Kasilof musher Jon Little undeniably started the mushing season at an all-time low, but as winter nears its end, he has something to be thankful for as one dog injured in an accident at the end of September appears to be on the mend.
"Wolf is doing great," said Little in regard to the 3-year-old male that was in a team struck by a vehicle after the energetic huskies pulled through the brakes of a four-wheeler and got onto the roadway of the Sterling Highway in Kasilof, at its intersection with Kalifornsky Beach Road.
Six dogs -- all proven lead dogs or leaders in training -- were struck by a vehicle. Of the six that were hit, one dog miraculously sustained no injuries, four others were killed, and Wolf had his tug-line snap during the accident and ran away frightened.
After an exhaustive search, Little got Wolf back roughly a day later. Wolf had returned home, curled up on some straw, and he had tipped a food bucket over and ate some. However, Wolf was not all right.
He was only using three legs, so Little rushed him to the Kenai Veterinary Hospital where X-rays revealed he had no broken bones, but had "a major ankle dislocation." Wolf was then taken to an orthopedic specialist in Anchorage for surgery, and due to the extent of his ligament damage, he had to have the bones of his foot fused.
"He was a 3-year-old, a good leader, and we got a lot of contributions from folks, so we opted to get the surgery," Little said, citing another alternative could have been to have the leg amputated.
Recuperation was a slow process. Wolf had weeks of kennel rest, then moved on to short walks, followed weeks later by longer walks, and then he eventually went on short runs.
"Four-mile runs are nothing for him now, and he will do a seven-mile run today," Little said.
Wolf has been doing so well, Little even entered him into the four-dog class of a Peninsula Sled Dog and Racing Association's event last weekend.
"He finished fourth out of five teams, which was good because the four-dog class was pretty competitive this year," Little said.
Despite this initial success, Little said he doesn't plan to push Wolf too hard too soon, and the fact that the dog still has a metal plate and screws in his legs in never far from the musher's mind.
"Right now he's leading puppy runs. We're not trying to put big miles on him. The surgeon recommended taking it slow, giving him time to heal," he said.
Little added that even if Wolf never rejoins the race team, he is still useful as a puppy trainer, due to his leadership skills.
"Puppy leaders are very valuable because during the training season my main dogs will do five- to nine-hour runs, so I don't want to ask them to run in front of a bunch of rambunctious knuckleheads the next day, but Wolf is a good gee-haw leader," he said.
Even beyond his puppy training abilities, Wolf is also a good companion animal Little said, so at the very least he could also be a house pet if being an athlete doesn't work out.
"He's very sweet, likes being in the house, and can be loose in the yard 24-7," he said.
So as to what Wolf's future holds from here, it will be determined by the dog's own desire and ability, Little said.
"We're not writing him off. We're just going to keep taking things slow, letting everything heal, and letting him build muscle. It just takes time," he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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