Following his recently completed run in the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, musher Matt Failor brushed off any congratulatory wishes over his 19th place finish as a rookie.
“The team performed very well and their work ethic was through the roof,” the native Ohioan said about the 14 dogs that led him through the rigorous event. “I really admire the way they worked.”
The race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks took nearly two weeks to complete and covered a huge expanse of pristine wilderness where temperatures of minus-40 and 100 mile-per-hour winds are possible. Mr. Failor used a team of mostly three-year-old dogs, with a couple two-year-olds.
“When you go down the trail, the dogs are moving forward like a machine, because they want to,” he said. “They love to run, and they can take you places other things can’t.”
The 30-year-old Failor said he plans to use primarily the same team in the Iditarod, which starts in a week.
“These dogs are like fine-tuned canine athletes, so they’ll be ready to go. Your relationship with your dogs is 365 days a year. It’s a chosen lifestyle, and watching them race is really an amazing experience.”
Dr. Kathleen McGill, a Columbus veterinarian who has led the medical team at the race for the past seven years, said the sled dogs are closely monitored at each checkpoint along the route.
“There are a lot of mechanisms in place to insure the dogs are properly cared for, but typically the mushers will come to us first with a concern, before we see anything,” she said. “These mushers know their dogs, and there is a very strong bond between the human and the animal.”
There is a mandatory 36-hour rest for the dogs at roughly the midpoint of the race. At each of the other stops, the musher has to build a fire and heat the food and water for the team, then bed the dogs down on fresh straw before the musher can eat or rest.
“The dogs get the lion’s share of the care,” Dr. McGill said. “When you compete is this type of event, your success is completely based on how well you care for your dogs.”
Failor had family along for the adventure, via the Internet. His mother graduated from Notre Dame Academy and his dad from Rossford High School, and they tracked his progress from their home in Mansfield. Failor’s 87-year-old grandfather followed the race on-line from his home in Toledo.
“It was neat to know that technology kept them close,” said Failor, whose parents traveled to Alaska for the 2012 Iditarod, and will return to Nome for this year’s race.
“After his experience in the Iditarod last year, I feel like we have a better understanding of the relationship between the musher and the team,” Cheryl Failor said. “We have a great respect for what they do.”
“When you raise sled dogs, it transcends a normal job,” Matt Failor said. “Dog and man have been traveling this way for a very long time and it is truly a beautiful thing. It is addictive, so when you finish one race, you quickly look forward to the next one.”