads but are also honest-and sometimes rescue their owners, or turn the sled around after an accident without hearing human commands. Schultz also defines jargon mushing terminology such as gee, haw, pulling the hook, "gangline" and "harness broken."

The book includes a colorful full-page map for tracing places mentioned in the text.

A couple of quibbles: Schultz' editor should have known how to spell party-eye (that's parti-eye), and it would have been handy for teachers who teach Iditarod units to have a list of some of the Iditarod web sites in the text for their use.

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