Meet the sled dogs leading Michigan musher Laura Neese in the Iditarod

Michigan musher Laura Neese and her Upper Peninsula sled dog team from Nature’s Kennel are ready to go on an adventure in the Iditarod once again. But this time, the 23-year-old from McMillan is not a rookie.

This is the second time she has taken a team to the famous 1,000 mile race.

She rode her first Iditarod in 2017. Her team completed the course in 10 days and three hours – ranking 42nd out of an initial field of 72 mushers.

This year, she is Michigan’s only musher in the 57-team field. Most are from Alaska, but there are also a few international teams, hailing from Norway, Denmark, Italy and neighboring Canada.

Neese is a veteran of the long runs in the north. She completed her first 1,000 mile course in 2016, starting with the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, which runs from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory. After trying the Iditarod in 2017, she returned to the Yukon Quest in 2018, where she took third place.

She had planned to relaunch the quest last year, but misfortune struck when the 1,972 pounds of dog kibble, packets of beef and beef fat, and her own food and supplies were shipped to the advance, but then accidentally placed in a heated warehouse. region. Supplies were ruined and there was no way to restock on short notice. She had to give up the race.

Neese works for Nature’s Kennel, a sled dog racing and ecotourism business in McMillan run by veteran mushers Ed and Tasha Stielstra. They’ve been a second family to Neese since she came up north as a teenager from her native Ohio with dreams of running her own major league team.

Over the past few years, Neese and Nature’s Kennel have developed a devoted following on social media. They can’t wait to see what races she’s been in – some in UP and some further afield – and send her messages of support while she’s on the road.

Last month Neese and his dogs left UP for Alaska. She posted on Facebook along the way, documenting their journey and sharing photos.

When they arrived at Johnson’s Crossing Lodge in Alaska about a week ago, she posted some happy photos of the dogs playing in the snow.

“It’s party time!!!. The Iditarod crew has reached their first destination, Johnson’s Crossing Lodge, 80 miles south of Whitehorse. It’s one of Laura’s favorite places on the planet and the crew celebrated with an epic dog party. The team had plenty of free racing time to stretch their legs after the 3 days on the road and tomorrow they can head out for a practice run What happiness!”

A stop after arriving in Alaska last week allowed the dogs to play.

Since then, she and her team have undergone medical and equipment checks to prepare for the race.

The Iditarod will have its ceremonial start Saturday in downtown Anchorage. The official race will then begin on Sunday, north of Anchorage. The race usually lasts about 10 days. It ends in the former gold rush town of Nome along the Bering Sea.

Over the past two weeks, Neese has been sharing photos and short bios of the dogs running the race. Here are some of the dogs that will make up his team, with Neese’s description after each one.



Elmer, 7, is a veteran sled dog at Nature’s Kennel in the Upper Peninsula.

Elmer, 7 years old

“Elmer is one of my main leaders and has finished 3 times over 1000 miles. During their 3rd place finish in the Yukon Quest in 2018, Elmer completed 550 miles in the lead with his sister, Maple, and gained a tremendous amount of confidence and knowledge throughout this time. He has been busy coaching many of my young leash dogs this year and has done a great job. His always wagging tail and contented personality are always a joy.




Jett, 3-year-old sled dog at Nature’s Kennel in the Upper Peninsula.


Jett, of Nature’s Kennel in McMillan, Michigan.

Jet, 3 years old

“This is Jett. This 3 year old beauty is just phenomenal. This is Jett’s first year on my team, and she has quickly risen through the ranks to become one of my main leaders. She is very professional at the front of the team and is always ready to hit the track. She’s an Iditarod rookie and I have a feeling she’s going to be in her element. She was just warming up for the last few races of the Beargrease and the UP200 earlier this year. I look forward to sharing the adventures of the Iditarod trail with her.”




Erin, 3, lives at Nature’s Kennel in the Upper Peninsula.


Erin is conducting her first Iditarod this year.

Erin, 3 years old

“Erin is another 3-year-old little superstar leader. This is the first year that she has spent a lot of time at the front of the team and she has excelled. She is a never-ending jolly ball of energy and is an outspoken cheerleader. This will be her first 1,000 mile run and she’s ready to hit the sights of Alaska!



Winkle and Laura Neese

Winkle already has a few 1,000 mile races under his feet.


Seven-year-old Winkle lives at Nature’s Kennel in the Upper Peninsula.

Winkel, 7 years old

“Winkle is not a rookie. At 7 years old, he has five 1000 mile races under his belt, as well as a long list of middle distance races. Winkle is an awesome leader and team dog. He’s every dog’s best friend, and of course, he’s also one of mine.




Radar, 4 years old, is a little goofy.


This is Radar’s second trip to Nome.

Radar, 4 years old

“I present to you Radar, a 4-year-old leader who is on his second trip to Nome. Radar is the biggest cuddly bug on the team and there’s not a dog in the world that doesn’t love being chosen as Radar’s partner. He barks like a bear dog, sleeps like a lab, and runs like the Alaskan Husky superstar that he is.




Mitchell takes his job as a team clown seriously.

Mitchell, 3 years old

“Mitchell is a happy 3-year-old boy. He’s a good eater, a bit of a team clown and an Iditarod rookie. I think he’s going to have a great time on his first 1,000 miles and really enjoy all the new sights and smells of Alaska!




Lurb, 3, is preparing his first Iditarod.

Lurb, 3 years old

“Lurb is a 3 year old ray of sunshine. He is part of the ‘Neese’ litter and is a brother to Erin and Mitchell. He is named after Laura, given his old nickname that his brother, Mitchell, created at the time. He loves life, and he especially loves running. It will be his first 1000 mile race and he is going to have a blast!




Baker is a racing veteran.


Baker shows off his ready-to-run attitude.


“Superdog Baker is entering his sixth 1,000 mile race. This dog’s passion for life and racing is truly remarkable. He is the team’s chief cheerleader and always has a lot to say as he leaves the points Baker has more running miles under his feet than any other dog in our kennel.




Anna and her teammates during a race.


Anna, ready for a close-up.

Anna, 5 years old

“See Anna, a sassy and energetic 5 year old girl. She is a super honest worker and always adds to the team. This will be Anna’s first time in Nome.



Hawk Eye

Hawkeye is an Iditarod novice.

Hawk Eye

“What do you mean, I’m not a pet dog?” Of course I am.

Hawkeye, 4 years old

“Hawkeye is a 4 year old rookie in the Iditarod. This guy is full of life and prides himself on his ability to pop the snow hook when he thinks it’s time to go. Hawkeye also loves to be loved and cuddled and turns into a pile of jelly as soon as someone starts petting it.


#11 WITT


Witt, stopping for a photo halfway through.


Witt hanging out with friends, taking a break from traveling.

Witt, 2 years old

“Witt is an ultra sweet 2 year old female making her first trip to Nome. Witt trained and raced with Blake Freking all year and she became part of my team during the trip here. Thanks for sharing, Blake! I’m super excited to have her on my team and I think she’s going to really shine.



Cheese-ing for the camera.


Harley likes to do snow angles during breaks.


“Three-year-old Harley is a big jester who specializes in snow angels. He has a great dog smile and looks a lot like his dad, the awesome Sugardaddy! His cheerful energy is wonderful to have on the team.

To follow Neese’s Iditarod adventure, you can check the Nature’s Kennel Facebook page for updates.


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