Musher banks on discarded dogs in Quest

Posted: Tuesday, February 15, 2005

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Rookie Sam Perrino of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, was the first musher to arrive late Sunday at the Braeburn Lodge checkpoint in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

''The first 30 miles were punchy on the river,'' said Perrino of the 91-mile stretch of trail where he stopped occasionally to snack his dogs.

Twenty-one teams started Sunday in the 1,000-mile race from Whitehorse, Yukon, to Fairbanks.

John Schandelmeier of Paxson is hoping a team of discarded dogs will help him win his third Quest.

On Schandelmeier's team is Snoopy, an ex-sled dog he got for $100 form the North Star Borough Animal Shelter in Fairbanks.

Snoopy was an unwanted husky with a malnourished frame. But the 52-year-old Schandelmeier still saw glints of strength and spunk in Snoopy last April when he signed his adoption papers for the Second Chance League, a program in Fairbanks that finds homes for ostracized dogs throughout Alaska.

Snoopy had been dumped by another musher and Schandelmeier wanted to give the dog a chance. It's hard, he said, to track the age and bloodline of a dog such as Snoopy.

''We called him a non-dog,'' Schandelmeier said. ''He wouldn't hook up to a harness and he didn't want to run.''

Nearly 10 months later, Schandelmeier sculpted Snoopy and other rescued dogs into one of the most unique racing teams he's had in years. He calls them the Alaska Shelter Race Team.

Schandelmeier said he isn't using rescued dogs for a publicity stunt. He thinks he can win.

Schandelmeier is competing in his 15th Quest. Only Frank Turner of Whitehorse, who has raced every year since the Quest began in 1984, has entered more.

From 1991 to 2004 Schandelmeier has entered more than 50 races. He's never placed lower that seventh in a race of 100 miles or more that he's finished.

Schandelmeier finished seventh in last year's Quest, his worst finish since 1990. That team included six rescued dogs. This year, 10 of his 14 dogs were rescued from the Fairbanks shelter.

Altogether, 18 of Schandelmeier's 38-dog kennel were rescued from either neglect, poor nutrition, physically abusive owners or mushers who just didn't want them anymore.

''Most mushers are dedicated people,'' he said. ''But some come to Alaska and realize it's a lot of work. So very few of these dogs come from dedicated dog mushers.''

As of late Monday night, Kasilof musher Jon Little was in third place in the Quest. Little checked out of Carmacks, which is 175 miles into the race, 15 minutes behind the leader Gerry Willomitzer.

Kasilof musher Lance Mackey was in 10th place late Monday. Mackey had arrived in Carmacks but had not departed yet.

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