The population of Ashton, Idaho increased by 2,000 for the annual American Dog Derby Feb. 15 to 17. Mushers and dog sled teams came across the United States to participate in one of many qualifying races for the Iditarod race in Alaska.
The race sent 27 teams of dogs across the starting line to go as far as 28 miles. Because of the extreme weather conditions, the mushers take extra care of their dogs on and off the race course. Dogs are ensured paw booties and a protein packed feast consisting of dog food, meat and water.
“The race is to really keep the tradition going for Ashton; mushers keep coming back,” said John Scafe, the chairman of the American Dog Derby Committee. “It’s one big family reunion every year. As long as it is safe for the dogs and mushers, we all have a great time.”
Scafe and his wife are two of the 25 committee members who actively planned and prepared this event over six months.
The 101-year-old event attracts former Iditarod racers, mushers of all ages and first-year racers such as a team from San Bernardino, California, who had never seen snow until they got to the race. One of the participants goes by the name of Harleigh the Hurricane.
Harleigh is a 7-year-old girl from Northern Idaho who has been racing since she was 2. Her parents put her car seat on a sled when she was a baby, and she wanted to ride by the time she took her first steps.
“Harleigh has one speed — hurricane speed,” said Tammy Dutton, Harleigh’s mother. “She usually puts in 20 miles a weekend and races four dogs which isn’t normal for her age.”
Like a mother concerned about her 7-year-old musher, dog mushers display similar concern for their dogs as they travel thousands of miles to attend various races.
“The mushers know their dogs quite well,” Scafe said. “They treat them like their own children. They know exactly what the dogs can and can’t handle.”
Mushers use a term while traveling called, “dropping their dogs,” where they stop so the dogs can run around and rest. Their health is the number one priority.
The race was originally set to start on Main Street in Ashton, but due to lack of snow, they moved it up to Bear Gulch near Mesa Falls. As all the teams prepared to start, barking filled the mountain range and drowned out conversation.
Once the dogs lined up, the musher pulled the ropes tight. The musher got the right footing on the sled, and the dog’s barking ceased. Only dead silence was heard as the dogs put all their energy into pulling in unison.
The dog sled teams consisted of three different categories. The first category were teams of 10 to 12 dogs going a 28-mile distance, teams of six dogs traveling 12 miles and the junior teams traveling five miles.
A few BYU-Idaho students came to the event to see something they had never seen before and to fuel their love for huskies. Many spectators lined the starting line to watch them begin as they waited for the open class activities and events free for anyone after the race.
The race finally concluded Saturday evening on Feb. 17. Winners of the different events took home cash prizes and their winning team of dogs.