Elite sled dogs hit in snowmobile hit and run in northwest Wis.
DULUTH — A weekend snowmobile hit-and-run in northwest Wisconsin left a sled dog — who completed the 860-mile Iditarod last March — with a badly broken leg.
John Beargrease and Iditarod sled dog racing veteran Ryan Redington were racing 15 dogs Saturday night on the Tri-County Corridor, a well-maintained multi-use trail that connects Superior to Ashland. The team was at Iron River in Bayfield County, completing the last 3 miles of a 40 mile race.
“A snowmobile came at high speed, veered into my hitch and collided with my dogs, narrowly missing me,” said Redington, who sled his sled off the trail in an attempt to avoid the collision.
Three-year-old Wildfire, who was in the cartwheel position right in front of the sled, flew through the air. The snowmobile driver continued, Redington said.
Redington’s training partner, Sarah Keefer, was behind him with her dogs and saw the driver swoop down the center of the wide track, she said narrowly missing her, veering off at the last second. She caught up with Redington and they called for help. Another of his dogs, Willy, was also injured with lacerations and a badly bruised leg bone.
Wildfire’s left rear leg broke in three places. Two surgeries were performed late Tuesday afternoon at Mission Animal Hospital in Eden Prairie.
“It’s not good,” Redington said.
With surgery, he hoped to allow Wildfire to at least walk again. Racing is not out of the question, depending on the results of surgery and possible rehabilitation, he said.
Wildfire was one of six dogs to finish the 2021 Iditarod with Redington, who placed seventh. Race rules allow you to drop dogs but not replace them, and Redington started with 14.
“He’s one of the stars of our team,” said Redington, who splits his time between Brule, Wis., and Alaska. “These guys are my family. I spend every day with them. I hate to see them go through this.”
An incident report filed with the Bayfield County Sheriff’s Office says a snowmobile struck the Redington crew around 6:45 p.m. and did not stop. Deputy Chief Andy Runice said on Tuesday an investigation was still ongoing.
The trail is wide with good visibility and Keefer and Redington often ride it with their crews, having never encountered any problems with snowmobilers, they said. They are riders themselves. Both wore LED headlamps and the lead dogs are fitted with flashing harnesses or collars, while the others have reflective harnesses.
“You can see the lights coming down the trail,” Keefer said, and both teams were on the right side.
Redington, who finished second in last year’s Beargrease Marathon and won in 2020, still plans to race this year. It begins January 30 in Duluth.
“We won’t be as fast for Beargrease,” he said, but the dogs are trained and eager to race. “We’re going to keep going and do what we love.”
A fundraiser to help pay for medical and related costs for injured dogs had raised more than $34,000 as of Tuesday.