Volunteers work to give sled dogs a new home

Digging in the dirt is usually a dog’s job, but on Saturday in Chugiak, a handful of human volunteers took tools to their own paws to help their canine friends.

“I like to get dirty,” said volunteer Melissa Rigas, a dirt-covered pickaxe resting beside her.

Rigas and half a dozen others were drawn to the nonprofit’s 2.5-acre property off Birchwood Loop for one simple reason.

“That’s it for the dogs,” she said.

Volunteers have been working for the past two weeks to help repair fences on the property, which is currently home to around 15 “retired” sled dogs. The dogs are cared for by the foundation, which was founded in 2012 with the aim of helping racing dogs move “from trail to couch”.

Foundation co-founder Julie St. Louis said the foundation works with mushers, shelters and other groups to help sled dogs find loving homes when their racing careers come to an end. Contrary to popular belief, she says, racing sled dogs can make great pets.

“People think they don’t settle, but they do,” she said.

Trained racing dogs generally get along well with other dogs and take command easily, she said.

“They are surrounded by other dogs, which is why they make great pets,” she said as half a dozen curious huskies gathered at her feet.

The foundation’s property includes kennels and fenced areas where dogs can run around. Teams of volunteers working on Saturday helped reinforce existing fences and build new ones to allow dogs to move into more areas.

Elena Eberhardt, a volunteer fence builder, said she heard about the foundation while taking a mushing class at the University of Alaska Pacific and wanted to do whatever she could to help.

“I would really like to adopt a few dogs because I would really like to skijor, but I’m just not in a situation right now where I can adopt any dog, so I thought I’d help the dogs who need to be adopted,” she explained as she and two other volunteers took a break from stacking the logs.

St. Louis said the foundation takes dogs from individual mushers who want to find homes for sled dogs who no longer race.

“The current musher will contact me,” she said.

The group then works with individuals to rehome the animals through animal adoption events or through its website. Since 2012, the foundation has found homes for about 100 dogs, St. Louis said.

The foundation has been in its Chugiak home for less than a year, but St. Louis said the former sheep farm the foundation is renting from a Chugiak landowner was a good fit.

“It’s a perfect property, it just needs some work,” she said.

That’s what the volunteers were for on Saturday. In addition to Eberhardt and Rigas (who is the campus president of Charter College Wasilla), Charter volunteers Ariel Tackett and Layne Hyde also joined the fence repair party, as did a few sled dog mushers. local.

One of them was Chugiak’s Kris Rasey, who served as both informal foreman and group jokester.

“What’s the password?” Rasey asked anyone trying to enter the property through its secure door. When the visitor couldn’t guess, Rasey informed him. “It’s dog poo.”

The group smiled and exchanged jokes as they built new fences on the property, serenaded by the infrequent barking of curious dogs around them.

Rigas said she and the other volunteers were more than happy to help.

“Dogs are sacred in Alaska,” she said. “It’s our national sport, our national treasure and we have to take care of it.”

To learn more about the foundation, visit theaugustfund.com.

Contact Featured Editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or 257-4274.

Bette C. Alvarado